Diocese of Rochester deacons reminisce about calls to vocation
In his youth, Deacon James Steiger felt called to a vocation.
He grew up in Rochester’s Holy Redeemer Parish, and during his elementary years at the parish school, he dreamed of becoming a priest. He had close relationships with priests, which he said inspired him to pursue a vocation.
He attended St. Andrew’s and St. Bernard’s seminaries, but he withdrew from St. Bernard’s in 1967 to care for his ailing parents. Due to lack of finances and support, he could not continue with priestly formation, he recalled.
“As I look back, I think the Lord had other ideas in mind for me,” said Deacon Steiger, who this year celebrates his 30th jubilee as a permanent deacon.
He said he was tremendously disappointed to leave the seminary. But he went on to teach Latin at Gates-Chili High School, and later that year he met and married his wife. He continued teaching for five years prior to shifting to work in information systems for such companies as Gleason Works and Wilmorite.
During that period, Deacon Steiger was an active parishioner at St. Leo Church in Hilton. And when the Diocese of Rochester established its permanent diaconate program in 1978, St. Leo’s then-pastor, Father Chester Klocek, suggested that he apply.
He said he declined to pursue the idea because his kids were still young at the time. But eventually excuses for not joining the diaconate program began to fall away.
Deacon Steiger completed diaconate formation and was ordained in 1990. He served as parish deacon at St. Leo from 1990-2002, working in ministry alongside Father Klocek until the priest reached senior status in 1993.
He left St. Leo for a time to work at other parishes and in the diocesan Tribunal, but returned to the Hilton parish in 2013. Although he retired from active ministry four years ago, Deacon Steiger said he still occasionally assists at St. Leo and continues to work at the Tribunal.
“My whole purpose now is to continue to serve the church in whatever capacity they need my services as long as I have my health,” he said.
Although his classmate Deacon Gary DiLallo did not share Deacon Steiger’s dreams while growing up, Deacon DiLallo said he was influenced to a vocation by his desire to serve.
As a child, Deacon DiLallo was a parishioner at St. Hyacinth Parish in his hometown of Auburn, where he also attended the parish school before going on to graduate from the former Mount Carmel High School in Auburn.
Prior to applying to the diaconate, he earned a bachelor’s degree from the American University in Washington, D.C., worked as a police officer and served 37 years in the U.S. Army before retiring with the rank of brigadier general.
“Serving in the military, and serving as a police officer, and then serving as a deacon — it was just natural to serve,” Deacon DiLallo recalled.
After his diaconal ordination, he served as parish deacon at St. Mary in Waterloo for several years before Bishop Matthew H. Clark granted him a five-year transfer to the Archdiocese of New York, while he served as a deputy commander and chief officer of a 10,000-person U.S. Army Reserve division.
Following his leave, Deacon DiLallo became faith-formation director at Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes in Tioga County. In 2009, he was appointed pastoral administrator of Auburn’s St. Hyacinth and St. Francis of Assisi parishes, which in 2012 merged to form Ss. Mary and Martha Parish.
Being a deacon is a labor of love, he said, noting that part of that labor was a 70-minute, one-way commute from his Broome County home during the five years he served the Tioga area parishes, but “I would do it again. I love being a deacon these past 30 years, and I have loved preaching the Gospel.”
In 2014, Deacon DiLallo retired from his pastoral-administrator position. He now lives and ministers at a parish in the Diocese of Syracuse.
Despite his wife’s wishes, the deacon said he does not see himself leaving diaconal service anytime soon.
“I’ll just keep on going, and probably after (reaching senior status), I will just continue to go,” Deacon DiLallo said.