Curious about the state of priestly vocations in the Rochester Diocese? Check out the Southern Tier area for some encouraging trends.
A highly positive future was on display at the Holy Hour for Vocations held July 16 at St. Casimir Church in Elmira. The event, attended by more than 75 people, was organized by four young men in various stages of preparation for the priesthood as well as one recently ordained priest. All five are Southern Tier natives or currently on assignment in the Tier — and all are 30 years old or younger.
"It was a blessed evening," Deacon Justin Miller commented.
"Everything fell into place and it turned out to be very prayerful," added Aaron Kelly, who along with Deacon Miller served as main organizer of the event. "It was amazing to come together as a region to pray for vocations in our diocese at large."
The holy hour was arranged in keeping with Bishop Salvatore R. Matano’s ongoing request to pray for priestly and religious vocations, while also emphasizing such vocations as the permanent diaconate, marriage and the single life. Highlights from the early evening event included one hour of eucharistic adoration with prayer and live music, and a public reception that followed. Deacon Miller also offered a reflection during the service on the subject of overcoming fears, as depicted in Matthew 14:22-33 when Peter was fearful of walking on water. Deacon Miller encouraged participants to overcome the fear of responding to a vocational call by keeping their eyes fixed on Jesus in prayer and discernment.
"Whole families came, married couples came together, single persons came, young adults came, and all seemed to enjoy it. It’s been very positive, the response to the event," Deacon Miller said.
Kelly also rated the Holy Hour for Vocations a strong success, noting that numerous people told him afterward they’d like to see more events of this sort. He added that the service held special meaning because the organizers are familiar faces in the Tier who are already pursuing their own vocations.
One such person is Kelly himself. The 20-year-old is a parishioner of St. Mary Our Mother Parish in Horseheads who has spent the past two years attending Cathedral Seminary Residence of the Immaculate Conception in New York City. He has been accepted into the prestigious Basselin Scholars program at Catholic University of America’s Theological College in Washington, D.C., where he will spend the next three years working toward his licentiate in sacred theology.
Diocesan seminarians and other participants kneel to pray during a July 16 Holy Hour for Vocations held at St. Casimir Church in Elmira.
The idea for a holy hour in Elmira was originated by Kelly, who has attended similarly structured vocational holy hours sponsored by the Diocese of Rockville Centre. Kelly proposed the idea to Deacon Miller earlier this year and they obtained approval to make it an official diocesan-sponsored event.
Deacon Miller — who was ordained a transitional deacon June 6 and is due to become a diocesan priest in 2016 — is new to the Tier, having recently completed a summer assignment at Christ the Redeemer Parish, which comprises St. Casimir Church, St. Charles Borromeo in Elmira Heights and Our Lady of Lourdes in Elmira. This fall he returns to Theological College for his final year of seminary.
Father Peter VanLieshout, who was ordained to the priesthood in 2014 and is one of the diocese’s youngest priests, officiated the holy hour at St. Casimir. A native of St. Matthew Parish in Livonia, Father VanLieshout began in June as parochial vicar at Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes in Tioga County.
Also helping organize the July 16 event were seminarians Greg Sheffield, from Christ the Redeemer; and Joseph Martuscello, from Ss. Isadore and Maria Torribia Parish in Steuben County. Both men are recent graduates of Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, and will be attending St. John’s Seminary in Boston this fall.
Deacon Miller said it’s been many years since so many priests and seminarians age 30 or younger were all in the Southern Tier at the same time. In addition, two of the three diocesan priests ordained June 20 have Tier roots: Father Matthew Jones is a native of St. Mary Southside in Elmira, and Father Michael Fowler is from Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick.
"Many in our diocese — myself included before being assigned to the Southern Tier this summer — don’t realize the many churches and deep faith of Catholics here," Deacon Miller said.
Kelly, for one, is pleased about the effects of that faith on priestly vocations.
"We also have several others who we know are discerning. Something good is happening in the Southern Tier," he remarked. "I have had many people say to me that after many years, their prayers are being answered."