Local Religious life

Classic car hobby helps soon-to-be priest reach others

Deacon Andrew Gaffney stands with his father John and his prized Victory Red 1969 Chevy stepside pickup truck that he works on as a hobby. COURTESY PHOTO

by Joe Bollig

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Deacon Andrew Gaffney’s start in ministry was not an auspicious one. His pastor at the time, Father Jerry Volz, fired him from being an altar server.

“In fourth grade, everyone [at St. Matthew School in Topeka] became an altar server if they wanted,” said Deacon Gaffney. “While I was in the sixth grade, I was so bad that they asked me to not serve anymore. I kept falling asleep and really didn’t pay attention or care too much at that point.”

It’s something they laugh about now. Father Volz — who is a distant cousin — will vest Deacon Gaffney at his ordination Mass on May 28 at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Kansas City, Kansas. He was ordained a deacon on May 22, 2021, at St. Matthew Parish.

Deacon Gaffney is the son of John and Lori Gaffney. He has three sisters — two older, one younger — and they were members of St. Matthew. They were “a normal, run-of-the-mill, modern Catholic family,” said the deacon.

Other than his pastor, the person who influenced his faith the most while growing up was his mother.

“She is a very holy and devout person to this very day,” said Deacon Gaffney. “She had the eucharistic adoration hour at the parish on Tuesdays at 11. She was the rock [of faith] for my family.”

From left, Sudeep Kodigandla and Andrew Edward Gaffney two diaconal candidates prostrate themselves on the floor before the altar during the Litany of the Saints. Both men will be ordained to the priesthood this month. PHOTO BY JENNY FRAZEE

It wasn’t until he was at Hayden High School in Topeka that his faith really took off and he began to think about the priesthood.

“During my sophomore year of high school, I realized that I hadn’t made my faith my own,” he said. 

“[That year,] I went on a retreat, and I encountered Christ for the first time in my life in the confessional, and it had a very big impact on me,” he recalled.

He began helping out on retreats, serving on the retreat teams. He discovered he loved helping other people encounter Christ in a personal way. In his junior year, he began spending time in the school chapel, asking the Lord what he wanted him to do after high school.

“He was very involved in our youth group,” said Father Volz. “He was one of the leaders, so much so that we made a CD of the rosary to send to homebound people and he was one who prayed one of the decades.”

“I got to the point where I couldn’t push it away,” said Deacon Gaffney. “I talked to Father Jerry Volz . . . and I said I needed to give it a shot for a year. The Lord confirmed one year and that turned into nine years.”

His parents were surprised when he told them.

“It was never talked about,” he said. “The basic assumption was that I’d go to college, get a degree and get married. But they never pushed me one way or another.”

From left, Andrew Edward Gaffney and Sudeep Kodigandla turn and face the congregation as they prepare to be ordained to the transitional diaconate. PHOTO BY JENNY FRAZEE

There was some concern because he was so young — just out of high school — when they helped him move to Conception Seminary in northwest Missouri. Meeting the other seminarians put them at ease.

“I remember my parents leaving that day,” said Deacon Gaffney. “My mom told me, ‘This is a good place. You will be happy here.’”

Deacon Gaffney graduated from Conception with a bachelor of arts in 2017. He went to St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver for a year of spirituality and to study for a master’s degree in divinity. At the end of his first year, he made a 30-day silent retreat.

“At the end of that retreat, the Lord made it known that he called me,” he said, “and I’ve been at peace ever since.”

He’s even found ways for his hobbies to serve his ministry.

One of his longtime interests has been working on older cars, and he has two project vehicles: a Victory Red 1969 Chevy stepside pickup truck and a British Racing Green 1969 MG Midget sports car. He’s discovered a way to use his mechanical talents for ministry.

“I believe I have the ability to reach certain people that a lot of other priests struggle to relate to,” he said.

“I’m a classic car guy. I love restoring cars and getting my hands dirty. In my summer assignments . . . I’d bring my car and invite guys in the parish to work on the car,” he said. “I realized a lot of the guys I worked with aren’t the kind of guys who’d just walk into a priest’s office and set up a meeting. There’s something about working on a car . . . that brings down a barrier in some men. You’re able to talk with them when normally that would be a struggle.”

It’s quite a conversation starter when he goes to a classic car meet and steps out of his truck wearing a Roman collar. It’s gearhead evangelization.

Father Volz is looking forward to Deacon Gaffney’s ordination. He appreciates the passion and energy he brings to ministry.

“He’ll be a great priest,” said Father Volz. “He has a desire and passion for the church and ministry, and a love for the church and for people. He likes to be around people — he’s a big extrovert.”

Deacon Gaffney’s advice to other men discerning the priesthood can be distilled into one word: Trust.

“Trust in the Lord and where he is leading you,” said Deacon Gaffney. “It’s very easy to get lost in the day to day, and it can be hard to see the future the Lord is calling you to. But the Lord has a plan, and that is the way of true light and true joy, and he will provide for you. He won’t abandon you.”

Personally Speaking

Deacon Andrew Gaffney

Age: 27
Born: Topeka
Raised: Tecumseh and Topeka
Parents: John and Lori Gaffney
Siblings: Three sisters: Elizabeth Crane, Morgan Kaufman and Emma Heinen
Home parish: St. Matthew, Topeka
Education: Hayden High School in Topeka, 2013; bachelor of arts degree from Conception Seminary College in Conception, Missouri, 2017; master of divinity degree from St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, Denver, 2022
Favorite food: Chick-fil-A
Least favorite food: Olives
Favorite childhood toy: Tractor
What I wanted to be growing up: Nurse
Worst job I’ve ever had: Baskin Robbins
Best job I’ve ever had: Aboud’s Catering
Book recommendation: “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoevsky
A place I’d like to go: Rome. I’ve never been there, and I’d love to experience the beauty and history of the faith.
Favorite devotion: The Sacred Heart of Jesus because the heart is a place of encounter
Most important life lesson so far: I am not Jesus.
If I could do it all over again, I’d: still want to be a priest.
My greatest adventure/most interesting experience: seminary
Most inspirational Christian I’ve met: Father Jim Thermos
Best vocational advice I received: Marriage is messy, newlyweds are messy, the priesthood is messy, baby priests are messy — embrace the mess.
Favorite seminary class: “Dante as Theological Aesthetic.” We read “The Divine Comedy” through the lens of beauty. It was an incredible way to finish my theological studies and reflect on everything I learned.
My advice to vocational discerners: Trust where the Lord is leading you. He will not abandon you, even when the light is hard to see.
What I’m looking forward to as a priest: Being back with the people of the archdiocese, celebrating Mass and hearing confessions.

About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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