When Father David Y. Rider Jr. says he owes much of the credit for his priesthood to his Catholic school upbringing, he’s not just whistling a happy tune.
He can cite the moment when the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist clicked into focus. Surprisingly, it occurred in history class at Our Lady of Lourdes High School in Poughkeepsie, during a discussion on the Protestant Reformation, when one of his classmates raised her hand and began to explain what the Real Presence meant.
Soon afterward, he asked his junior year religion teacher, Peter Lyons, about the Real Presence, and the teacher gave him a book about Eucharistic miracles. All of this made Rider determined to approach his Catholic faith with renewed zeal. It also started the then-17-year-old on the path to his priesthood.
“I don’t think I’d be a practicing Catholic, much less a priest, had it not been for Catholic school,” Father Rider explained. “I really had a conversion experience in high school.”
He said, “What really brought me to the priesthood was the Eucharist.”
Father Rider is the third of five children, and only son, of David York Rider Sr. and Kathleen M. Rider. He grew up in Regina Coeli parish in Hyde Park and attended the parish school. After Our Lady of Lourdes, he went to Fordham University, where he graduated summa cum laude with a double major in philosophy and history and a minor in theology. He spent a year at St. John Neumann Residence, where he did apostolic work visiting the sick at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx. More recently, he’s done summer assignments at St. Lawrence O’Toole in Brewster in 2012 and St. Francis of Assisi in West Nyack last year.
He made the decision to enroll at North American College after Cardinal Dolan, a former student and rector there, asked him to consider going.
Now 29, Father Rider has studied for the priesthood at North American College in Rome where he earned a bachelor’s in sacred theology last year and is now studying for a licentiate in ecclesiology and Church history at Pontifical Lateran University, where he will return for another year following his ordination.
His graduating class at North American College includes almost 60 men, from all over the United States, and even a few from Australia.
During his years in Rome, he’s also studied next to seminarians from developing countries in South America and Asia, giving him “a sense of the universality of the Church.”
“I’m a New York Catholic, but I’m really a Roman Catholic,” he said. “We share the same joys and the same wounds as people from all the other parts of the Church.”
Father Rider said being present for last month’s canonizations of St. John Paul II and St. John XXIII was “a tremendous grace, especially since Pope John Paul II was an important part of my vocational journey.”
“I was always impressed by his evangelical flair, his desire to bring Catholicism to the whole world, but the way he so courageously and boldly did that by traveling and speaking the truth without any compromises,” said Father Rider, who was in the sanctuary for the canonization ceremony and distributed Communion at the Mass.
Father Rider also appreciated the choice the future saint made to forsake a career as an artist to pursue the priesthood. It was not unlike one he made himself. He was a top-flight tap dancer, good enough to tour the United States and Japan with the Broadway show “42nd Street” in 2004 and 2005. By then, though, he knew the direction in which his life was heading.
“I already had it deep in my heart to be a priest,” he said.
Father Rider will celebrate his first Mass at Regina Coeli Church in Hyde Park Sunday, May 25 at 2:30 p.m. Father Damien O’Connell, S.J., will deliver the homily.