Bill Gavin knows what it's like to be young and confused
about God. Though he grew up Catholic, he had years of doubt
and questions about his own faith. Since then, Gavin has
dedicated himself to a career in ministry as a religion
teacher and youth minister.
Confusion in college
Gavin grew up in Alexandria where he attended Queen of
Apostles Church and school. After graduating from Bishop
Ireton High School in Alexandria in 1988, he went on to study
religion and philosophy at the University of Mary Washington
Though Gavin always had been active in the faith - attending
youth group and yearly Christian Family Movement retreats
with his family - he lost his safety net when he got to
"My experience with church was very focused on a small group
of people," he said. "In college, it was a whole variety of
things - being away from home, being away from what was
familiar; I went through some difficulties."
During his sophomore and junior year, Gavin didn't know what
he believed. Though he stopped going to church, he still had
an instinctive need for God in his life. When he was
troubled, he went to pray at night outside St. Mary of the
Immaculate Conception Church in Fredericksburg.
He also was drawn to faithful role models. A Christian
philosophy teacher helped him understand how Christian
thought mixed with philosophy, and a friend from his soccer
team invited him to attend Intervarsity, the university's
Christian fellowship group.
"I was fairly connected to the world of Evangelical
Christianity for a little while," Gavin said. "There were a
lot of good people that I met, but I never felt at home with
Forming an adult faith
During his senior year and after college, Gavin began to feel
more comfortable with his own Catholicism. After college, he
got a job helping Youth Apostle Father Peter W. Nassetta,
parochial vicar of Queen of Apostles. He also decided to
study theology for a year at Catholic University in
Washington, and then at Princeton Theological in Princeton,
N.J. Gavin, one of very few Catholics at Princeton, got a job
working as an assistant to the chaplain.
"The experience at Princeton was certainly not what I
expected," he said. "I had a very unique experience where I
was working in the campus ministry, so I met a lot of great
Catholic people, but it immediately challenged my faith in a
way I'd never been challenged before."
In those years, Gavin began to deeply study his faith. For
two years, he ran the campus ministry Rite of Christian
Initiation of Adults program, which strengthened his faith
even more. By the time he graduated in 1997, Gavin thought he
might have a vocation to the priesthood.
"I didn't know what I wanted to do, but I knew I was being
called to the ministry," he said. "I looked at the
priesthood, I visited some friaries, and in the middle of all
that turmoil, I met my wife."
Or technically, he met his wife again. Gavin and Gina had
known each other since 1975, when they were in kindergarten.
After attending elementary school together, they went their
separate ways. They were reconnected when Gavin visited a
friend at the University of Dallas in Texas, where Gina was a
student. They married two years later in 1999.
A career in ministry
Gavin moved back to Virginia in 1997 and became involved with
the Youth Apostles. He worked as a full-time youth minister
at St. Mary of Sorrows Church in Fairfax until 2005, when he
began teaching religion at Ireton.
"I enjoy having fun with students, I'm interested in the
faith and it always felt very natural to me," he said.
"Teaching can be very draining, but I truly love what I do. I
love going to school and spending time with students."
Gavin also serves as part-time coordinator of youth ministry
at his parish, Holy Trinity in Gainesville. That job can be
particularly challenging, he said.
"Certainly there are times when it can challenge your faith,
when you don't do as well as you like, and you start to
question yourself," he said. "Most people have no idea what a
youth minister does, but most youth ministers that I know are
continually thinking about their kids, praying for them and
worrying about them. You have to be very careful to
understand your limits and to know there's only so much you
To make the faith fun, he tries to bring humor into all of
his lessons with jokes and funny videos.
"I think that young people (should) see the church as a place
where they can laugh and have fun, a place where they can be
joyful," he said. "The day that I'm not laughing while doing
youth ministry is the day I should quit. God doesn't send us
kicking and screaming to where He wants us to be. If you're
not joyful in what you're doing you should be doing something
Over the years, Gavin said he has received great support from
his friends and family, especially his wife. Today, he and
Gina have five children - four boys and one girl.
"My wife is a tremendous spiritual guide and somebody that,
for anyone who knows her well knows, she is a very wise
person," Gavin said. "She has kept me out of trouble many
In his work, Gavin hopes he can help young people come to
know and love Jesus.
"I think the faith is impossible to know outside of a
relationship - you have a relationship to the church, to your
parents, to your friends and to God," Gavin said. "If you
approach your faith as a bunch of rules, it's never going to
make sense. (Young people should) understand that God wants
the best for you, He doesn't want to make your life
Gavin said his favorite part of his work is when something
the students learned has touched their heart. Sometimes he's
been surprised by students - that the ones who didn't seem to
be paying attention were the most affected by what he taught
"Anytime you get a sense that a teen has kind of got it,
you're just experiencing the presence of God," he said.
Bahr can be reached on Twitter @KBahrACH.