Father John Hammond celebrates his first Mass Sunday, July 27, 10:30 a.m., St. John Vianney Church, Gallatin. He is assigned as Associate Pastor of Christ the King Church with part-time duties at the Diocesan Tribunal.
Deacon John Hammond shares a name with a famed blues musician and knows his way around a Deacon Hammond B-3 organ; he studied, plays, and appreciates music, and knows it will continue to be an important part of his life. In fact, music was one of the things that led him to his vocation as a priest.
“One of the gifts of music is that it touches people on a deep level,” he said. Those who share a passion for music, he said, often have a “sensitivity to beauty and are inclined to ask deeper questions.”
Studying sacred music in college, Deacon Hammond began to ask himself some deeper questions about his calling. In that sense, “music prepared me for the priesthood,” he said.
Raised as an Episcopalian, Deacon Hammond entered the Catholic Church while a freshman at the University of the South at Sewanee, which has “a small but vibrant, faithful Catholic community.” He was drawn into the church through the sacraments, and “the fullness of the faith” they represent, he said.
By the time he was a senior in college, Deacon Hammond was considering a vocation to the priesthood. Because the sacraments were so transformative in his own life, he said, “I wanted to share that experience with others and dedicate my life to those things.”
After graduating from Sewanee with degrees in music and Latin, Deacon Hammond went on to earn a graduate degree in sacred music from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Again asking those “deeper questions” of himself, Deacon Hammond met with Bishop David Choby, who welcomed him as a seminarian for the Diocese of Nashville. He then enrolled at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio. This spring Deacon Hammond received his master of divinity degree, a master of arts in theology and a B.A. in sacred theology from the Josephinum.
Even though Deacon Hammond is not from Tennessee, he feels that since he joined the church and began discerning his vocation here, “it is my spiritual home.”
As a student at Sewanee, Deacon Hammond was received into the church by Father Dexter Brewer, now pastor of Christ the King Church, where Deacon Hammond will serve as associate pastor after his ordination. “Things have come around full circle,” he said with a laugh. Deacon Hammond and Father Brewer, an accomplished violinist, also share a love of music.
Before coming to Christ the King, during summers home from the Josephinum, Deacon Hammond served at St. John Vianney Church in Gallatin and the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville, getting a glimpse of life as a parish priest. He will celebrate his first Mass after his ordination at St. John Vianney on Sunday, July 27 at 10:30 a.m.
Now settled in at Christ the King, Deacon Hammond is assisting Father Brewer with parish needs and with his duties at the diocesan Tribunal office, where he will be working part time.
Christ the King, Deacon Hammond said, “is a wonderful parish for a first assignment as a new priest. You get the whole range of experiences – baptisms, weddings, funerals, confessions, hospital ministry. It’s a big parish with a lot of daily spiritual needs.”
Deacon Hammond said as a priest he is looking forward to sharing both the “ordinary and extraordinary moments of life” with his parishioners.
Adjusting to priestly life while keeping up with the demands of a large parish, Deacon Hammond said, has the potential to be overwhelming, so “you have to figure out how to balance and manage all that.” He will look to his pastor, Father Brewer, as a mentor in finding the right balance, as well as staying in touch with the fellow members of his ordination class.
Deacon Hammond is proud to be entering the priesthood at this moment when “overall religious sensibility is waning,” he said. “As a priest you embrace a life that, a lot of times, wider society doesn’t understand and the culture rejects.”
He is proud to wear his profession, literally, on his sleeve. “Just walking down the street in clerical attire, you witness that God exists and He’s worth changing your life for.”
While the Catholic Church continues to slowly emerge from the long shadow of the priestly sex abuse crisis, Deacon Hammond doesn’t feel that weighing over his head. “The church suffered a great deal because of the sins of a few,” he said. “Despite everything that’s happened, almost all priests are faithful and holy.”
While some old friends and new acquaintances question why he would choose to devote himself to the institutional church, or embrace a life of celibacy, Deacon Hammond says that most people “see that I’m happy and dedicating my life to something meaningful.”
Being ordained with such a large group shows that, in Nashville particularly, “the church is very much alive and it’s a hopeful time for the church.”