After spending “Twenty-four Hours with the Lord” in June 2001, Edison Tayag knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life that way.
He recalled that as he witnessed a procession of diocesan priests during the ordination ceremony that capped the 24-hour diocesan retreat for men considering the priesthood, he heard a voice in his heart telling him, “This is where you belong.”
“I did not know how to respond or to react to those unexpected words,” Deacon Tayag said in an e-mail exchange from Rome, where he is finishing his final year of seminary at the Pontifical North American College. “This had never happened to me before. As strange and ambiguous as the experience was, it did not leave me any room for doubt. The recognition came instantaneously. I believed and knew it was God who was speaking to me.”
Deacon Tayag, who was ordained a transitional deacon in 2007, will be ordained by Bishop Matthew Clark as a priest of the Diocese of Rochester at 10:30 a.m. June 28 at Sacred Heart Cathedral, 296 Flower City Park, Rochester. He will then preside over his first Mass as a priest at 5 p.m. June 28 at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Churchville.
Deacon Tayag will be the first Filipino priest ordained by the Rochester Diocese. He was born in the Philippines and worked as a physical therapist in various cities for about 10 years, but noted that it was his experience as a parishioner at St. Vincent de Paul that helped him discern his call to the priesthood.
Deacon Tayag said he first came to the Rochester area in September 1999 from an assignment in Connecticut; he had accepted a four-month part-time job at Brockport Physical Therapy.
During those months he lived in Churchville and attended St. Vincent de Paul Parish. After his contract was over in January 2000, he received a six-month assignment to work for the New York City Board of Education in three Brooklyn public schools.
He returned to Brockport Physical Therapy and St. Vincent de Paul in July of the same year. While at St. Vincent de Paul, he was occasionally asked to help out during Mass by one of the parish’s ushers, Florence Hart. Soon he began getting involved in other parish activities, such as volunteering at pancake breakfasts.
“I was really impressed by the kindness and hospitality of the parishioners of St. Vincent de Paul,” Deacon Tayag said.
After finding out that he and Hart were neighbors, Deacon Tayag helped Hart with some of her gardening. He recalled her telling him about her Polish upbringing and her admiration for Pope John Paul II.
“In the midst of the conversation, she asked me if I ever thought of becoming a priest,” Deacon Tayag said. “And I responded affirmatively, qualifying my response as a part of my distant past.”
In January 2001, he became a full-time physical therapist at Schuyler Community Hospital in Montour Falls. While working there, he lived in Watkins Glen and became a parishioner of St. Mary of the Lake.
A few months after moving to Watkins Glen, Deacon Tayag received an invitation from the diocesan Vocations Awareness Office to attend the “Twenty-four Hours with the Lord” retreat, upon the recommendation of Charlotte Bruney, pastoral administrator at St. Vincent de Paul.
Bruney said Hart had suggested Deacon Tayag for the retreat, and Bruney agreed.
“He was quiet, but very thoughtful and serious young man,” she said. “He was regularly part of our Sunday assembly and our weekday assembly. I knew the Eucharist was very important to him — the center of his life.”
She said she was pleasantly surprised when he accepted the invitation.
“Knowing that I needed some sort of spiritual retreat, I signed up and showed up at the event at the Notre Dame Retreat House in Canandaigua,” Deacon Tayag said.
At the end of the retreat, participants attended the ordination of Father Joseph Marcoux at the cathedral, where Deacon Tayag heard his call. But he said that even as he was driving home, he pondered the experience and the words he had heard.
Bruney recalled that Deacon Tayag stopped by St. Vincent de Paul on the way home to talk to her about the feeling that he was called. Deacon Tayag said he wondered at the time what it might mean to say yes or no to his call.
“In the end, I told God, ‘God, take over.’ And God did and has done so faithfully,” Deacon Tayag said.
In 2002, he moved to Becket Hall, the diocese’s program for men discerning a call to the priesthood.
In addition to his time in seminary, Deacon Tayag has served at St. Mary Parish in Rochester, Our Mother of Sorrows Parish in Greece, in a Central-American immersion program in El Salvador and at a parish in the Philippines. He was assigned for his pastoral year to St. Mary Parish in Auburn and served his clinical pastoral education at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester.
He said as he continued in his discernment, he received encouragement from the staff and fellow parishioners of St. Vincent de Paul and St. Mary of the Lake; from Fathers Peter Deckman, Robert Schrader and Bill Coffas; from the Vocations Awareness Committee at St. Mary in Auburn; and from individuals and groups of parishioners from all over the diocese, including Catholic-school students, the Catholic Daughters of America and Knights of Columbus.
Deacon Tayag said he has been touched by the encouragement and support he has received from parishioners as he spoke about vocations, and from thoughtful cards and e-mails he has received from parishioners.
“With such overwhelming encouragement and prayerful support, I definitely and honestly can say that I am not responding to God’s call simply on my own, but that an entire community of faith affirmatively responds with me to God’s call,” Deacon Tayag said.