When Deacon Phillip Halladay worked as a firefighter and paramedic and later as an insurance company claims investigator he often found himself helping people pick up the pieces in the wake of tragedy and natural disasters.
“I’ve always been around death, destruction and devastation,” Deacon Halladay said. “I found in my life it was my faith that allowed me to handle this and help others get through these events.
In that work lived the seeds of a vocation to the priesthood. “I liked bringing order to the chaos,” said Deacon Halladay, who will be ordained a priest for the Diocese of Nashville with eight other men on Saturday, July 26. “I could always know the goodness that was going to come at the end.
“I very much see that in the priesthood,” he said.
Deacon Halladay grew up in Mobile, Ala., as part of what he called “a very Catholic family” who attended daily Mass.
He attended Catholic schools through high school before earning a degree in public administration from the University of South Alabama. While in college, he began working as a firefighter and paramedic for the City of Mobile. After five years on that job, he started working in the insurance industry.
At the same time, he coached and officiated youth sports primarily in the parochial school system. He has played, coached or officiated football, basketball and baseball from youngest age group to the collegiate level, and he sees coaching as an expression of his faith.
“There is a real theology in sports,” Deacon Halladay said. Athletics involve hard work, perseverance, suffering, determination and “clawing and scratching for every inch to win a battle.” All those qualities apply not only to sports but to the rest of our lives and to our spirituality, Deacon Halladay said.
He started thinking about the priesthood in 2004 and 2005. During that period, four hurricanes hit Florida and Hurricane Katrina blasted the Gulf Coast near his home town. The affected areas were in his territory for work.
“I realized that most of my happiness came from helping people,” Deacon Halladay said.
His call to the priesthood became clear, Deacon Halladay said, as he sat in the conference room of Nationwide Insurance’s office in Birmingham, Ala. On the wall hung a plaque that read “There is no greater personal endeavor than to help secure the needs of others.”
“I realized this is what a priest does,” he said.
In 2006, he became a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Mobile and began studying in Rome at the Pontifical Gregorian University and the North American College.
Part of the discernment process is figuring out not only if God is calling a person to be a priest, but how to live out that priesthood and where, Deacon Halladay said. He kept thinking about how much he enjoyed Nashville when he would be in the city for work.
His brother Father Paul Halladay was a military chaplain stationed at Fort Campbell and knew Bishop David Choby. He helped arrange a meeting between the bishop and Deacon Halladay about him becoming a seminarian for the Diocese of Nashville.
In 2010 he made the switch and before returning to school in Rome spent a year as a pastoral associate at St. Philip Church in Franklin and at the Cathedral of the Incarnation. After his ordination, Deacon Halladay will return to those parishes to celebrate his first Masses: 5 p.m. Saturday, July 26, at the Cathedral and 5 p.m. Sunday, July 27, at St. Philip.
He returned to Rome in 2011 and earned a baccalaureate of sacred theology from the Gregorian, graduating magna cum laude. He is now working on a licentiate of sacred theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, known as the Angelicum. After his ordination, he will return to Rome to complete his studies, which are focused on pastoral theology, before receiving an assignment in the Diocese.
Deacon Halladay, who was ordained as a transitional deacon in Rome last October, sees life as a parish priest as a life in a family. In both a parish and a family, the members work for each other’s spiritual well-being, he said.
“We’re not made for this earth,” Deacon Halladay said. Through life’s joys and sadness, people can realize that God created them and wants them back with Him, he added. “That’s what families do as well.”
As his ordination nears, Deacon Halladay said his thoughts “are all over the place really.”
He prays that he can be the priest “that Christ needs me to be in order to evangelize all people in Nashville.”
For his ordination, Deacon Halladay will return to one of the spots where he discerned his call to the priesthood. While attending a business meeting in Nashville, he stopped by the Cathedral to pray about his vocation. He looked around the Cathedral, which will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its dedication on the day he is ordained, and thought, “what a beautiful Cathedral. I could be ordained here,” Deacon Halladay said. “And now I am.”