Trevor Kelly thought his destiny was to be a rock star.
His mother, his father, his grandparents, his aunts, his uncles and his cousins, said he was meant to be a priest.
They were right. He was wrong.
Trevor, who teaches theology at St. Joseph High School and played in the band Eyes to See at Sacred Heart University, is entering the Jesuit novitiate in Syracuse this August and leaving behind his aspirations of rock ‘n’ roll fame.
His former bandmate Bill Haug, who is director of marketing at SHU’s west campus, said, “Playing music with Trevor over the years has been a pleasure. There’s no one else in the world that I have that kind musical chemistry with. I’ll never forget the first time we played together. It was instant. We earned our chops together in our college band, playing gigs anywhere and everywhere. Most importantly, we grew as musicians, brothers and as people.”
Most of Trevor’s life seemed to point toward a career in music and the priesthood, from the time he became an altar server in the second grade through his years at Xavier High School in Middletown and Sacred Heart University, where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in religious studies and philosophy.
“As a kid, I thought the priesthood was really attractive and admirable and heroic,” he said, “but …” It seemed there was always a ‘but’ even though God kept putting people in his path to inspire him, especially Father Thomas Cieslikowski, the parochial vicar at Our Lady of Fatima in Yalesville, which was Trevor’s parish as a youth.
“Father Tom was so important to me as a role model in his preaching and proclaiming the Word,” he said. “His example as a priest stuck with me. The Gospel stories came alive when he told them.”
As fate—or Providence—would have it, Trevor saw him again for the first time in 20 years when he was recently concelebrating Mass at the Church of the Assumption in Ansonia, where Trevor was singing.
As Father Tom tells the story, “I admired the young man who was singing, and I said to him, ‘I don’t know how much they’re paying you, but if you come to my church, I’ll pay you more.”
Trevor realized immediately this was the priest who had such a tremendous influence on him as a boy—the man who during his children’s liturgy had a teddy bear dressed up as a priest that told Gospel stories and the man whose example inspired Trevor to enter the Society of Jesus.
“I was very honored when he told me his story,” Father Tom said. “We both teared up and hugged, and he took a selfie with me.”
Despite his early interest in the priesthood, Trevor spent 20 years focused on another path.
“I felt very strongly that I was meant to be a dad and a musician, so I couldn’t be a priest, and I began to shut the door on the priesthood,” he recalled.
Since he was 16, he has worked in the Catholic Church in various ministries, including cantor, youth minister and catechist. He has also performed in many bands, singing groups and choirs. His first band as a teenager was Virgo Down, an alternative rock group in which he sang and played keyboard. His current praise and worship ensemble, Joseph and the Saints, performs at Assumption in Ansonia.
Throughout his life, Trevor has had a love of music, which he got from his parents, Peter and Lisa, who encouraged their children to sing together as a family. However, when Trevor told them his dream was to be a rock star, they suggested he consider other options.
“They did everything to talk me out of a career in rock music,” he recalled. “They said I wouldn’t make money and that I needed to find work that would pay better, so I continued to play but made a course correction when I went off to college.”
His love of the Catholic Church, the liturgy and the sacraments, along with the example of his teachers at Xavier pointed him toward religious studies. Sacred Heart University had everything he was looking for.
“The moment I stepped on campus, I knew I was somewhere special,” he said. “I was enchanted by the campus, and I enrolled there with the intention of being a religion teacher at a Catholic high school.”
He found friends, educators and mentors in the Theology and Religious Studies, and Philosophy departments, and he studied in Ireland for two weeks with associate professor June-Ann Greeley.
Trevor graduated with a double major in religious studies and philosophy and a minor in music. At Sacred Heart, he also sang in the liturgical and concert choir, Four Heart Harmony and a chamber ensemble.
Before pursuing his master’s, he took a year off and taught music and band at St. Augustine’s School in Hartford and continued to be involved in campus ministry.
“Once I was asked point blank by a student if I had ever considered entering the priesthood, and I said, ‘Sure, many times,’” he said. “When things were going badly or I had family issues or dark times, I would tell God, ‘If you can get me and my family or friend through this, I’ll do whatever you want. I was thinking I would give the priesthood a sincere shot, but I always pulled back my offer and thought, ‘Next time, God, next time.’”
In 2016, he began teaching at St. Joseph High School in Trumbull and although things were going well, the question of whether he should enter the priesthood persisted.
He reached out to several priests he knew, including Father Jeffrey Gubbiotti, who was pastor at Assumption.
“One of the priests told me I had over-romanticized the priesthood and that every one of the priests I knew was still an imperfect person, a sinner, and there was no version of me that was ever going to be good enough on my own accord,” Trevor recalled. “Jesus would work with me if I opened myself up to him, and He would more than make up for my many flaws.”
Trevor visited St. John Seminary in Boston to get a taste of the religious life and had a good experience but didn’t think parish life was for him. After discussing the possibility of joining a religious community, the Jesuits became a strong possibility. Their spirituality was similar to the Xaverian Brothers at his high school.
Trevor began doing things in his daily life that Jesuits have been doing for 500 years — praying the Divine Office with his students at St. Joseph’s, meditating on Scripture, conducting a daily examination of conscience and delving into Ignatian spirituality.
His interest in the Society of Jesus increased, and he had meetings with the Rev. Bret Stockdale, S.J., chaplain at Fairfield Prep, and the Rev. Mark Scalese, S.J., director of campus ministry at Fairfield University.
“I felt instantly at home with them,” Trevor said. “I felt a bond and kinship there. I left feeling completely and totally empowered, and I reached out to the vocation director at the Provincial Office in Maryland and had a two-hour interview over the phone.”
All the pieces seemed to fall into place, he said. He began spiritual direction at the Ignatian Spirituality Center at Fairfield University and reading about the Jesuit tradition. Last September, he sent the vocation director a letter and said he wanted to apply to the order.
The director called back and Trevor started to learn about the ways he could serve God in the Society of Jesus, including prison ministry, teaching, mission work and hospital ministry.
In August, he will enter the Jesuit Novitiate of St. Andrew Hall in Syracuse. After 20 years, Trevor believes he is finally where he was meant to be … and that Jesus was patient with him as He led him along.
His former bandmate, Bill Haug said, “I couldn’t be happier for him. Trevor has always been on a journey of growth, a search to become the best version of himself. We can all use someone like Trevor to inspire us and share his faith with us.”