Three months after he was ordained, the Rev. John Kevin Farmer did the unlikely: stand before Pope John Paul II.
"It was very exciting," he recalled. "There was a sense of awe. I recognized from standing face-to-face with our spiritual leader that he is a humble man; 'grandfatherly' is the word I use to describe him."
Father Farmer was able to meet the pope because Baltimore Roman Catholic Archbishop William H. Keeler, who chaired the planning committee for the pope's visit to Denver last year, selected him to help coordinate the historic event.
More than 400,000 Catholics attended the four-day event in August.
"Naturally, [Archbishop Keeler] wanted to look for a young priest to work with the youths," said the Rev. James M. Barker, director of vocations for the archdiocese. "Kevin fit that."
Youngest in archdiocese
"It's pretty rare" that a young priest meets the pope, acknowledged Father Farmer, who at 29 is the youngest priest in the archdiocese. He is an associate pastor for the 2,700-member St. Mark parish in Catonsville.
Last week, Father Farmer, who grew up in Glenwood, returned to Howard County to give the baccalaureate at Glenelg High School, from which he graduated in 1983.
Sitting in his rectory office where a framed color photo of the pope and him hangs on the wall, Father Farmer talked recently about the speech he would make to the students Thursday.
"There are some things you can't talk about," he said, explaining that he would not be speaking as a Catholic or a Christian so as "not to offend" anyone.
Instead, he planned to focus on the "traditions and unity" of school. "This is the one time we are unified," he said. "You get unified by the school spirit. That's going to change, and it's important we find and capture that unity in a world that's not so unified."
Father Farmer said that when he was a student at Glenelg High he was "painfully shy."
"It was hard for me to find any connectedness," he said, "because I didn't play sports."
But that changed when he participated in drama and student government. He also helped form the school's anti-substance abuse program, called Students Helping Other People.
Worked in seven parishes
Father Farmer, who received a bachelor's degree in psychology from Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, said that he became a priest because he always felt close to the church.
"My faith has always been important to me," said Father Farmer.
When he was a sixth-grader his family moved to Glenwood from Prince George's County and joined St. Louis parish in Clarksville.
In 1987, he entered St. Mary's Seminary and University in FTC Baltimore and later obtained degrees in sacred theology and divinity.
The only seminarian ordained on May 8, 1993, in the archdiocese, Father Farmer has worked in seven parishes, including St. Jane Frances in Anne Arundel County and Church of the Resurrection in Ellicott City.
He was assigned in June to St. Mark parish, where he runs the church's spiritual renewal program, helps tackle social justice issues and works with youths.
He will also help plan the pope's visit to Baltimore this fall.
"Denver was so large. Camden Yards will be a breeze," he said.
During his various assignments, the outgoing man known as Father Kevin has made many friends.
"He brings a lot of energy and vitality," said Ruth Puls, Resurrection's pastoral associate. "He's just a vibrant, good-charged person. Beyond that he has a depth beyond his years and a real sensitivity to a lot of people."
When not performing his pastoral duties, Father Farmer enjoys singing, Irish folk music and Broadway musicals. He's also a volunteer chaplain for the Baltimore City Fire Department.
'Wanting to be of service'
Father Farmer has done a lot in a short time, Father Barker said.
"Kevin's always been full of life . . . wanting to be of service," he said.
Though Father Farmer earns what he calls a "poverty-level" salary and will not carry on his family's name because he cannot marry or have children, he said the priesthood is very worthwhile.
"It is an honor and a privilege to share in people's greatest joys and greatest tragedies," he said.