Call to priesthood is all in the family for Deacon Philip Ilg
When Deacon Philip Ilg is ordained as priest of the Archdiocese of Washington on June 25, among the family and friends who will gather for the happy event will be a fellow seminarian.
This seminarian who will be at the Mass shares with Deacon Ilg not only a desire to become a priest, but also a last name. Edmond Ilg, who is preparing for his own priestly ordination, is the father of Deacon Ilg.
Both future priests are members of the Neocatechumenal Way. Founded in Spain in 1964, the Neocatechumenal Way is a Catholic movement dedicated to adult and family faith formation. An estimated 1.5 million Catholics belong to the Way in about 40,000 parish-based groups worldwide. The Neocatechumenal Way has also established more than 70 Redemptoris Mater diocesan mission seminaries around the world, including one in the Archdiocese of Washington.
The Ilg family joined the Way – as it is familiarly called – after Deacon Ilg’s mother, Constance, lost a son, named Joseph, at birth. Edmond and Connie joined in 1996, and young Philip joined three years later.
“Their (the Way’s) catechesis helped my parents in a difficult time,” Deacon Ilg said.
Deacon Ilg, who will be just 11 days shy of his 30th birthday when he is ordained, said he first thought about becoming a priest when he was 8 years old.
“I remember I was setting the altar one day as an altar boy and I had this moment where I thought I would be doing that for the rest of my life,” he said. “That feeling soon went away, but it really happened.”
During the 2002 World Youth Day in Toronto, “that feeling” returned.
“I would call it a ‘key moment’ when I got in touch with the mercy of God,” he said of his World Youth Day experience. “It was something that changed my life, and I got more involved in the Church after that.”
“That was an important point in my life where I felt the love of God at a liturgy of Penance,” he said. “After that I just kept discovering the Church as a life-giving place of refuge and grew deeper in the faith.”
He said that after World Youth Day, “I started thinking about (the priesthood), and I asked God for a sign.”
The sign came during a retreat in Asbury Park, a seaside resort in New Jersey. Deacon Ilg said he was sitting on the beach alone when “a priest came walking toward me … he said, ‘Keep your ears open – maybe God is calling you.’ ”
Although Deacon Ilg went to Catholic school in his native New Jersey, was an altar server and his parents were active in their parish, his mother was not too receptive to the idea of her only son becoming a priest.
He said his mother initially disapproved of his vocation because, as her only surviving son, she had hoped one day to become a grandmother.
Five years ago, Deacon Ilg’s mother died from cancer. “When she was dying, she came to terms with me becoming a priest,” he said. “She told me, ‘I want you to do what God is calling you to do.’”
Deacon Ilg called his late mother’s initial reluctance to his becoming a priest “a fire that my vocation went through.”
After Connie’s death, Deacon Ilg’s father discerned his own priestly vocation and later entered a Neocathecumenal Way Redemptoris Mater seminary in Guam. “He’s very happy,” Deacon Ilg said of his father’s own seminary studies.
After his ordination, Deacon Ilg said his role as a priest will be “to be in touch with the people.”
“I want to be among the people and share my experience of faith with them and teach them how to experience the love of God,” he said. As a priest, he realizes that “a person’s soul is put in my hands, and one day I will have to answer for that.”
He added that “doing the work of the Lord, the mission of the Lord, gives me peace. The Lord called me to this, and He will give me peace.”
“I am happy,” Deacon Ilg said of his impending ordination. “At the end of the day, this is really the Lord’s work and His mission, and He will bring it to a good conclusion.”
Deacon Ilg will celebrate his first Mass as a priest on June 26 at 9:30 a.m. at Holy Redeemer Church in Kensington.