LAS VEGAS — Pastor Paul Marc Goulet, leader for 23 years of the nondenominational International Church of Las Vegas, was announced Dec. 1 as state campaign chairman for Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson.

The selection marked the culmination of a gradual political awakening for Canadian-born Goulet, who became an American citizen only half a year ago after living in the United States for decades.

Goulet, 57, was born into a successful French Canadian family; his father was a corporate executive and his uncle a high-ranking judge. Goulet today carries himself with the politesse of a Canadian, the warmth of a counselor and the intensity of a CEO.

He tweets. He fist bumps. He watches his eight grandchildren play soccer on Saturdays. And he’s holding out for a hockey team to come to the Strip. The sport runs deep for Goulet, who played for University of Ottawa.

It was in a hockey locker room that a young Goulet, then a nominal Roman Catholic, began his spiritual awakening after meeting members of an evangelical group.

Goulet asked God to heal his relationship with his father and give him a love for life, he said. Goulet’s father was a Canadian war hero who returned from battle with what today might have been diagnosed as PTSD.

THERAPY AND SPIRITUALITY

Goulet’s relationship with his dad never healed, but the conversion stuck.

“My whole family was successful but highly dysfunctional,” Goulet said. “I went into psychology to figure that out.”

After graduate school at the Ashland Theological Seminary in Ohio, Goulet opened a series of counseling centers that combined therapy with Christian spirituality.

“Back in the ’80s, it was kind of a taboo to bring those two together,” he said. “But it was helping me, and I thought it would help other people too.”

Goulet’s life was good. By then, he was living in Sacramento with his wife and children. His businesses thrived. His family could afford private schools for the kids. He had a radio show.

But, as Goulet tells it, God had other plans.

“I don’t hear voices, but for me, it comes as a thought,” Goulet said. “Every day, God speaks to our minds.”

It was an encounter with an impoverished family in the Philippines that led a bawling Goulet to question whether he was doing enough. On the plane home to Sacramento, Goulet heard a call to move to Las Vegas and become the pastor of a church.

“I felt for the people (in Las Vegas),” he said. “It’s kind of raw, and I’m kind of raw. I saw a lot of people I could identify with.”

Today, Goulet is senior pastor at the International Church of Las Vegas, which has three campuses throughout the valley, a robust online presence, a K-8 private school and a network of churches around the world. Goulet travels frequently to help establish churches globally and has helped develop congregations in Mexico, India and France.

Then God spoke to Goulet again, he said. His entry into a politics began about a year ago in a hotel room in France.

“I had been in France for eight or nine years by then,” Goulet said. “I felt like my job there was done. I had this thought that politicians in America were going to call, so get ready.”

Part of being ready meant it was time for Goulet to become an American citizen.

“I couldn’t just sit here with my green card after 20 years and reap all the benefits of this country and keep my mouth shut,” Goulet said. “I got my citizenship so I could speak up as an American.”

It wasn’t easy for Goulet to renounce his Canadian citizenship. His wife remains a Canadian citizen.

“It was emotionally charged but I did it, and I’m proud that I did it,” Goulet said.

FAITH INFORMS POLITICS

Most new American citizens don’t have a line of presidential candidates beating a track to their door. But, then again, most new Americans aren’t high-profile pastors potentially able to influence a church full of voters in an early nominating state.

The International Church of Las Vegas has a history of political involvement. In 2012, for example, Newt Gingrich spoke at the church during his run for president. This year, Goulet met with several GOP presidential candidates.

But Goulet is careful to distinguish his political and his pastoral life.

“My church will never support anyone, and I can’t endorse as the pastor of the church,” he said. “But I’m a private citizen. I can get involved.”

Despite maintaining clear boundaries between his work and his politics, Goulet refuses to divide the world into the secular and the spiritual. His faith informs his politics, he said.

Sen. Ted Cruz also put out feelers for Goulet’s support. He and Goulet were scheduled to meet the day after a Republican debate in Colorado when Cruz was scheduled to be campaigning in Las Vegas, but Cruz was called back to Washington for a vote.

That left Huckabee and Carson to win the pastor’s support. Goulet has not met with any of the Democratic contenders.

“I fell in love with Gov. Huckabee and his wife,” Goulet said.

LIKES CARSON’S INTELLIGENCE

Goulet joined Huckabee and 100 other conservative politicians, religious leaders and businesspeople on a 10-day trip through Europe, visiting the sites of concentration camps, UK Parliament and Winston Churchill’s personal chapel.

But despite the bond Goulet and Huckabee shared, Carson won over the pastor. Goulet said he appreciated Caron’s soft-spoken manner and intelligence. The two spent a day together after Carson spoke at the church.

“I left his presence feeling like he was a great man,” Goulet said.

As state campaign chairman, Goulet will act as a campaign surrogate for Carson, speaking with the media, reaching out to people he knows in Las Vegas and traveling the state to stump.

On some issues, Goulet is in line with the conservative wing of the Republican party. He is uneasy with gay marriage. He’s not sure the right way to help Syrian refugees is to bring them into the United States instead of providing help overseas. He’s adamantly anti-abortion.

But on other issues, Goulet is in the center – he calls the budget deficit “unethical” – or even on the left.

“I believe in women’s rights, like equal pay for equal work and experience,” he said. “As a Christian, I’m supposed to steward this planet. I believe in controlling our carbon emissions – I’m not an idiot.”