WILTON—One of Father Reggie Norman’s most cherished gifts is the chalice he received from his mother on his ordination, which is inscribed: “To my son, Fr. Reginald Norman, from your loving mother. Ordained to the priesthood, May 16, 2009.”
On that day, ten years ago, Father joined the ranks of his family members in the clergy—his seven cousins and grandfather who are Baptist ministers. However, Father chose a different path when he converted to Catholicism and decided to enter the diaconate…and then the priesthood.
As pastor of Our Lady of Fatima, there is more to his worship than preaching and singing, he says. There is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the sacraments, along with his pastoral ministry for others.
Born in North Carolina, he grew up in Connecticut, and still has childhood memories of his Southern Baptist roots, going to Sunday school and doing ministry from 9 am to 3 pm
“At one point, I became rebellious and I didn’t want to go anymore,” he recalls, so he and his cousins stopped attending services.
His mother, Beatrice Pinckney was single mom, who moved to Norwalk while Reggie was still young, and later to Stratford, where he attended Stratford High School before going on to the University of Connecticut and graduating with a bachelor’s degree in communications science in 1988.
While he was a student UConn, he became interested in the Catholic faith.
“When I was in college, my roommate Frank would take me to 10 pm Mass on campus,” Father recalls. “His parents were from Italy, and his mother told him in no uncertain terms that Sunday Mass was not negotiable and that he better get himself there. ‘Come on, dude,’ he would say to me. ‘We’ll go out for a beer afterward.’”
Father Reggie said it was like an ad hoc Theology on Tap, and he loved it.
“I was intrigued by what was going on,” he said. “God has a perfect plan for you, but sometimes you just don’t know it. At Mass, I got turned on to a God who loves us, and it was a powerful attraction.”
Plus, there was the Eucharist and the Real Presence of Jesus — Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Blessed Sacrament.
“The Eucharist always brings people to the Church,” Father says, after a decade of being a priest and seeing the conversion miracles it can lead to.
A few years later, while he was volunteering with Stratford EMS, he expressed interest in the Catholic faith, and his friend Dan, who was a priest and is now a hospital chaplain, told him, “Just go to church.” He listened to the advice.
His mother started noticing the changes when he began attending St. James Church in Stratford, where Father Tom Lynch, the pastor, said, “Why don’t you just join us?”
“I talked to my mom about it, and she was intrigued because her son who was not at all interested in church suddenly was,” Father said. “I was having a change of heart.”
He and his mother went through the RCIA program together and were brought into full communion with the Church.
Then, Father Lynch raised the stakes and said, “Now that you’re a Catholic, do something. You need to get involved and take care of your faith.” Before he knew it, he was serving as lector, acolyte, Eucharistic Minister and on the Parish Council.
It was one step at a time, until Father Lynch said to him, “What about your vocation? You’re still single. Why don’t you become a priest?”
Father Reggie laughed and responded, “You’ve got to be kidding me. I just became Catholic.” At the time, his career was starting to take off and he had a number of sales positions for different computer and software companies.
“Why would I do that?” he said. “I have a career that I like, I have a beautiful condo that I like, I have everything that I supposedly worked for, so why would I give that up to become a priest? You guys don’t live the life that I want to live.”
Despite his initial resistance, the idea that he might be called to the priesthood kept resurfacing, until the day finally came when he said to God, “Let’s make a deal. Why don’t I become a deacon?”
He thought doing that would let him keep the lifestyle he loved, so he started in the diaconate formation program and was ordained in 2006. Soon after, he was named Vicar for Black Catholics and was eventually appointed administrator of Blessed Sacrament Church.
“I learned to pray in a different way and I began serving people in that capacity … and I was hooked,” he said. “I even used the skills and contacts I had made in the business world. You see, God was preparing me to do ministry for the Church.”
The day finally came when he met with then Bishop William Lori and said, “I think I want to become a priest.” He finally said yes to Jesus’ plan, and several years later in 2009, he was ordained. He served at Blessed Sacrament until 2013 when he was assigned to Our Lady of Fatima.
God has a sense of humor, Father Reggie says, because for most of his life, he had served people in organizations like the Red Cross and emergency medical services. “In a sense, he was preparing me,” he says.
During his priesthood, he has experienced what he calls “a sad joy and a happy joy.”
“Some of my closest friends have gone through major tragedies, and I have been there for them,” he says. “One of my good, good friends lost his 8-year-old son, and as a priest I could walk with them through that. That loss shook me and yet strengthened my faith as well.”
Last summer, his college roommate’s father died.
“Frank’s family walked with me when I needed them, and I had the privilege of walking with them on that journey and celebrate his father’s funeral,” he said.
“Being a priest has been such a great blessing for me,” he adds. “Even though some friends might not go to church, I can be there for them during a crisis. And as a priest, I can be a bridge to people who might not have a clear picture of what the faith is about and reach out in friendship to so many who fell away from the Church.”
The life of a priest has rewarded him in many ways, from celebrating Mass and administering the sacraments, to leading his parish and consoling people during times of crisis.
As Father Lynch told him, “It’s a good life.”
By Joe Pisani