Father Scott VanDerveer spent two decades doggedly avoiding his calling.
His resume spans 20 years and more than 15 countries. His work experience includes stints as a school bus driver, high-school religion teacher, office worker at a large corporation and a volunteer at a Florida hospice home.
"The truth is, I’ve spent 20 years trying not to be a priest, and I can’t do it," said the 38-year-old Father VanDerveer.
So he finally did it. Father VanDerveer, a native of the hamlet of Pumpkin Hook in Farmington, Ontario County, became a priest of the Diocese of Albany June 9 during a Mass that included the participation of Bishop Emeritus Matthew H. Clark alongside Bishop Clark’s good friend, celebrant Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany.
A 1993 graduate of Victor High School and a 1997 graduate of St. Bonaventure University, Father VanDerveer has an extensive travel background, including traveling to 15 countries during two years with the global education program Up with People; participating in a year of service through AmeriCorps Vista; and living for six years in Boston teaching religion at Cristo Rey Boston High School. During several of those experiences, he lived in Catholic communities, which played a formative role for him — though he didn’t recognize that influence at the time, he said.
When he was 32 Father VanDerveer moved to the Albany Diocese to be closer to relatives living in Troy, where his mother was raised. He began teaching religion at St. Pius X School in Loudonville and there made the decision to explore the priesthood.
He said when he finally admitted that he should pursue formation as a priest, he was faced with the decision of whether to study through Rochester’s program or Albany’s program. He said he had close family ties to both dioceses.
"There was no easy answer as to why I chose Albany," Father VanDerveer said. "I just felt that was what God had in mind. I think that was where God was leading me."
In May, he received a master’s degree in divinity at Blessed John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass. He has worked as a transitional deacon at Holy Family Parish in Little Falls and Sts. Anthony and Joseph Parish in Herkimer and at a multicultural Boston-area parish on weekends during the 2012-13 academic year, where he furthered his Spanish-language skills. He also spent two summers studying at the Maryknoll Language School in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
He said he is grateful for all his experiences and draws on the lessons he learned at each of them.
He said his time with Up With People encouraged him to learn about other cultures, inspired him to serve others and find ways to share a message of global understanding with others.
"Up With People did a great job of inspiring people with a message that people could relate to," Father VanDerveer said. "That’s what Jesus did. His focus was finding ways to help people live abundantly and finding ways God could use them."
He said his experience through AmeriCorps Vista also was invaluable, as he worked as a hospice volunteer.
"That has been such a benefit in my first weeks of priesthood, being with people who are ill and being with families around a time of death and loss," Father VanDerveer said.
He also worked as an intern for the Catholic Courier during college in 1995. During that time Father VanDerveer wanted to go into journalism, but found himself drawn more to the inspirational side of sharing news, rather than the informational, he said.
He noted that faith had always been a strong part of his life. He recalled the time in kindergarten in Victor when he drew his family. The teacher asked who the figure in the background was and was surprised when he told her it was Jesus.
"She asked, ‘Jesus is a member of your family?’" Father VanDerveer recalled. "I was like, ‘Well, yeah.’ The Lord was very real to me and a part of my life."
Another person who has been part of his life for many years is Bishop Clark. The two first met when Father VanDerveer was 5 and attending Victor’s St. Patrick Church with his family.
"I was standing in the aisle, and he touched my cheek," Father VanDerveer said. "Little 5-year-old Scott felt so special."
Later that day, Father VanDerveer’s mother speculated that maybe the bishop had given her son a special blessing, and that maybe he would become a priest, he said.
When he was 11 years old, the future Father VanDerveer went to his first diocesan discernment event. He was the youngest person there by at least 10 years, and felt very out of place, until he saw the familiar face of Bishop Clark, who had worked at a parish near his mother’s family in the Diocese of Albany.
Father VanDerveer recalled sitting near Bishop Clark at events at World Youth Day in 1993 in Denver, and Bishop Clark even picked him out of a large crowd in 2004 at Boston College and asked if he was from Rochester.
"He is a shepherd who never forgets his sheep," Father VanDerveer remarked.
Father VanDerveer said a year before he was to be ordained, he wrote to Bishop Clark expressing gratitude for the role the bishop had played in his life and inviting him to participate in the ordination. He said he hopes to model his priesthood on Bishop Clark’s example.
Father VanDerveer is a parochial vicar at St. Mary Parish in Oneonta, where he is looking forward to working with students from SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick Colleges, among others. He said he hopes to return to the Rochester area occasionally; his parents, Larry and Marita VanDerveer, live in Pumpkin Hook and attend Church of the Assumption in Fairport, and his brother, Jeff, lives in Palmyra.
"I am really excited to work with all students, but Rochesterians will have a special place in my heart," Father VanDerveer said.