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Leap off land mine led officer to clergy Inspiration: The new rector of St. David's Episcopal Church believes he found his calling after a close call in Vietnam and noticing his ability to help others.


Bill Krulak believes that during key points in his life, he has felt the guiding hand -- and mercy -- of God.

During one of his two tours of duty in Vietnam as a Marine Corps infantry officer, he stepped on a land mine. It didn't immediately explode, though, allowing him to leap to safety. The hand of God, he figured.

After retiring from the military, his sensitivity to people in crisis and pain led him to discern a call to the seminary and life as an Episcopal priest. Again, the hand of God.

Now, he feels that hand nudging him to a church on Roland Avenue: St. David's, a congregation that had been seeking a rector for three years. His mission? To reinvigorate the 450-member parish and leave a lasting legacy.

"I have done that in the two churches that I have served, churches with potential that just needed to have some leadership with vision," said Krulak, who starts today. "I just feel deep in my heart that there is almost limitless potential at St. David's. The church is in the middle of a unique neighborhood, Roland Park, in a city that cherishes neighborhoods."

Krulak, 58, comes from a family that is deeply religious and has a strong military tradition. His father is a retired Marine Corps general. Krulak's elder brother is a retired Episcopal priest who served a career as a Navy chaplain. His younger brother is Gen. Charles C. Krulak, commandant of the Marine Corps.

Krulak acknowledges that his military background is important, but says it's only one dimension of who he is.

"We're all made up of some mosaic of people, events and experiences, and part of that, for me, is the Marine Corps," he said. "But that does not fully define who I am. I hate for people to say, 'Oh, gosh, a Marine.' "

Krulak graduated from the Naval Academy in 1962 and then went into the Marine Corps. Before retiring from the reserves in 1985 as a colonel, he served for 15 years as an infantry officer, which included two yearlong tours in Vietnam.

During one of those tours, he had an experience that, looking back, he thinks was part of his "lifelong gentle movement toward ordained ministry."

On patrol, he stepped on the land mine. For some reason -- Krulak thinks it was because it was raining and the mine was wet -- it didn't immediately explode. He needed those short seconds to jump to safety.

"It took almost 20 years before I saw that for what it was," he said. "It has made me cherish every day of living life."

Retiring from active duty in 1977, he worked a few years as an analyst for the Defense Department at the Pentagon, then moved in 1981 to Austin, Texas, where he dabbled in real estate development. It was there that he said "yes" to a call he had been feeling for some time.

"I found, as my life developed, as my midlife unfolded, that I was more and more responding to friends and acquaintances whose lives were coming apart," he said. "I found myself being called on by friends and acquaintances to respond to and be there for them. I realized I had an authentic gift to minister to people who were hurting."

Krulak moved to Christchurch, Va., where he worked two years as an associate dean, teacher and coach at an Episcopal school before attending Yale Divinity School. He graduated and was ordained in 1991. He served for two years at a parish near Charlottesville, Va., and was at a church in Tappahannock, Va., in the Tidewater area, before St. David's called.

Healing, then hiring

St. David's members acknowledge they had a difficult time finding a new rector. A search committee made a recommendation, but the church's vestry, its 12-member governing body, favored a different candidate. Neither was hired.

"There were a lot of hard feelings and a lot of healing that had to be done" before the search could start again, said Anne Helms Irons, a member of the vestry who served on thesix-person search committee. Much of that healing was accomplished under the leadership of the Rev. John Keller, a priest who specializes in serving as an interim rector while churches search for permanent leadership.

Irons came up with Krulak's name. She called her former classmate from the College of William and Mary, a retired Episcopal priest in Richmond, Va., to ask for a recommendation. His first thought was of Krulak, for whom he had been a mentor.

Unanimous choice

For Krulak, the job seemed like a good fit. His wife, Mae Mallory, is a Goucher College graduate, and one of their daughters lives in the area.

"We ended up selecting Bill Krulak unanimously," Irons said.

As he begins his ministry at St. David's, Krulak is looking forward to November 2006, when the congregation will celebrate its 100th anniversary. He notes that in 1956, at St. David's 50th anniversary, the church established a revolving fund that provides low-interest loans to mission parishes that need assistance. It is financing capital improvements in eight parishes in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.

"That was a wonderful reaching out to the wider church at that time," he said. "I want to challenge the church to look to 2006, which is really not too far away. What sort of legacy is the church today going to leave, so we can look back and say, 'Hey, look at what they did 50 years ago.' "

Pub Date: 1/01/99

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