Men travel priesthood's path - Catholic Courier
Becket Hall residents Anthony Amato (right) and Erick Viloria pray during a March 20 Mass in the residence’s chapel. Becket Hall residents Anthony Amato (right) and Erick Viloria pray during a March 20 Mass in the residence’s chapel.

Men travel priesthood’s path

Vocations to the priesthood appear to be on the rise in the Diocese of Rochester.

Bishop Matthew H. Clark will ordain three seminarians to the transitional diaconate June 2, and a fourth will be ordained in Rome in October. If all goes according to plan, three of those transitional deacons will become diocesan priests in the spring of 2013, with the fourth following the next year, according to Carol Dady, diocesan coordinator of priesthood vocations awareness. What’s more, those four seminarians are not the only men preparing to become diocesan priests.

"This year we have 22 men right now in formation. That’s the highest it’s been in probably a very long time," Dady said.

Only five priests have been ordained in the last five years. Just three years ago, only six men were traveling the road to priesthood, Bishop Clark noted in his Jan. 13 "Along the Way" column. That number has more than tripled in just three years. Dady attributed that rise in part to the active and visible presence of seminarians in diocesan parishes, which she said generates awareness of and interest in vocations to the priesthood.

"That’s a wonderful thing, and that’s sort of a motivator in itself. There’s a lot more talk about priestly vocations now because people see these faces and ask who they are," she added.

Several of the men currently in formation for the diocesan priesthood come from nontraditional sources or do not fit into the mold of years past for priest candidates, she added. Five seminarians, for example, have traveled from Colombia to attend seminary and later become priests for the Diocese of Rochester. Meanwhile, one seminarian is older than the typical diocesan-sponsored candidate, and another is younger.

The journey begins

Michael Costik, one of the three seminarians who will become transitional deacons June 2, said he’s looking forward to this next stepping stone on his way to eventually being ordained a priest.

"It’s a very long seminary process, a lot more rigorous than other dioceses’ (programs)," said Costik, who in July 2011 completed three years of study at the American College in Leuven, Belgium.

Costik’s journey to the priesthood began well before his first day at the seminary in 2008, however. A lifelong Catholic, he briefly had considered the priesthood as a teenager, but stopped actively practicing his faith when he reached young adulthood.

"When I started going back to Mass again, (the priesthood) was just a thing that I couldn’t get out of my head. I knew that I needed to ask some questions about it," Costik recalled.

A Livonia native, Costik returned to the Rochester Diocese and initiated a conversation with a trusted priest. Such conversations are a crucial part of a potential priest’s discernment process, Dady said. She noted that men contemplating priestly vocations are always welcome to contact Father Tim Horan, director of priesthood vocations awareness, or Father Bill Coffas, director of Becket Hall, the diocesan discernment program. Men often initiate such discussions after others recognize in them the gifts necessary for the priesthood and ask them if they’ve ever considered the vocation, Dady said.

A six-year process

After Costik’s initial conversations reinforced his desire to become a priest, he applied to and was accepted into Becket Hall in 2007. Becket Hall is a one-year program that follows the four pillars of priestly formation: human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation. Men in the program live in community while completing the theology and philosophy courses required to enter major seminaries and spending several hours each week doing parish ministry.

Men who graduate from the Becket Hall program in the spring typically go on to seminary the next fall, Dady said. The Rochester Diocese uses a handful of seminaries, each with its own strengths and characteristics. Blessed Pope John XXIII Seminary in Boston, for example, caters to older seminarians, while St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, Md., offers courses in English as a second language. The North American College in Rome provides an excellent education for seminarians who are interested in becoming Scripture scholars or canon lawyers, and also gives seminarians a chance to experience the worldwide church, Dady said.

The diocesan Priestly Formation Board has a subcommittee for each seminary applicant. After meeting with the applicants, subcommittee members recommend to Bishop Clark which seminaries they believe will be the best fit for their candidate. Applicants also are welcome to indicate their preferences, but the final decision rests with the bishop, Dady said.

Costik said the American College in Leuven, which closed at the end of the 2010-11 academic year, was a good fit for him because it was a small and friendly community with a top-notch theology program. Costik currently is completing his pastoral year at St. Joseph Parish in Penfield and will finish his fourth year of seminary training at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Most Rochester seminarians return to the diocese for their pastoral years after completing two years at seminary, returning to the seminary thereafter for their remaining two years of study.

Many dioceses do not require seminarians to complete pastoral years, but Costik thinks it’s a worthwhile component of the program, even though it adds a year to the formation process. He has been helping with sacramental preparation for St. Joseph’s children and families, and teaching religion at the parish school. He said he was surprised to learn that he is a good teacher.

Once they are ordained transitional deacons, most Rochester seminarians, Costik included, have only one year of formation left to complete. Bishop Clark typically ordains transitional deacons alongside permanent deacons and new priests during separate ceremonies at Rochester’s Sacred Heart Cathedral in May or June. Seminarians at the North American College, however, are ordained as transitional deacons during October ceremonies in Rome, Dady said.

Different paths

Several of the Rochester men currently in formation for the priesthood for the Rochester Diocese have arrived by paths unlike the typical journey followed by Costik and many of their peers. The five seminarians from Colombia were recruited in order to better serve the diocese’s growing Hispanic population and inspire Hispanic men to consider the priesthood. Most of these Colombians have taken English classes and acculturation classes while going through the Becket Hall program, and have gone on to major seminary after graduating from the discernment program.

Bishop Clark typically does not accept candidates who are older than 55, but he made an exception for Michael Fowler, 57, who currently is studying at Blessed Pope John XXIII Seminary. He made an exception for Fowler partly because the retired engineer was in excellent health, Dady said. A candidate’s health is an important consideration because putting a man through the seminary represents a sizeable expense and investment, she added.

"(Bishop Clark) looks at each case individually. If someone had a lot of health issues it might not be reasonable to think that he (would have) a lot of years of active ministry," she said.

On the other end of the spectrum, Michael Harris is a college seminarian at the Cathedral Seminary Residence of the Immaculate Conception in Douglastown, N.Y. In recent years the diocese has not accepted priesthood candidates who were still earning their undergraduate degrees, preferring instead that men finish their degrees before entering Becket Hall, Dady said. The bishop decided to use the Cathedral Seminary Residence for the first time this year, however, and Harris will be living there until he earns his degree this spring. He will enter major seminary in the fall.

"We wanted to have a place for men who are still completing their college educations who have a real desire to enter the formation program," Dady said.

Tags: Holy Orders, Priests
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