We’ve all come across people who seem to leave a lasting impression on us long after we meet. Some offer a smile or encouraging word during our greatest time of need; others are always there to celebrate our accomplishments. Then there are those rare few that provide an uncommon insight into the true meaning of life. Such people encourage us to gain that deeper spiritual perspective instead of just surviving the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It is this one of a kind person I recently met who has left an impression on me that will last the rest of my life.His name is Jerome Kaywell, and to those who know him, his name is simply “Father Jerry,” Pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Now before you think this is going to be a “Sermon on the Mount” as told by me, let me assure you this is not a lesson about religion, but an exciting adventure in life told by someone who has experienced tremendous setbacks, enjoyed success at its highest level, and discovered an inner peace and fulfillment he wants to share with all he meets.
Father Jerry is not the kind of Catholic Priest I knew growing up as a public school kid who went on Thursdays to religious instruction classes. Back then, the brothers and sisters would always keep us in check with threats like, “You don’t want to upset Father.” Going to confession was like taking a trip before a firing squad where you hoped you would get a light penance. The mass Father Jerry conducts is more like a conversation with God who not only seems like a friend, but also appears to have a sense of humor I never knew.
Over the last few years, I’ve interviewed some pretty amazing people who have given much of themselves to benefit our community. The common thread was that many of those I interviewed were personal friends. Father Jerry was a complete unknown; however, in a few short minutes, I felt as if we were two close friends catching up on our life experiences after not seeing each other for many years.
Father Jerry’s life is well documented, and if you Google his name, there are countless articles depicting his life growing up in West Palm Beach, Florida as a young child, who at age three told his parents he wanted to become a priest and at five started composing his early songs. He studied classical piano and pursued a role as a priest through his seminary studies.
However, it was during those studies, a Spiritual Director and Psychologist noticed his inner restlessness and struggle with the thought of celibacy that suggested he take time out to “live in the world.” It is from here his life takes some extraordinary twists and turns. He has been a religion and music teacher, driven a furniture truck, and with his brother John, formed the Kaywell Brothers Band that toured for two years.
Throughout these journeys, his underlying love for music that began as a child was now taking him on a trip to the music and film mecca located in Los Angeles, California. Soon, he was performing to cheering audiences, which included numerous celebrities, the likes of Billy Preston, and other recording stars of that time. In the early 1980’s he partnered with Dale Herigstad,and they became pioneers in the digital animation and digital music industries. They worked with singers like Kim Carnes, creating TV commercials for major brands such as Honda, 7-Up, American Airlines, Mercedes-Benz, to name a few. The pair won numerous Clio Awards for creative excellence in advertising, design, and communication.
Father Jerry said, “There was a time when we couldn’t go into a place where one of our commercials wasn’t on TV.” During those ten years in Los Angeles, he was a composer and music producer for film and television. He was credited as keyboardist for the Grammy award-winning album “Let My People Go,” by the gospel singing group The Winans. Life was indeed grand, however in 1985 a diagnosis with cancer changed his life. No longer was the glitz and limelight of LA’s music and television industries satisfying his appetite. He was looking for something deeper and more spiritually fulfilling.
In reading several articles on Father Jerry’s life, I found instances where there was, what many would consider, a divine intervention of sorts that touched his life. Shortly before Jerry’s mother’s death, after hearing of her son’s diagnosis with lymphoma, she had written in her diary a message to God asking Him to “Take my life and spare him.” A week after she passed from a tragic accident, Jerry went into “spontaneous remission.” His Oncologist told him, “Do what you really want to do for the rest of your life, and don’t wait.”
After two bouts with recurrent cancer in the late 1990’s that left him with a prognosis of only a few months to live, today Father Jerry is not only cancer-free but has composed ten spiritual albums, written two books, and remains an inspiration to others with this dreaded disease.
Rather than asking questions about his personal life that had been widely documented, I decided to ask him questions that are on all our minds today and what has helped make him such an inspiration to so many others.
Gary: With as creative as you are and how historically conservative the Catholic church is seen, what made you decide to pursue being a Catholic Priest?
Father Jerry: “Growing up, the Adrian Dominic Sisters showed us love, beauty, and encouragement, and that was the kind of vocation as a Priest I wanted to pursue.”
Gary : Has there been a teaching moment that has left an impression on you?
Father Jerry : “It was a teaching from Buddha who said, “Remain with the faith you were born with…. don’t jump around, and we’ll meet at the summit.”
Gary: In our conversation, you have mentioned the term “mysticism” several times, how do you describe its significance to you?
Father Jerry: “The first time I experienced it, I was 17 years of age, and our family had gotten into a huge fight. I felt God’s presence; he was right there in the midst of this fight. I could see him and felt this inner peace that God knew me thoroughly and loved me infinitely. This mysticism takes you to the inner indwelling God. It used to be ‘pay, pray, and obey.’ Today I am inspired by the love we share with one another.”
Gary: With such polarizing views and media influence we as a society are witnessing today, we are also seeing a generation that seems to be overly sensitive to opposing viewpoints and in search of a “utopia” of sorts. What is your advice to this generation in how to cope and find inner peace?
Father Jerry: “My way is to promote the consciousness that we are One World, One Planet, that we all have red blood and salty tears. It is time for the entire planet to embrace this reality of a global village and share the resources of this tremendous planet in peace and with justice.”
Gary: Coming from such a creative background, what do you find that gives you that sense of fulfillment as a priest with unique creativity?
Father Jerry: “I still have a passion for music and am able to continue being a composer and recording artist during my free time. I have a beautiful recording studio in the rectory.”
Gary: Is there anything you still feel you would like to accomplish?
Father Jerry: Yes, I want to finish the next album of music I have been working on for the last three years.”
Gary: Joel Osteen once said, “There are many great ideas and inventions buried in our cemeteries that never came to fruition.” Being that you were able to pursue and successfully achieve your creativity at such a high level, what advice do you have for those who don’t have the confidence to do the same?
Father Jerry: “The perennial wisdom is to do what you love to do. Money and resources will always follow. My father always reminded me, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” Just keep at it every day and never give up!”
Gary: Any advice you can impart on those searching for the meaning of life and using the gifts God gave them?
Father Jerry: “Refuse to accept the image of God presented to you from a Catechism or a classroom; rather, find God by entering deeply into your own heart and experience. Meaning will follow as a person becomes more and more aware of the Devine Milieu in which we live and breathe.”
Gary: Do you have a message you would like to share?
Father Jerry: “Love is everything, beautiful, happy, peaceful, joyful and blessed.”
As we were coming to the end of our interview, Father Jerry said, “What I admire about this Pope is that he stresses to his bishops, ‘Listen to your people; that is where the Holy Spirit is.‘ It isn’t in the notoriety of the position held; it is in the role of service. Celebrate the unique love that connects people.”
As I reflect on our conversation, I can’t help but think, “Here’s someone most would consider had it all. Fame, fortune, and notoriety were his. Yet what eluded him was the inner mystical spirituality rooted in love and service to others.
I walked away that day with a deeper understanding and appreciation of life’s true meaning, and where the stresses and clamor of the world couldn’t reach. It is Father Jerry’s weekly reminder the outward expression of love we share on Valentine’s Day needs to be celebrated year round. This is not only the greatest gift we could give, but one of the most gratifying gifts we could receive.
For a detailed bio on Father Jerry written by Lew Morrissey for Harbor Style Magazine January 2012 edition, Click Here.