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Vocation story: Edmundite Father David Cray

As a priest, Father David Cray for years did not live and minister in the New England culture into which he was born and in which he lived before entering the Society of St. Edmund during college.
 
He lived mostly in Canada, Europe and the American South until he came to Vermont to serve as pastor of St. Jude Church in Hinesburg and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Charlotte in 2003.
 
“The benefit of living in more than one culture is you realize there are very few absolutes apart from God,” he said.
 
Born into an Irish Catholic family in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston in 1945, he is the youngest of the three children of John F. Cray, a high school Latin teacher, and Alice M. Kernan Cray, who worked in the Boston Public Library.
 
He smiles when he says that he grew up in a “religious theme park,” because in his immediate neighborhood was the Maryknoll Brothers novitiate, the Daughters of St. Paul motherhouse and novitiate, the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent orphanage and the Greek Orthodox Church seminary.
 
Because he lived a distance from his parish and parish school, he attended public school but got to know many of his religious neighbors, skating in the park with Maryknoll Brothers or building a tree house on their property, for example.
 
Sometimes he and his friends would be playing outside when one would suggest going into the Maryknoll chapel to pray the Stations of the Cross. “The religious aspect was part of our lives,” he said.
 
He graduated from Boston Latin School in 1963 and enrolled at St. Michael’s College in Colchester; his family had ties to Bellows Falls, and he liked the idea of studying in Vermont at a Catholic college where he attended daily Mass.
 
He intended to become and English teacher, but during his sophomore year, his plans changed as he prepared for study in Europe during his junior year.
 
In the process of planning with the dean of students, Father Francis Gokey, the Edmundite priest asked him what he intended to do after college. When he replied, “teach,” Father Gokey asked him if he had ever thought of the similarity between teaching and preaching.
 
Young David Cray got the hint.
 
He told his friends what Father Gokey had said, and they agreed he’d make a good priest. “Father Gokey sparked and fostered my vocation,” he said.
David Cray entered the Edmundite novitiate and graduated from St. Michael’s in 1968 then studied theology at the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto, earning a master of divinity degree in 1971.
 
Burlington Bishop John A. Marshall ordained him to the priesthood in 1972, and his first assignment was as parochial vicar of St. Edmund of Canterbury Parish in Whitton in southwest London, a parish staffed by the Society of St. Edmund.
 
Father Cray lived in Burlington where he served as director of scholastics for the society and later as secretary general, and he lived in Mystic, Conn., where he was the order’s director of novices.
 
He served parishes — some years two at once — in Quebec and was episcopal vicar for the English-speaking region in the Diocese of Saint-Jean–Longueuil where, for two years he was a pastor in Greenfield Park.
 
From Canada he was transferred to Selma, Ala., to serve as programs director of the Society of St. Edmund’s Southern Mission, and from there moved to New Orleans to be president of Bishop Perry Middle School.
 
Now living in Charlotte, Father Cray said through his experiences outside Vermont he learned what it is like to be in a minority. In England he worked with a religious minority — Catholics — and in Quebec he worked with an English-speaking minority in a French-speaking province in an English-speaking country. In Selma and in New Orleans he worked with the African American population, a minority group in the United States. He lived in a Black community and was in the white minority.
 
He became accustomed to living as part of a minority population, and he earned a master of theology degree from Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans with a concentration in Black Pastoral Theology.
 
“I have benefitted tremendously from living in cultures that are not the culture I was brought up in,” Father Cray said. “I lived in cultures that would be foreign to me if I had not lived there and been integrated into them.”
 
Commenting on the racial and religious tensions that grab headlines almost daily, Father Cray said such division creates an atmosphere that legitimizes racism and violence. “Hate breeds hate. Nasty breeds nasty,” he said.
 
“You can change the tone of the conversation in your circle of friends and family,” he suggested. “You don’t have to keep intensifying the atmosphere and feelings of alienation, of division, of hatred.  If you do, it just gets worse.”
 
Emphasizing that all persons are children of God, Father Cray said, “God has given us all one single origin and calls us all to be one single human family.”
 
Living in different cultures has broadened his perspective and enriched his life. “Division and violence come out of not knowing. When you do not know, have no awareness of or acquaintance with people who are completely different from you, you fear them. When you get to know people and appreciate people, you come to love them, and you don’t fear them.”
 
A member of the Society of St. Edmund, which is celebrating its 175th anniversary, Father Cray said he has served in various places and cultures because of his vow of obedience. “It is important to discern God’s will and be obedient to it,” he said.
 
-- Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
 
 
 
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Donegan Farm

When 34-year-old Joe Donegan was growing up near the maternal family farm in Hinesburg, he considered pursing a farm life or a religious vocation. He earned a bachelor’s degree in public and community service with a minor in theology from Providence College and worked on a St. Albans dairy farm.
 
And he realized he could farm and live a life of service to God.
 
“Any work is infused with divine dignity and divine purpose if it’s what God wants you to do,” he said.
 
Now married and the father of three boys, Mr. Donegan sees his ministry as one of husband, father, son, farmer, brother, neighbor.
 
He and his wife, Emily – whom he met at a plant sale in Providence – run Donegan Family Farm in Charlotte; they own about 80 acres and rent 200 more, pasturing and/or grazing 260 acres. In mid May they had 83 Jersey cows of which 36 were milked.
 
The organic farm is part of the Organic Valley cooperative. According to its website, “Research shows that organic foods are higher in antioxidants and other nutrients, like omega-3 and CLA essential fatty acids. And organic crops have been shown to contain significantly less concentrations of cadmium—a toxic metal on par with lead and mercury. Organic food really is better for you. And it tastes better too.”
 
Donegan said he farms organic not just because there is a niche market for the organic milk but because he considers it a spiritual obligation to farm in a way that improves the overall ecological health of the Earth God has created.
 
“Here in Vermont grass-fed meat and milk are sustainable and restorative [improving the soil and keeping carbon out of the atmosphere], if you do it right,” said Mrs. Donegan, 33, a Groveland, Mass., native who earned a bachelor’s degree in integrative studies at Warren Wilson College near Ashville, N.C.
 
And there is a social justice aspect to what they are doing: “Agricultural land in a country with starving people should not be used to feed the rest of the world” but its own inhabitants, Mr. Donegan said. He is working to contribute to the feeding of people in the United States with food produced here and has been influenced by the writing of environmental activist Bill McKibben, author of such books as “Hope, Human and Wild” and “Wandering Home.”
 
The Donegans have been at their Charlotte farm for seven and a half years; they purchased it two years ago.
 
They are the parents of Patrick, 7; Franklin, 5; and Dominick, 2.
 
On a recent afternoon the older boys – clad in knee-high rubber boots -- were in and out of the farmhouse kitchen as their parents talked with a visitor, their brother on his mother’s lap.
 
Patrick said he drinks mostly milk from the farm, but sometimes he drinks store-bought milk when he visits family in Massachusetts. The organic farm milk is better, he said.
 
“Our boys are exposed to real, simple, honest work,” Mrs. Donegan said. “They enjoy working,” especially in the vegetable garden. “As a farm family, we do a lot of work together.”
 
The Donegans belong to St. Jude Church in Hinesburg where Mrs. Donegan is an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion and Mr. Donegan is a member of the men’s group.

Originally published in the summer 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
 

 
  • Published in Parish
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