Though he had a 17-year-long journey to priesthood, the new parochial administrator at St. Gertrude and St. Ann’s parishes, Father Philip “Phil” Krill said he has no regrets.
Father Krill, who is originally from Erie, Pa., is the oldest of six children of the late Donald and Irma Krill. After high school, his dream was to become a professional baseball player. In fact, he attended Notre Dame University on a baseball scholarship.
Father Krill joked that the reason he never made it into the big leagues is “because the Cardinals proved to have a very poor scouting system,” but realistically, he realized he didn’t have the foot speed necessary to make it as a professional.
Planning on the baseball career working out and not having a particularly religious family, Father Krill decided to major in theology.
“(Theology) struck me as concerning itself with the most important things a person could be concerned with,” he said. “It’s hard to get larger than the meaning of life.”
After earning an undergraduate degree in theology, Father Krill went to Yale University to earn a master’s degree in theology.
He had been teaching theology at a college in Pennsylvania and was living next door to the “House of Prayer,” where a nun had a ministry. He had been offered a long-term contract at the college, but felt “unsettled” about the proposition, even though he enjoyed his job and teaching.
The nun asked him if he was hesitating because he wanted to be a priest.
“When she said that, all the pieces kind of fell into place,” Father Krill said.
He then entered the seminary at Notre Dame, where he had six years of formation, or years spent in educational and spiritual preparation to become a priest.
During that time, Father Krill spent two years at the University of California at Berkeley studying for a doctorate’s degree and he spent one year teaching at the national major seminary in Bangladesh.
Father Krill was ordained a deacon in 1980 and to priesthood in 1981 for the Congregation of Holy Cross, the religious society that founded the University of Notre Dame and who teach at the college.
After he was ordained, Father Krill was assigned to St. Patrick’s Parish in South Bend, Ind., where he served as a priest for three years, two of which were in the parish and one was in a retreat house.
Father Krill found his living situation less than desirable, as he was living with a “troubled” priest.
“It was his behavior that I didn’t quite know how to handle,” he said. He decided to take a one-year leave of absence and during that time, he decided to leave the priesthood. In trying to figure things out, Father Krill met the woman who would later become his wife.
The woman was a psychiatric nurse and gave Father Krill advice about how to manage the difficult situation he was living in.
Krill said he was always open with his provincial superior (in a diocese, this would be the archbishop), who moved him to the retreat house, away from the situation.
During that year, he continued to cultivate the friendship with the woman he had met. She also had worked in Bangladesh, though the two never met while they were there. Originally from England, she was thinking of becoming a sister, which is how the two got to know each other.
The two met at a gathering for former missionaries and she helped him work through his problems with the other priest that allowed him to keep his own mental and emotional health in check.
“Even after I was given relief from the situation by my provincial superior, I had developed a great fondness and a deep attachment to this friendship with this lady,” Father Krill said.
The two continued their friendship when she moved to Michigan.
Father Krill’s provincial superior didn’t bless the marriage. He told Father Krill he would give him the papers to be dispensed of his vows and to be married to the woman, Ann, in church, but he didn’t believe Father Krill would fill them out because he belonged in the priesthood.
“He was correct. I never did fill out the papers. I never did ask permission from Rome to be married,” he said.
When he left the priesthood, he lost all rights and privileges of the priesthood and married outside the church.
Two years into his marriage, he and his wife had their son, Ben, who Father Krill considers to be a gift from God.
And after 8 1/2 years, the two amicably divorced and remain friends to this day.
Desire to Return
Within a year after his divorce, Father Krill said he had thoughts of returning to the priesthood.
“I assumed I had burned all my bridges,” he said, but “God writes straight with crooked lines and no matter how many apparent mistakes we make, He’s always working to bring out the good.”
He asked an admired priest if the church would ever consider readmitting a person like himself.
“Yes, you’re only one good confession away from being in good standing with God and with the church,” he was told.
However, because he had a dependent child, he was told he would have to wait until Ben was 18 and find a bishop willing to accept him. Father Krill had a minimum of 10 years to be in preparation to becoming a priest.
Krill spent his time teaching theology at Aquinas College, Grand Rapids, Mich., and working as an addictions/substance abuse counselor and administrator. He has more than 20 years of experience as an addictions counselor.
Protocol to readmittance included theological education, mentoring with a senior priest and ministry within the diocese.
Finding a bishop, at first, was not difficult for Father Krill. The local bishop in Grand Rapids, Mich., said he would accept him into preparation after 10 years. But after only eight years, the bishop retired and Father Krill had to start over.
The new bishop also said he would accept him in two years. However, within those two years, the new bishop passed away from a brain aneurysm.
Meanwhile, Ben had turned 18, but there was no bishop at the church in Grand Rapids. It took two years before the new bishop arrived and that bishop was not willing to accept Father Krill into his diocese.
A spiritual director, after 10 years, asked Father Krill if he was prepared to live as a priest whether or not a bishop would accept him.
He spent a year in prayer and meditation to be able to answer yes to the question.
“Once that happened, I didn’t care how long it took,” he said.
Father Krill moved into a rectory with five other priests in Grand Rapids. Father Krill was told about a bishop in the Saginaw diocese in Vassar, Mich., just north of Grand Rapids, who may accept him.
That bishop, Bishop Robert J. Carlson, said he would pray for a month and at the end of the month said he would accept him if he would spend a year working for the diocese. With that, he was named pastoral administrator of St. Frances Cabrini Parish in Vassar, Mich., but at the end of the year, Bishop Carlson was transferred to St. Louis.
Archbishop Carlson told Father Krill to see if the new bishop would accept him, and if not, he could come to St. Louis. He asked Father Krill to stay one more year at St. Frances Cabrini.
Joins St. Louis Diocese
The new bishop said he would accept Father Krill, but asked if he would be happier if in the Saginaw or St. Louis diocese.
“I didn’t know how to answer that because I just wanted to be a priest again,” he said.
In 2010, Father Krill came to St. Louis and spent another year preparing to enter the priesthood. He was stationed at St. Ann Parish in Normandy.
In 2011, he received permission from Rome to be re-instated as a priest in good standing.
He was assigned to Holy Spirit in Maryland Heights as an associate, where he spent the last two years.
“It was a long journey,” he said.
Father Krill said he looks forward to getting to know the people and serving them, officially, on Tuesday, June 18, at St. Ann’s and the following weekend at St. Gertrude.
“I am here to furnish the resources to the people of both parishes to achieve their respective parish missions and to strengthen what Archbishop Carlson describes as the seven elements of a vibrant Catholic parish,” he said. “Any decision I make will be altogether driven by whether or not the options under consideration strengthen or weaken one of those seven elements.”
Father Krill said he plans to be active at St. Gertrude School.
He will have offices at St. Gertrude and at St. Ann’s, but his living quarters will be at St. Ann’s.
He still looks up to Archbishop Carlson.
“I am so grateful that he accepted me,” he said. “I am so grateful to be able to serve him and the people of these two parishes, helping them align themselves with the goals that Archbishop Carlson has set for all parishes in his archdiocese.”