St. James Episcopal invites community to installation of vicar

St. James Episcopal invites community to installation of vicar

The Rev. John Reardon at St. James Episcopal Church, with his rescue dog, Jazzy, by his side.

NORTH PROVIDENCE – At age 57, the Rev. John Reardon says he’s a happy man.

“I’m on fire for Christ more than I’ve ever been in my life; I have been set free to grow in faith and to serve,” says Reardon, who will be installed as St. James Episcopal Church’s vicar by the Right Rev. Nicholas Knisely, Episcopal Bishop of Rhode Island, at a Eucharistic Liturgy later this month. The service, which is open to the community, will be held Tuesday, Oct. 23, beginning at 7 p.m., at St. James Church, 474 Fruit Hill Ave.

Reardon’s path to happiness has been far from straightforward. As a former Roman Catholic priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross, an international religious congregation of brothers and priests in the Roman Catholic church, Reardon felt deeply conflicted – torn between his sexual orientation as a gay man who wanted to discuss that orientation and his deep commitment to his Catholic faith.

“It was difficult for me; they minded that I wanted to talk about being gay, not that I was gay,” he said. “They preferred the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ atmosphere. It was a warm and loving atmosphere and, at the same time, it was unhealthy; we weren’t naming reality.”

Feeling the need to be open about his sexual orientation, Reardon left the Congregation of Holy Cross, but continued to work within the same religious community, at Gilmour Academy of Gates Mills, Ohio. Though he felt the need to be semi-closeted then, Reardon has no regrets about the choices he’s made.

“If you wish away your choices, you wish away the people you know and love,” he said.

Forced to choose between his calling to be a priest, which provided him countless moments of joy, and his mental and spiritual health, Reardon left the Catholic church and earned a master’s degree in social work from Smith College School for Social Work in Northampton, Mass., so that he could support himself.

“There was a real freedom in … being a ‘regular guy’ who could be completely open and uncensored about my own story and learning new things,” said Reardon, who, while traveling cross-country, said he made wonderful friends and had great experiences.

A lifelong learner, Reardon also holds a doctorate in theology from Fordham University, a Catholic Jesuit university in New York, and a certificate of Anglican studies from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, Calif. He also holds degrees from Haverford College of Pennsylvania, the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, and the Oblate School of Theology in Texas.

Reardon, who has served as vicar of St. James since February of this year, eventually found his way to the Episcopal Church, though he initially was unsure if it would be the right place for him. With revelations of sexual abuse continuing to roil the Catholic church, Reardon was asked what advice he could offer that denomination.

“Look in the mirror and tell the truth about what happened in the past; don’t scapegoat (others),” said Reardon, who said he “wouldn’t be shocked” if Catholic priests were allowed to marry within his own lifetime.

Embracing his ministry, social service, and clinical and educational responsibilities, Reardon said he is eager to help St. James grow. Committed to participating in North Providence’s civic life, Reardon is building connections with Mayor Charles Lombardi and Police Chief David Tikoian. The church’s physical infrastructure is getting spruced up as well, with Reardon and some congregants repairing old flood damage and painting, among other jobs.

His busy schedule aside, Reardon makes time for a few secular indulgences, including drinking Coke Zero, watching satire on television, and spending time with his rescue dog, Jazzy, and cats, Prenny and Mitty. Acknowledging that he is about as celibate now as he was in seminary, Reardon says, “If God wants me to share my life with someone,” it’ll happen. “Openness has freed me; I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life.”