Father Dae Kim remembers that he was called to the priesthood at, of all the places, a bowling alley in Queens. That is where he definitely decided to join the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers.
Arriving in New York City with his parents when he was 10, he had to adjust to life in America.
Ordained June 1 at the Maryknoll Society Mission Center in Ossining, N.Y., Father Kim, 38, soon will depart for mission in Latin America. The Mass and ordination ceremony at Maryknoll’s Queen of Apostles Chapel was celebrated by Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung from Seoul, South Korea, and it included more than 50 concelebrants from the Maryknoll Society and other religious groups.
Father Kim was born in Busan, South Korea, as the only child of Kwan Mo Kim and Sang Soon Pak. Though his parents had been baptized, religion was not a component of the family’s structure when he was growing up. But, in the U.S., the family became reacquainted with the Church. Seeking a solution to their teenage son’s rebellious period, the parents insisted that he attend Mass at least for Christmas and Easter.
Father Kim was an above-average student with a passion for science and math at Manhattan’s prestigious Stuyvesant H.S. He studied chemical engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology and New York University.
Fearing that he might fail an important project that would jeopardize graduation, then-student Kim visited the university chapel.
“At the time, I was feeling empty and lost,” said Father Kim, who found peace as he continued to visit the chapel and deepen his faith.
He passed the class, graduated and decided it was time that he was baptized into the Catholic Church. After graduation, Kim landed a good-paying job in the corporate world, but again he felt lost since “all I wanted was to make money and enjoy the privileges of rich people.”
During 2002, Dae Kim put his newfound faith into service by volunteering as a teacher’s assistant at St. Paul Chong Ha-Sang parish, Flushing. A Maryknoll priest, Father Joseph Veneroso, a teacher at the Sunday school program, helped prepare the young man for baptism and confirmation. He also invited him to a Maryknoll Vocation Retreat.
A couple of years later, during a night out for students and teachers at a local bowling alley, Dae Kim approached Father Veneroso between games and announced that he was ready to apply to Maryknoll. A mission exposure retreat in Guatemala preceded the seminary program at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
“That’s when my vocation really started developing,” said Father Kim.
For his overseas training, he spent two-and-a-half years in Cochabamba, Bolivia, at the Maryknoll Mission Center that provides mission formation. He said this challenged and developed his love for serving the people of God through mission. He worked in a Jesuit apostolate to teach Bolivian young people about computers and use of the Internet.
“My job was to aid them and guide them to never let their human spirit be squashed by their poverty and difficulties,” explained Father Kim. “Poverty takes away hope and the will to do better,” he says.
The Bolivians also had lessons for the future priest as they would linger after class to talk about matters of life and faith. Encouraged to share their hardships, the young men opened up with an honesty and vulnerability uncharacteristic of men raised in a culture of machismo. This led Father Kim to share his own feelings of loneliness as a missioner and an outsider.
“As an introvert, I am not comfortable sharing such intimate details about my life,” he admitted. “But, I was so moved by everyone’s honesty, I couldn’t help but feel empathetic to what they are going through.”
Father Kim also developed an appreciation for people’s expression of their faith through fiestas, often blending Catholic and native customs that include combining devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary with those honoring the Pachamama, or Earth Mother. They challenged Father Kim to learn always to reserve judgment and allow him to be open to the ways people express their relationship to God.