Photo: Felix Carroll

How to 'Engineer' a Spiritual Experience

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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."

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Be a part of the discussion. Add a comment now!

Terrie nedweski - Jul 16, 2011

Dear Father Ken, I met you at St.Peter In Kenosha. I joined there one year ago after being gone from church many years. I really missed the Holy Eucharist. One day I stopped at a Catholic store and I discovered The Divine Mercy . Perhaps by the prayers of the Marians because no one I knew knows about Divine Mercy. Someone was praying for me and the Holy Spirit led me to that store. From Feb. to July I learned that pamphlet and also found this website. July 3, I went to confession and joined St. Peter. I picked that church because I had seen Divine Mercy on the sign that was near the street. I went past it several times. The Holy Spirit has been guiding me for one year now and healing me and everything I ask for through the chaplet has been answered if it is God's will. This chaplet is so powerful. I am studying St. Faustina's diary and I praise God for His wonderful Gift of Mercy .I try to spread this whenever I can.It has saved my life. Father , you and all the Marians are in my prayers. May God Bless us with more devotion to Mary Our Great Queen In Heaven and through Her intercession , as with me, may many , many more souls be reached by her Son's Divine Mercy.

Laurie - Jul 7, 2011

I know God picked the right man for this job. Never quit because God is helping you carry on with this mission He has assigned to you. My prayers will be for you every day. Someday my wish will come true and I will go visit the Shrine.

Stephen from Rhode Island - Jul 5, 2011

God Bless you Father Ken! I'm praying for your success. America needs to be re-engineered - Blessed Mother keeps telling us via her messages from Medjugorje.

Mrs. Emily Selovich-July 5, 2011 - Jul 4, 2011

Congratulations Father Ken,
I know you will do a great job at the shrine. Your love of Mary and Jesus was very evident as you serviced the people here in Kenosha. My prayers are with you. Thank you very much for all you did for us here at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Church in Kenosha.

A Thankful Pilgrim - Jul 4, 2011

It was in the summer of 2007 that I met with the then director and later at a retreat that my life began a miraculous change. Please don't forget the human side as you 'engineer' your way through the directorship at The Shrine. It is that eye contact and openness that spells love and mercy which brings each pilgrim to that wonderful saving grace and mercy for which Jesus came and died for us. It was the love, kindness and patience of Fr. Anthony that made me come back over and over, gradually trusting the Divine Mercy of Jesus. Trusting so completely that I can now say without doubt that we are all instruments of His Mercy and Grace and Peace when we allow His Love to be our master and guiding light. When we take into our selves the love and sacrifice and honor and trust that our Blessed Mother exemplifies to us, and act on it, live it in our daily lives, we become an instrument of His Peace, His Love, His Grace and His Mercy in this hurting, tired, angry, oppressed world. Thank you, God bless you as you continue to show this world the Mercy of Christ.

Kathleen Roesch - Jul 3, 2011

I liked the description of Fr. Ken as a kind of spiritual engineer, and also his statement that he is becoming more aware of his responsibilities to the spiritual welfare of every person who visits the Shrine. I am sure many pilgrims will profit from the many gifts Fr. Ken brings to the Shrine, and he should know that our prayers support him and all the Marians in their effots to lead others closer to God.

Mom and Dad - Jul 3, 2011

We offer our prayers everyday for your Sacred Priesthood and for the Marian Community. We are confident that you will give your best effort with the help of Our Lord and Savior.Many Blessing!

Deacon Bob - Jul 2, 2011

I agree with Fr. Joe, (see above). For having 21 years experience on , "The Hill" what you believe in is exactly my core values and expertise of Shrine experience but also that of what a Shrine should be especially the hallmark of NASPA, National Association of Shrine and Pilgrimage Apostolate. We will be praying for you and your ministry
Fr. Ken. God's Blessings!

Brother Leonard - Jul 2, 2011

Forgot to add that another reason I have great confidence in you Fr Ken is that I'm sure you'll follow the inspiring teaching of St. Thomas perfectly! Now, how can you go wrong!!!

Brother Leonard - Jul 2, 2011

All the best to you Fr Ken. and I just know you'll do great through the help of His Mercy and Mary our Mother!

Fr. Joe Roesch, MIC - Jul 2, 2011

I am sure that God has picked the right man for the job! All the best to you Fr. Ken. We are thinking of you and praying for you!