If you’re in need of a refresher course on the power of positive thinking, spend some time with Father Bill Coffas.
Complain about ministering to six faith communities simultaneously? He’d rather liken his duties to Jesus’ example of traveling from town to town.
Carp about the 125-mile drive from Tioga County to Rochester for meetings and family visits? He prefers dwelling on the great scenery and friends he encounters en route.
Of course, it’s easy to muster optimism when you’re so happy with the life you’ve chosen. That’s how Father Coffas, 34, regards his priesthood as its first year comes to a close.
“I loved being a priest on June 12,” Father Coffas said, referring to his 2004 ordination by Bishop Matthew H. Clark, “and I love being a priest today. It has been just an enormous experience to journey with people throughout their life experience. To be a source of comfort and consolation and continuity has certainly blessed my life in a very profound way.”
When Father Coffas learned his first priestly assignment would be as parochial vicar in the Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes, he knew little about this southeasternmost portion of the Rochester Diocese. But he has fit right in to the area, where he’ll soon begin his second year as one of three priests for the worship sites of St. Patrick, Owego; St. Margaret Mary, Apalachin; St. John the Evangelist, Newark Valley; St. Francis, Catatonk; St. James, Waverly; and St. Pius X, Van Etten.
“The people of Tioga County have been phenomenal. They have taken a leadership role in this church,” Father Coffas said, adding, “They have been encouraging of my own vocation, they have welcomed me very graciously and they have been just a great people to be with. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed their company.”
Father Coffas relishes ministering to a wide range of folks, from youth-group members and students of St Patrick’s School, to those who are homebound, to people preparing for marriage and funerals, to inmates at Tioga County Jail. In a Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick bulletin article he wrote in January 2005 for National Vocations Awareness Week, he recalled his thoughts while driving from a parishioner’s house to a Christmas Eve Mass at St. Margaret Mary: “I had this realization, ‘This feels so right, it’s Christmas and I am doing what Jesus has asked me to do.'”
That’s not to say his position doesn’t have its challenges.
“It has been a learning experience for all of us. How do you minister to six different communities, while at the same time calling those communities to be one? They didn’t teach us that in the seminary,” Father Coffas said with a laugh.
He views his current responsibilities as “a wonderful experience of what our lives as diocesan priests will be like in the future. Calling people to a new reality of church is what we as ministers need to be about — the church can no longer just be ‘my’ Mass, at my convenient time, at my particular worship site.”
Father Coffas views Jesus’ time on earth as an apt model for his own ministry.
“Jesus Christ was an itinerant preacher who journeyed through his own land, ministering to people as he encountered them,” he noted. “He didn’t have one hub, a single home.”
Yet in several ways, Tioga County has become like home for Father Coffas. He enjoys going jogging at Hickories Park in Owego, as well as fishing at the area’s many scenic spots. He has also become adept at finding his way around: “There are many roads that you can use to shorten your trip, and I’m still learning them, actually.”
Father Coffas strives to make regular visits to his family in Irondequoit, a suburb of Rochester. He also logged a special appearance in his home town on May 18 to be inducted into the Hall of Fame at his alma mater, Eastridge High School, “which is a huge honor for me.”
He was looking forward to the June 4 ordination of Deacon John Loncle to the diocesan priesthood, sparking memories of his own big day. The 2004 ordination took place in Father Coffas’ home church in Rochester, St. Ambrose, because Sacred Heart Cathedral was unavailable for use while being renovated.
“Thinking about where I was, the friends who came and visited on that wonderful day … I’m just giving thanks to God for a wonderful year of ministering within our church, and looking forward to many more years,” he said.