The Rev. Kevin Upham is celebrating a Christmas unlike any he’s experienced.

After nearly 30 years of watching from the pews, and a half-dozen more pursuing the priesthood, Upham is finally the person leading parishioners during one of the most important services of the Christian faith.

“I’ve been a priest since May, but Christmas is always different,” Upham said last week as he prepared for the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services at St. Christopher Parish on Peaks Island.

“I’m excited, but I’m also nervous,” he said on Monday evening while he waited to board the ferry that would take him to Peaks Island and his first Christmas Eve Mass as a priest.

About 50 people attended the service at St. Christopher’s Parish, which was founded in 1923 and sits on a hill overlooking Casco Bay and the city of Portland.

In his homily, Upham spoke about the importance of being able to receive at a time when many people are obsessed with giving.

“We can become preoccupied with giving because we don’t want to be seen as selfish or stingy. It can be difficult to receive especially the good things that life has to give us,” Upham said. “We need to open our hearts to him this Christmas. God truly is with us.”

Several parishioners approached Upham after the service to commend him on his sermon.

Born in Portland 35 years ago, Upham grew up in Massachusetts but often returned to Maine during summers and some Christmases to see family. Even as a young man, he was drawn to Catholicism and his faith, guided by his religious parents and grandparents, as well as the stories of the saints that inspired him to try to serve others.

“I knew the church was going to be a big part of my life,” Upham said. “I wasn’t sure how.”

College brought him back to Maine, where he studied communications at St. Joseph’s College in Standish – the state’s only Catholic, liberal arts college – and involved himself in campus ministries. After graduation, he spent six years in the business world working for a bank even as he sought out opportunities to serve as a nonordained lay minister at prisons, a veterans home and in his own parish.

Upham said serving a larger role within the Catholic Church was always in the back of his mind, but the life event that “propelled” him toward the priesthood was losing his bank job. Unemployed and unsettled, he began re-examining things and kept coming back to the ministry even after he landed a new job at the bank.

Nine months later, the priesthood was still on his mind and he had an acceptance letter from St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore.

“That was the big kick in the pants for me,” Upham said of losing his job. “So God works in ways that we don’t always understand at first.”

Six years later, after completing his clerical studies at St. John’s Seminary in Massachusetts and spending a year as a “transitional deacon” in Maine, Upham was ordained as a Catholic priest on May 26, 2018. The ordination ceremony took place at Portland’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception – just 2 miles from Maine Medical Center, where he was born.

Upham said this has been a year of “firsts” as he learned to apply the ministerial lessons from seminary.

He acknowledged that it took some time to get his head around all of the “liturgy,” the heavily ritualized text and traditions that comprise services in the Catholic Church and other denominations. As a youth, he never served as an altar boy or an acolyte. But he said he “appreciates everyone’s patience with me” and believes it is going well.

After the Christmas Eve service at St. Christopher Parish on Peaks Island, Upham also led midnight Mass at St. Louis Parish on Danforth Street.

As he prepared for those services several days beforehand, Upham acknowledged “a little bit of nervousness” given the spiritual importance of Christmas. But he also was looking forward to it – “for sure,” he added.

“I’m very happy to be doing this,” Upham said. “Seminary was a long time and it felt like at times it would never happen. So to be the priest, and to be the presider, is very exciting. My hope is to be able to bring the message of joy and unconditional love of Christ to people.”

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.