Photo: Felix Carroll
How to 'Engineer' a Spiritual Experience
By Dan Valenti (Jul 1, 2011)
Father Ken Dos Santos, MIC, new rector of The National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, has to search for an answer when asked why the Marians of the Immaculate Conception entrusted him with the spiritual and physical care of the holy Shrine on Eden Hill in Stockbridge, Mass. That an answer doesn't come readily, typifies Fr. Ken's low-key, humble tone. He's not out for glory in the conventional sense.
Finally, he says, "I think the Marians know they can count on me. They know I'm not going to give up, no matter how difficult a job or an assignment can be. I want to bring stability to this important position. I will do the best I can. They know that."
Father Ken, who was happy serving as a parish priest in Kenosha, Ill., recalls the surprising day when the Very Rev. Fr. Dan Cambra, MIC, then-provincial superior of the Congregation in the United States, phoned: "Father Dan called me one day and asked me if I was sitting down. He then asked if I would consider being Shrine rector. That was Thursday, March 24, 2011. I was pretty surprised."
Father Dan said he could give Fr. Ken some time to think it over, but the latter then realized something. In that 10-minute conversation, Fr. Ken says, the answer came. He knew that he both wanted to — and had to — say yes, seeing in the phone call the new "course correction" in his priestly life. By the Tuesday before Palm Sunday, he had arrived on Eden Hill. By Palm Sunday, Fr. Ken Dos Santos was rector of the National Shrine.
"I see our main task at the National Shrine to strengthen our core values." Father Ken identified several, including: promoting God's infinite mercy; encouraging devotion to Our Lady as the way to Christ; providing the best possible service to our pilgrims, both spiritually and tangibly; and increasing the holiness of the Association of Marian Helpers.
Father Ken says he'd like to see more of a Marian presence for pilgrims on Eden Hill, a challenge for all of the Marian missions taking place in the United States and around the world. He says his goal is to provide this "as best as our resources allow." For example, he will be assisted this summer by several Marian seminarians.
In talking to Fr. Ken about his plans, one can see evidence of his former career as an engineer in the secular world. He has a systematic, logical approach to problems. In true engineering fashion, whether the job involves taking care of the heating system of the National Shrine or making sure to staff the Shrine's priestly and spiritual needs, Fr. Ken tackles problems sequentially — A leads to B, which brings you to C, where the solution lies.
Father Ken says he wants to focus on the quality of the pilgrim experience at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy: "My plans are not to increase the amount of traffic at the Shrine or to do more things," Fr. Ken says. "Rather, I want us to minister better to people's spiritual needs. I want to do the things we do now [Holy Mass, confessions, special programs, pastoral counseling, retreats, providing spiritual refuge from the demands of the bustling outside world] and do them better."
He also wants to make sure to take care of the physical structures and grounds of the National Shrine: "I want to be sure the building ages as well as possible. The Shrine is now more than a half-century old. The constant upkeep may not be evident to people, but it's a necessary job and requires a constant investment."
In fact, a late spring storm that caused tornado-like conditions on Eden Hill had Fr. Ken and the facilities manager and maintenance crew scrambling. Winds felled trees and tore off the cross on the Shrine's bell tower. In the midst of his regular duties, Fr. Ken had to address that chaotic situation. He did, and beautifully, like the engineer he once was.
One can see Fr. Ken today as a kind of spiritual engineer. His job as Shrine rector is "tougher and busier than I thought. There's always something going on or that needs attention. I have to figure out solutions that ultimately are about people, not buildings or grounds."
Father Ken says he's "becoming more aware of his responsibilities to the spiritual welfare of every person who visits the Shrine, those who are seeking God's merciful love. I want the people who come here to experience God's mercy and the peace that it can bring. The focus should not be on the 'awe inspiring' beauty of the Shrine, but on God Himself. I want the pilgrims to be moved by the beauty they see on Eden Hill, but mainly, I want them to come here to experience God Himself."