Ordination class of 2016: Deacon J. Thomas Gignac

byDonis Tracy Pilot Correspondent

Deacon J. Thomas Gignac Pilot file photo

This week, The Pilot begins a series profiling each of the nine men who will be ordained to the priesthood by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on May 21.

Growing up, Deacon J. Thomas Gignac had "three loves" -- architecture, business and the priesthood.

"I thought about being a priest since before receiving my First Communion," he recalled, "but I was also very interested in business and architecture."

Growing up the youngest of four brothers in Lynnfield, Deacon Gignac was very involved in Our Lady of the Assumption. As a child, he was an altar server. As teen, he was active in CYO and taught religious education.

When the time came to enter college, he decided to pursue one of his loves -- architecture -- at Syracuse University.

"But freshman year I figured out I can't draw," he said laughing. So, he moved on to study business.

"I saw that God was calling me, not toward the priesthood, but toward business," he explained. "I knew that was what I was meant to do."

For several years, he embarked on a career with IBM, ultimately working as a consultant for the company. But the call to the priesthood always lingered in the back of his mind.

One day, while working at IBM, Deacon Gignac read an article in their company magazine about a coworker who, in his 50s, had decided to retire and become a priest.

"I thought, 'Wow!' I'd never heard of someone having an older vocation like that," he said, adding that he had thought men always entered the seminary in their youth. "It remained in the back of my mind for years."

"It kept coming back," the 48-year-old continued. "I kept thinking: increase revenues, job savings -- all this was good stuff, but the number of souls saved was still zero...I kept thinking there's got to be something bigger. Even though what I was doing was good, that thought kept coming back to me."

Then in 2010, his life changed drastically.

Deacon Gignac had been renovating a loft space, working with an architect to design a custom-made condominium. "I was having a ball," he recalled. "But all of a sudden, the seller who was developing this for me went bankrupt."

Shortly thereafter, he received a call from his boss at IBM -- his entire division was being laid off.

"There I was -- all of a sudden the architecture thing is in trouble, and my business career is on hold. God took those two things out of the way and what was left was my third love -- that which was with me as a kid," he said.

For one year, Deacon Gignac prayed in front of the Blessed Sacrament in his parish -- St. Mary Star of the Sea in Beverly.

"I decided that maybe now was the time -- because I no longer had the loft distracting me, and no longer had the career with IBM distracting me," he said, adding that he did not know whom to speak to.

One Sunday his pastor, Father David Barnes, was away on a retreat, and a visiting priest came to celebrate Mass. It was Father Daniel Hennessey, the director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Boston. Deacon Gignac knew this was providential. He approached Father Hennessey after Mass, and one year later entered St. John Seminary.

He said his decision to enter the seminary came as no shock to his siblings, parents and friends.

"No one seemed very surprised," he said. "Everyone said it made a lot of sense and seemed to be very 'right' for me to be doing this."

After living on his own for so many years -- he was 43 when he entered St. John Seminary -- living in community was "the largest adjustment," he admitted. "But at the same time, that was the best thing too: living in the seminary, living in the community, following the Horarium -- I found it to be very helpful."

Deacon Gignac is currently assigned as a deacon in St. Lucy and St. Monica Parishes in Methuen.

"I have really enjoyed being a deacon, particularly being able to baptize. That has been a great joy to me," he said.

He is most looking forward to celebrating the Mass and being able to partake in the consecration. In addition, Deacon Gignac recognizes the need to evangelize.

"The days are gone when people are simply raised Catholic," he stated. "We need to actively evangelize."

"(The biggest challenge) is understanding the culture that is out there that has become so secularized that you have to defend what would normally just be fact," he continued.

He looks to St. Joseph to help him in his priesthood, noting that he has a "growing devotion" to him as the "chaste spouse and father that he is."

"That is my model for the priesthood -- being a spouse to the Church and a father to the people of God. He is someone I hope to emulate," he said.