Local News Archive
Print Issue: July 17, 2002
Father Joseph Peek: Second Priest In The Family, He Hopes To Serve In Military
By Erika Anderson, Staff Writer
ATLANTA - Father Joseph Peek has been a student, a waiter, a helicopter air crewman, a rescue swimmer, and now a priest. However, there is one thing he's always wanted to do: tap dance.
Now out of the hectic life of the seminary and onto a more regulated routine as a parochial vicar at St. Catherine of Siena Church, Kennesaw, Father Peek may get the chance to learn.
One of 11 children, Father Peek, 36, falls in rank as the eldest boy in the three-boy, eight-girl Peek family. His younger brother, Father Kevin Peek, is the pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Decatur.
As a child, Father Peek served as an altar boy at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, Atlanta, and participated in the devout religious life of his family, who have a 5-foot crucifix hanging in their home.
"When I was a kid we'd go to daily Mass as a family during the summer," he recalled. "You didn't have much of a choice. It was kind of like 'you are going to church, aren't you?'"
Others recognized a priestly vocation early in Father Peek's life. His seventh-grade teacher told his parents he would either be a pilot or a priest. As it turns out, Father Peek became a little of both.
Father Kevin Peek recalls his brother having his own unique style that sometimes conflicted with his own fashion sense.
"He wore plaid pants to high school," he laughed. "Come on, I was not going to associate myself with someone who wore plaid pants to school."
Despite their fashion disputes, Father Kevin recalls only one fight with his older brother.
"I remember at that point in time, just finding a mutual understanding and respect of a sort," he said. "It still remains that way today."
Father Joseph Peek's attraction to military life started early. He was in NROTC in high school and won a scholarship to Georgia Tech. But he struggled in school and decided to enlist in the Navy, where he served on an aircraft carrier as a helicopter air crewman and a rescue swimmer. After three years of service, he returned home and finished his engineering degree at DeKalb Tech.
Feeling the tug of a priestly calling, Father Peek soon headed to Boston where he joined the Oblates of the Virgin Mary. He spent three years with them and finished his full novitiate, but when the time came to profess his vows, he realized he was not ready.
"When I got to first vows, it was 'not here, not now,'" he said.
He left the order and came home and worked as a waiter for Outback Steakhouse. He patiently awaited his brother's ordination, so he himself could enter the seminary. His greatest desire, to serve as a military chaplain, became a reality, when the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services agreed to co-sponsor him. As a priest, he hopes to serve in the Archdiocese of Atlanta for three years, and then report to the Navy for a full career as a chaplain.
"After having been in the military, I understand the need for a consistent Catholic voice," he said. "It's a unique ministry. It's much more transient."
Facing a new challenge, in his last few months of attending Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., Father Peek began feeling weak.
"I just kept pushing it, but I didn't seem to be able to keep up with the program," he said.
He went to see his formation advisor, who recommended he get a full physical exam. The results were hard to comprehend. He was diagnosed with chronic leukemia. News that would have been devastating to most people was simply a stumbling stone in Father Peek's way.
"I think my first reaction was just 'oh,'" he said. "I just said 'OK. This is a new problem on the block-something to face.'"
Father Peek has been taking a new medication that has helped him tremendously. Remarkably, three of his sisters have been identified after testing as possible matches for a bone marrow transplant for him, if that route is pursued.
He remains hopeful and is looking forward to his new ministry.
"Serving the people and practicing the sacraments-that's where the life of the priest is," he said.
Father Kevin Peek said that having his brother as a fellow priest is an "amazing, beautiful thing."
"In a sense, I feel like we have a shared understanding that's a little deeper than before," he said.
Father Joseph Peek hopes to earn his private pilot's license and is interested in pursuing Catholic theater. A regular from his Outback days has offered to give him free tap dancing lessons and he hopes to take her up on it.
After all, it's something he's never tried.
Father Joseph Peek
Birth Date: Aug. 9, 1965
Place of Birth: Born in Corpus Christi, Texas, but raised in Atlanta.
Parents: Mary and Joseph Peek
Siblings: Two brothers and eight sisters.
Education: Associate's degree in engineering, 1991, DeKalb Technical College; bachelor's degree in philosophy, 1994, St. John's Seminary College, Boston; master of divinity degree, 2002, Mount St. Mary's Seminary, Emmitsburg, Md.
Work Experience: U.S. Navy helicopter air crewman and rescue swimmer, 1987-1990; substitute teacher for DeKalb County schools, 1991-92 and 1995-98; food server at Outback Steakhouse.
Primary Hobbies and Interests: Soccer and volleyball.
Pastoral Internships: St. Bartholomew's Church, Mancester, Md., 2001; aboard the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75), 2001; Marine officer candidate school, Quantico, Va., 2001; St. Pius X Church, Conyers, summer 2000; Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, N.C., summer 2000; chaplain candidacy school, Newport, R.I., summer 1999; Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, Christmas 1999.
Particular Ministries of Interest: Military chaplaincy and youth ministry.
First Assignment: Parochial vicar at St. Catherine of Siena Church, Kennesaw, a parish of 3,000 families.
Pastor: Father James Harrison