M. Regina Cram
"I was two hours, 45 minutes from being an April Fools joke," says longtime Glastonbury resident John McKaig, a financial services consultant and permanent deacon in the Catholic Church.
Born March 31, 1943, in Providence, R.I., he settled in Connecticut at age 10 when his father was named Glastonbury’s chief of police.
After graduation from high school, John went to work in a heat treat factory until longtime family friend Charlie Monaco offered him a job as a car salesman. Weighing only 125 pounds and painfully shy, Mr. McKaig looked at the floor as he replied, "Charlie, I can’t even look anybody in the face. How can I sell cars?"
Mr. McKaig still remembers Charlie Monaco’s response. "I’ll teach you. As long as you’re fair, you’re honest and you’re moral, you can accomplish anything."
So Mr. McKaig started selling cars, and by age 21 he was a top salesman. "Charlie Monaco made all the difference in my life," he says now. "He took me out of a factory and he put a white shirt and tie on me. He gave me the keys to my future."
Around that time, John met his wife at a beach party. Pat came from a devout Catholic family so Mr. McKaig, an Episcopalian, converted to Catholicism. "My father-in-law did not want someone to marry his daughter who wasn’t Catholic, especially if he was a used-car salesman," John laughs.
Nevertheless, God played no role in Mr. McKaig’s life. "Money was my God," he says. "The only time I went to church was when my father-in-law was in town."
By age 28, John McKaig’s life was a mess. He had a bleeding ulcer so severe that doctors planned to remove his stomach. He had become a drinker and a smoker, and was driving 70,000 miles a year as a salesman, seeing little of his wife and young son. But on Dec. 29, 1971, the day his daughter was born, Mr. McKaig took his last drink. It was the beginning of dramatic changes in his life.
The following week, Mr. McKaig found himself in the driveway of St. Paul Catholic Church in Glastonbury. For reasons he still does not understand, Mr. McKaig walked inside the empty church, knelt near the altar and looked up the crucifix. At that moment, something inexplicable happened. "I felt as red as a fire engine," he recounts, and when he stood up, he felt as if his body was ablaze. Later that evening, John McKaig stood in his living room and prayed, "Lord Jesus Christ, my life is yours. I surrender it all to you."
The transformation was remarkable. "I used to have a four-letter vocabulary. I went to bars and clubs. I was wrapped up in doing things for myself. But from the time I surrendered my life spiritually, emotionally, physically, I was healed."
Mr. McKaig purchased his first Bible a week later. He laughs that it took him seven days to find one because he had no idea where to look for religious items. "I bought it at G. Fox," he says.
Within a year, Mr. McKaig began pursuing ordination to the diaconate. He flunked his first seminary course on aesthetical theology, the study of the Holy Spirit. Mr. McKaig prayed for help, then went on to successfully complete his studies at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield. He was ordained as a permanent deacon in 1977.
A deacon is an ordained Catholic clergyman; once ordained, he remains a deacon for life. Married men may be ordained to the diaconate but may not remarry should they become widowed. Since it is not typically a full-time position, most deacons hold conventional jobs in addition to Church responsibilities.
These Church duties include conducting baptisms, officiating at weddings and funerals, preaching, visiting the sick, serving the needy and preparing couples for marriage. "We’re not minipriests," Mr. McKaig laughs. "A deacon is a servant of God. We’re called to assist the priests with the needy, homeless, shut-ins and imprisoned."
Mr. McKaig has many friends at the parishes he has served. Known as a caring man whose own troubles have made him compassionate, he is deeply loved by those whom he serves. His ministry is summed up by a terminally ill man whom John used to visit: "When John’s around, he makes me feel safe."
Since Mr. McKaig also works full-time in his financial planning business, he often is asked how he juggles two jobs. "I don’t," is his matter-of-fact reply. "I am a deacon who works. I live my diaconate. You can’t go to church on Sunday, take off your church clothes, put on your business coat, and then not be a Christian. My ministry as a deacon is brought into my business. There is no difference between John McKaig, the financial planner, and John McKaig, the deacon."
Whether he is providing financial services or preaching the Gospel, John McKaig is a servant of God.
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer.