EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second installment in a series of articles in conjunction with Pope Francis’ declaration of the Year of Consecrated Life.
IRONDEQUOIT — While attending St. John Fisher College in the mid-1970s, Paul English got a close-up view of the Basilian priests who served as faculty and staff members. The Spanish major liked what he saw — to the point that he started thinking about joining the order himself.
"The lifestyle of the Basilians — to live together, pray together, work together — it seemed like the whole package to me," recalled the man now known as Father Paul English, CSB.
One of the most influential priests for Father English was Basilian Father Joseph Trovato, who, as St. John Fisher’s campus minister, lived in the student residence halls.
"Father Joe would invite us in to have a cup of tea and graham crackers," Father English recalled.
Now, nearly four decades later, Father English ministers alongside Father Trovato — the former, as pastor of Irondequoit’s St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish; the latter, as the parish’s priest-in-residence. They are among 10 Basilian priests who currently reside in the Diocese of Rochester.
Over the years, several Rochester-area natives also have served Basilian communities in other parts of the United States and in Canada, France, Mexico and Colombia. One of the more notable priests in this regard is Father Thomas Rosica, CSB, a Toronto resident who grew up at Rochester’s St. Ambrose Church, now part of Peace of Christ Parish, and attended the parish school. Today, Father Rosica is chief executive officer of Salt + Light Television, the first Canadian national Catholic TV network and has served as English-language assistant to the Holy See Press Office since shortly after Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation in February 2013. He also did a four-year stint on the general council of the international Congregation of St. Basil.
The Congregation of St. Basil originated in France in 1822 and, three decades later, established a presence in Toronto, which is home base for the priests who minister in the Rochester Diocese. Noted for their emphasis on education and living in community, Basilians first served in Rochester as teachers at Aquinas Institute from 1927-32. The order took over leadership of the high school in 1937.
Father Trovato is among many graduates who became familiar with the Basilians while studying at Aquinas and ended up joining the order.
"I saw men who were priests and teachers. I was influenced by their openness to the kids, their friendliness toward all of us, and their own community life," he said.
The Basilians expanded their positive influence to the local collegiate ranks when the order founded St. John Fisher College in 1948. Father Trovato began teaching at Fisher in 1959, the same year as Father Leo Hetzler, CSB — who, before entering the order, narrowly escaped death several times while in combat during World War II with the U.S. Army. This past June, the college dedicated a lecture hall to Father Hetzler, 89, and Father Albert Cylwicki, 82, another Basilian who taught at St. John Fisher.
In 1976 the order took over priestly staffing at Christ the King Church in Irondequoit, with the first Basilian pastor being Father Thomas Mailloux, CSB, who died this past May 27 in Toronto. Christ the King has long been a destination for young Basilians like Father Morgan Rice, CSB, who has served in Irondequoit since his ordination five years ago. Father Trovato, on the other hand, has been stationed there since leaving St. John Fisher in 1989.
Due to declining numbers in the order, the last Basilian priest had left Aquinas by 2000, and the order had stopped assigning priests as faculty at St. John Fisher. However, several priests still live as teachers and retirees at the Basilian Fathers residence on East Avenue near the college, and Father Joseph Lanzalaco, CSB, serves as St. John Fisher’s director of campus ministry.
In Irondequoit, the Basilians have actually began covering additional churches as pastoral planning led in 2010 to the formation of Blessed (now Saint) Kateri Tekakwitha Parish. Father English began serving there that year and became pastor in 2012, replacing longtime Christ the King/St. Kateri pastor Father Norman Tanck, CSB, who now serves in Detroit.
"Right now we have a pretty solid connection between the Basilians and this brand-new parish," Father English said. "There are no plans to reduce our presence here, but we have to see what God has in mind."
Father English added that his Basilian ministry in Irondequoit and elsewhere "has been wonderful," a sentiment shared by Father Trovato.
"A good part of my life was at St. John Fisher and it was really happy," said Father Trovato, who celebrated his 85th birthday March 1. "And now my years at Christ the King have been a very happy life."