Of the 20 current seminarians in the Diocese of Rochester, a healthy share hail from the Southern Tier area. In addition to Deacon Michael Costik — a parishioner of St. Matthew in Livonia who will be ordained June 22 (see story on page A2) — four others from the Tier are at various stages of priestly formation, with at least one more beginning this coming fall.
Peter Van Lieshout, a native of St. Matthew Parish as well, is in his third theology year at North American College in Rome. He’s scheduled to be ordained a transitional deacon at St. Peter’s Basilica in October 2013 and a Rochester diocesan priest in June 2014.
The 26-year-old graduated from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and economics. He entered Becket Hall, the diocesan residential program for priestly vocation discernment, that fall.
VanLieshout said the pontificates of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI "affected me in many subtle ways" toward realizing his vocational call — a call that intensified significantly while at Steubenville.
"Unlike many colleges, campus life there is unabashedly Catholic — and joyfully lived out — so I grew a lot in my prayer life, my knowledge of the faith and my recognition of the importance of the priestly vocation," he said.
VanLieshout said that he’s "so grateful for the prayers and support of many laypeople back in the diocese, and I look forward to the day when I can begin to offer them the priestly ministry for which they have prayed so fervently."
Matthew Jones, 30, grew up in Elmira’s Blessed Sacrament Parish. He’s wrapping up his third theology year at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, with his priestly ordination due to take place in 2015.
Jones graduated from Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam in 2004. He then worked as a parish music director and Catholic-school music teacher before entering Becket in 2007. Last year he spent six weeks in Colombia for the purpose of immersing himself in that country’s way of life, as an exchange program of sorts with the several Colombians currently studying for the priesthood in this diocese.
Jones said he was influenced toward the priesthood by "the life and work of a priest, made manifest and visible in a community."
He’s looking forward to several aspects of being a priest, among them "preaching the word of God, celebrating the sacraments and inviting people into a deeper experience of the church’s liturgical life, fostering the faith lives of all generations, providing spiritual direction (and) inspiring the community I am assigned to be a positive force in the greater community by actions and words."
Michael Fowler, 58, is a parishioner of Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes in Tioga County. He is in his second theology year at Blessed Pope John XXIII Seminary in Weston, Mass., and is projected to be ordained a priest in 2015.
He also is a retired quality engineer for Lockheed Martin, a father and a grandfather.
A native of Owego, he has two grown children and two grandchildren. Divorce and a bout with alcoholism presented many struggles in adulthood, but he eventually became sober — he said he hasn’t had a drink in more than 12 years — and he willingly listened when an old family friend suggested Fowler rekindle thoughts from earlier in life of becoming a priest. Fowler retired from Lockheed Martin in July 2009, spent a year at Becket Hall and completed his pastoral year at St. Joseph Parish in Penfield.
He describes himself as having a dual mission of "continued personal conversion and assisting others in their faith journey," saying he has a special place in his heart for encouraging the return of fallen-away Catholics, reaching out to young people and promoting ecumenism.
"I am at peace," he remarked.
Jeffrey Chichester is a native of Mount Morris and parishioner of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish. He entered Becket Hall in 2011 and is completing his first year of seminary studies. He’s in the process of transferring from North American College in Rome to Theological College Seminary in Washington, D.C.
Chichester, 38, earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from SUNY Geneseo in 2008 and was working on a graduate degree in terrestrial ecology at SUNY Brockport before entering Becket. He said his interest in biology and ecology dovetailed nicely with appreciating God’s creation, but he ultimately realized God was calling him to something deeper.
"I really began to think and pray about what God would have me do with my life — because it’s ultimately his — rather than what I alone desired to do for whatever reasons. After some time in prayer and some profound moments of realization, I came to the conclusion that God was inviting me to discern a vocation to the priesthood," he said.
Preparing for the priesthood "has not always been easy," Chichester added, "but I really believe that I am doing what God is asking of me, and I am very happy doing so. I am looking forward to the priesthood with a joyful excitement."
Along with these men, Aaron Kelly, a senior at Horseheads High School and parishioner of St. Mary Our Mother in Horseheads, plans to enter Cathedral Seminary Residence of the Immaculate Conception in Douglastown, N.Y., this coming fall.
Kelly, 18, organized a "Walk for Vocations" last fall at Elmira Notre Dame High School that sought to increase awareness about vocations and raise money to help educate future diocesan priests. Carol Dady, diocesan coordinator of vocations awareness, noted that Kelly also has begun a discernment group in the Horseheads/Elmira/Ithaca area.