“What will there be for us?”
(Mt 19, 27)
I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on August 30, 1983. I am the oldest of four children; three boys and a girl.
When I was little we moved to a small town outside of Syracuse, New York called Manlius. It was there that I first heard the calling to be a priest. I was a normal kid. I loved sports, I played a lot of them, football, baseball, indoor and outdoor soccer, basketball, hockey, lacrosse, etc. I would go to movies, have sleep-over’s, went to a public school etc. Anything a normal kid would do. In addition to all of that, I have been blessed with excellent parents. I thank God everyday for the great gift of my mom and dad who, from a young age, instilled in me the virtues of responsibility, respect, caring about others, and the value of family.
My dad grew up a Protestant, my mom a Catholic. My dad was always very respectful of the faith and he would come to mass with us on Sundays, however we weren’t a very religious family. It wasn’t until I was in fourth grade that my mom had deepened in her faith and she realized that she was responsible for handing on the faith to her children. In my “kid perception” of things this transformation was overnight. I still remember sitting in the parking lot of a car-repair place when my parents told me that after Christmas break we were going to start homeschooling. I was really upset; I did not want to be homeschooled and I made that known; so much so that my parents were going to allow me to finish fourth grade and then start homeschooling. God, however, had different plans because the night before school started again my mom said that my brother was going to have two more weeks of vacation because his books were not in yet. That’s what got my greedy fourth grade brain rolling and I thought that if I would home school I would get even more time off because my mom hadn’t even ordered my books yet. I, for very human and selfish reasons, decided to be homeschooled.
Little by little, God began to transform those reasons into spiritual ones. We would go to mass, pray the rosary, and had other daily prayers. My brother and I were also altar servers at our local parish. It was the four polish priests there that started motivating us to consider the priesthood. I started to admire them and be inspired by their example. The seed had been sown. I couldn’t, however, see how I could be a priest and continue to play sports. Sports were such a big part of my life. I wanted to be a pro. It wasn’t until I read a book on the life of St. John Bosco that I realized that I could do both. I was so inspired by how he would play sports with the boys and organize events for them and at the same time be a great priest to them. I wanted to be like John Bosco but I didn’t know any priests like him.
When I was about ten years old I was invited by some friends to a “boys club” activity. I arrived a few minutes late so the boys were coming out of the chapel from making a visit to our Lord. I looked in and saw a “priest looking guy” making a genuflection. I remember thinking that it was the coolest genuflection that I had ever seen. It struck me as respectful, manly and reverent. I was immediately impressed. His name was Br. Bartholomew. He was a Legionary of Christ seminarian. We prayed the rosary, had a talk and played tackle football in the snow. I loved it. I started frequenting the club. It was called the Blazer’s Boys Club which later became Conquest. One of the other boys who went to that club was Benjamin O’Loughlin who is one of my friends and fellow classmates for the past 18 years, and with whom I will be ordained this coming December. We actually joined ECYD together and had visited the Legionary apostolic school together in 1995.
Another important moment in my journey was a vocational trip to Rome with a group of boys and Fr. Kermit Syren, LC. Fr. Kermit was my spiritual director and had been inviting me to consider the apostolic school but I was not interested. I was extremely impressed by the happiness and joy that the boys showed each other but I couldn’t bring myself to leave home. It was on the Rome trip to Assisi when I was praying at the tomb of St. Francis that I was given the strength to at least try the summer program if that is what God wanted from me.
When I came home I talked about it with my parents and they allowed me to go. My dad had since converted and was a huge example for me of Catholic manhood. It was important for me to have his support. The night before I left he told me something that opened my heart to God’s will. He said, “John, make sure you give God a chance.”
I loved the month at the apostolic school, every minute of it, but I was not going to stay. It was the last week of the summer program and we were at mass and the Gospel was the rich young man and the part when Peter says “Lord, we have given up everything, what is in it for us?” I remember really identifying with that question. At that moment I really felt the presence of Christ in my soul and it was as if the next part of the Gospel was directed to me. “Everyone who has given up houses or brothers, sisters or fathers, or mothers or children or lands for the sake of my name, will receive a hundred times more and will inherit eternal life.” (Mt. 19,29) He wasn’t forcing me, he wasn’t begging me, he was just there, saying “This is what I have to offer to those who follow me; do you want that?” And I said, “Ok. I’ll do it.”
Many years have passed since that day but I still remember it as if it were yesterday.
Some people have asked me what they should pray for as I near my priestly ordination. I have requested two things. The first is, that my priesthood be about Christ and not about me; and the second, that I may be faithful to Him as a priest until death.