PAWLEYS ISLAND — When the Deacon Philip M. Grant becomes a priest next June, he may be the oldest ever ordained for the Diocese of Charleston. In fact, he was too old to train for the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, where he lived and worked for 18 years before entering the seminary in September 2000.
“The archbishop traded me to Bishop Baker for a draft pick and two younger seminarians to be named later,” Deacon Grant joked. “I went from a nearly 3,000-square-foot house with vaulted ceilings to an 8-foot-by-15-foot room overnight.”
Grant’s house was the result of a successful career selling major food equipment worldwide. He has a master’s in business and owns patents in the citrus industry, including the one that produces the orange juice we buy in the supermarket. Even so, his commercial successes left him with an itch he couldn’t quite scratch, not even with volunteer work on the archdiocesan vocations awareness board and as president of the Atlanta Serra Club.
“I knew I eventually had to do something for the church. When my parish priest convinced me to study for the permanent diaconate, I agreed,” the deacon said.
In his very first semester of the diaconate program his company downsized and Phil Grant agreed to an early retirement buyout. He was nearly 60 and his plans for the future suddenly became crystal clear.
“Every door except one closed,” he said. “The Holy Spirit was working overtime.”
He entered Blessed John XXIII Seminary near his birthplace in Boston and reentered a life he hadn’t known in decades, a life of study and regimen. At first, the change was surreal, leaving him wondering where he was bound and how he hoped to get there. He soon got back into the groove of studying, he said, and the restrictions on his movements proved only slightly harder to reconcile.
“I thought I’d miss the traveling the most. As regional manager, I went at will, setting my own schedule. But now I never even think of it, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been,” Deacon Grant said.
He is also happy with the support of Bishop Robert Baker and the Diocese of Charleston. Deacon Joe Cahill, associate director for the Office of Vocations, said that Grant is not only the oldest transitional deacon in diocesan history, as far as can be determined, but that “Phil continues to be an inspiration to me and all others who know him.”
Since his parents are 88 and 90 respectively, Bishop Baker flew to Massachusetts to ordain Phil Grant to the transitional diaconate so that they could attend the solemn ceremony. Avon, the site of John XXIII, is only 30 minutes from the Grant family home.
Deacon Grant lived through the tribulations in the Boston Archdiocese during his first three years at the seminary, and he said “it was not pretty.” But he believes that the sex abuse scandal may be a purification that the church needed; it has solidified his calling to work for vocations once he becomes a parish priest in South Carolina.
He hopes one day to start a Serra Club in this diocese. The national club’s primary mission is to promote vocations to the religious life and the priesthood.
Deacon Philip Grant’s home parish is Precious Blood on Pawleys Island. He considers the parish home, but was thinking of his undergraduate days 40 years ago in a minor seminary of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Boston when he said: “They say you can’t go home again. You can, but it’s scary.”