CANANDAIGUA — There’s not much difference between a Catholic-school student’s uniform and a priest’s uniform, or clericals, Father James Jaeger recently told students at St. Mary School.
The uniforms may look different, he noted, but they both serve the same purpose — they symbolize to the world who you are, what you believe and what you represent.
“It helps you be mindful of who you are and how you should live in the world,” Father Jaeger added.
Father Jaeger’s Feb. 1 visit to the school was part of St. Mary’s celebration of Catholic Schools Week, which was Jan. 29-Feb. 4. The National Catholic Educational Association encourages Catholic schools to celebrate and teach about vocations during this week, so St. Mary’s invited 11 people who work in the church to speak at the school Feb. 1, said Linda Rowsick, school secretary.
Father Jaeger, pastor of the Catholic Communities of St. Anne and St. Gregory in Palmyra and Marion; Father Thomas Mull, pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in Canandaigua; and Father Mark Brewer, parochial vicar at St. Mary’s, spoke to the students about the priesthood. Deacon Claude Lester, faith-formation director at St. Mary’s, and Deacon Kevin Carges, who serves at St. Patrick’s Parish in Macedon, told students about the permanent diaconate’s role in parish life.
Sister Donna Del Santo, vocations director for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester, also gave a presentation, as did Ruth Putnam, justice-and-peace coordinator for Catholic Charities agencies in the Finger Lakes region and Livingston and Wayne counties.
Representatives from four ministries of St. Mary’s Parish also spoke to students. Valerie Haynes told them about her job as director of parish life, Patricia Bowers talked about St. Mary’s Food Cupboard, Trixie Meteyer talked about the music ministry and Dawn Burdick told students about the parish’s youth-ministry program.
Father Jaeger is a St. Mary’s alumnus, and although the uniforms have changed a little since he graduated, he said they’re still very similar to what he wore as a student. He remembers being proud to wear the school uniform, even as a small child.
“I’ve exchanged one uniform for another, but I’m still proud of it,” Father Jaeger said, noting he also wears several other uniforms.
Besides the clericals — a Roman collar, a black shirt and black pants — Father Jaeger also wears vestments during Masses and other liturgical celebrations. He also serves as a chaplain for the Air National Guard in Niagara Falls, and when he’s on duty there he wears a military uniform.
“I wear many uniforms, but they’re always consistent with who I am and what I do in life,” Father Jaeger said. “Hopefully I bring the presence of God to people.”
Priests are physical, living signs of God’s presence in the world today, but all Catholics are called to be such signs, he added. People often identify a Catholic priest by his Roman collar, but his kind, loving nature and charitable works should also provide signs of God’s presence. All Catholics — not just priests — are called to be such signs, he said.
“We’re called to live that type of example whether we’re in a collar or a business suit or jeans,” Father Jaeger said.
When Father Jaeger paused to ask for questions, one young man raised his hand — evidently with a burning question — and asked if priests sleep in their uniforms.
“Do I sleep in a uniform? Thank heavens, no,” Father Jaeger answered, then joked, “We have the freedom to go to Old Navy and buy whatever we want to sleep in.”
Priests aren’t obligated to wear their uniforms the whole time they’re awake, either, Father Jaeger said in response to another student’s question. While he wears his priestly garb during Mass and while he works, he is not obligated to wear it in his free time, he said. His responsibilities as a Catholic priest don’t end when he dons a pair or jeans or a polo shirt, however.
“Even though I may blend in and others may not see me as a priest visibly on the exterior, on the interior I’m always a priest. I never stop being who I am,” Father Jaeger said.