From Seminarian To Plumber: How One Priest Is Serving America’s Poor

by Consecrated Life, Outstanding Initiatives, Social Justice, Value of Human Life

When we hear Bible words like “salvation”, “redemption”, and “covenant”, it can be easy to file them away as relics from another time and place that don’t actually affect us anymore. It is easy to forget that these religious words really do mean something for us here and now.

One of these Bible terms is “prophet”. When we think of prophets, we probably think about a haggard, bearded man with crazy eyes who claims to tell the future. But, that is not how the Bible understands the job of a prophet.

When the Bible speaks of prophets, it means someone who speaks in the place of God and with God’s authority. It is almost like an ambassador for the United States who speaks, not their own words, but with the power of the American government. God has not stopped raising up prophets among his people who still need the strength and power of His word.

Modern Prophets

One of the places where God’s people need prophets to speak His word and do His work is the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington.

The Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky serves 50 counties in Central and Eastern Kentucky. Most of these counties are in the heart of Central Appalachia, which is one of the poorest regions in the United States.

Currently, I serve as the Associate Pastor of St. Francis in Pike County and St. George in Letcher County. The total area of the parishes is close to the size of the entire state of Rhode Island. And yet, we only have about 200 Catholics in that space. Our diocese is about 3% Catholic, which is small.

However, what is even more alarming is that 60% of the population does not identify with any church or denomination.


The Catholic author Flannery O’Connor once said that the South is Christ-haunted, but not necessarily Christian. This is where the work of prophets is necessary. The priests of the Diocese of Lexington have been called to preach not only the specific elements of the Catholic Church, but the very Gospel of Jesus Christ itself.

So, God is raising up prophets in the Diocese of Lexington to speak His word to the poorest of the poor.

In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses proposes a test to see whether a prophet really speaks God’s word or merely his own words. If a prophet’s word comes true, then he speaks with the power of God; otherwise, he is a fraud. If we want to speak the word of God, we also have to do the work of God.

In the Diocese of Lexington, that means serving some of the poorest of the poor in the United States. Many priests of the diocese spend much of their time running food pantries and coordinating service projects to help local people.

For example, in one of my parishes, there was a little boy who said that he didn’t want anything for Christmas besides a Dairy Queen gift card so that he buy chicken tenders. They were so poor that a fast food dinner was a luxury.

In another parish, we have people who live in shacks without electricity or running water. They get their water from a coal mine drainage ditch, but the water is neon orange from all the alkaloids in it.

I also remember a time when I spent most of the day doing plumbing for the Mother Theresa’s sisters. Seminary did not train me for this kind of work. I went to Rome and got License in Liturgical Theology, not plumbing.

And yet, this kind of work is absolutely part of a prophet’s job description because people only care about what we know when they know that we care.

Can You Help?

The Diocese of Lexington is a mission diocese, which means that most of our funding comes from outside assistance. We need help to continue our mission of preaching God’s word and making it real in Central and Eastern Kentucky.

God is still raising up prophets for His people, but not everyone is called to move to Appalachia and sent up shop. By supporting our work, you have a share in its reward. Even small offerings can be like the five loaves and two fishes in the Gospel. This is the basic structure of the Eucharist- we offer our little gifts, symbolized by the bread and wine, and Jesus turns them into His work and His own very self.

If you can find it in your heart to support our work in the Lord’s vineyard, the Lord can take your sacrifice and make it into His own for the salvation of the whole world.

You can donate to the Diocese of Lexington here.

Take A Listen To Fr. Rob on Catholic Bytes Podcast!

Photo by Guillaume de Germain on Unsplash

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