Drawn to evangelization

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After Deacon Thomas M. Cavanaugh graduated from Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington in 1999, he didn't immediately go off to college like most of his contemporaries - he went to Europe.

He was born in 1981 and raised in a Catholic family by parents Mike and Susan. The family attended St. Agnes Church in Arlington, but it wasn't until Europe that he came to develop his faith fully.

It was on a short trip to Rome in 2000 when he read the Gospels and had what he called his "big conversion" in St. Peter's Square. It was where he finally came to know the living God.

After his Rome experience, he became active in Young Life International, a non-denominational youth ministry group that brings the Gospel to adolescents around the world. He worked in Ethiopia for a year with the group.

He returned to the United States and continued his studies, first at Northern Virginia Community College and then on to study philosophy and theology at the Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.

He returned to Arlington in 2005, enrolled at Marymount University and earned a bachelor's degree in theology and art.

In 2006, after years of discernment, he entered Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.

On June 8, Deacon Cavanaugh will be ordained a priest at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington, the culmination of years of discernment.

In preparation for this day, Deacon Cavanaugh has been serving at St. Philip Church in Falls Church.

In addition to working with priests like Fathers Denis M. Donahue, pastor, and Luke R. Dundon, parochial vicar, he said it was the emphasis on discipleship and evangelization at St. Philip that inspired him.

Last September, St. Philip held an evangelizing event that coincided with its parish picnic.

It was a door-to-door event where volunteers and seminarians went to homes in the neighborhood in a spirit of discipleship.

"Our selling point was not 'You really have to accept the Gospel,'" said Deacon Cavanaugh.

It was an invitation to join the community at the St. Philip picnic.

"Join the festivities," were the key words of the day.

If people expressed an interest in the faith, the parishioners were told to encourage that interest with prayer and offer them a visit or call from a priest.

There were positive results from the visits; one neighbor actually came to Sunday Mass.

His time at St. Philip is ending and as the time of his ordination approaches, Deacon Cavanaugh said he is "immensely joyful and excited."

He said there were many priests who helped him find and develop his vocation, but many lay persons too.

"Kip Vaile was the first (person) to really challenge me to read the Gospels," said Deacon Cavanaugh.

Vaile was a former supervisor who became his "spiritual big brother." The two still meet three or four times a year to study the Gospel.

The man who was responsible for instilling a love of evangelization was pro-life lawyer Sam Casey. They meet twice a year to discuss discipleship and evangelization issues.

Cecelia Schmitt, former assistant for vocation promotion in the diocesan Office of Vocations, taught him the interior life of a disciple of Christ.

"We would pray for each other," Deacon Cavanaugh said.

Finally he credited his mother and father.

"If there's any goodness in me, it's because of what I received from my parents."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2013