Cardinal to ordain eight priests at Mass in cathedral May 19
Seven are to be ordained for the archdiocese. They are Father James L. Miara of Sayreville, N.J.; Father Stephen P. Norton of Boston, Mass.; Father James F. Pilsner of Seaford; Father Robert M. Repenning of New City, Father Francis J. Samoylo of Valley Cottage, Father Luke M. Sweeney of Irvington-on-Hudson and Father Fidelis Moscinski, C.F.R., of Bayonne, N.J.
Also to be ordained is Father Norbert Schütte, M. Id., of Monchengladbach, Germany, who has served since September at Santa Maria parish in the Bronx.
Father Sweeney studied at the North American College in Rome, where he earned his bachelor of sacred theology degree at the Gregorian University. He expects to return to Rome to complete a licentiate in sacred theology at the John Paul II Institute for the Theology of Marriage and the Family.
The other six priests to be ordained for the archdiocese studied at St. Joseph's Seminary in Dunwoodie and earned bachelor of sacred theology (S.T.B.) and master of divinity (M. Div.) degrees.
St. Joseph's Seminary Class of 2001 includes two candidates from other dioceses, Deacon Jerel A. Scholl of the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., and Deacon Edward J. Wilson of the Diocese of Providence, R.I. Deacon Scholl will be ordained by Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ in Lincoln on Saturday, May 26. Deacon Wilson will be ordained by Bishop Robert E. Mulvee at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Providence on Saturday, June 23.
Two members of the class earned additional master's degrees in theology with a specialization: Father Pilsner and Father Wilson, both in sacred Scripture.
All those to be ordained for the archdiocese prepared for priesthood at St. John Neumann Seminary Residence in the Bronx before going on to the major seminary except for Father Miara, who already had participated in a preseminary program. Deacon Wilson also studied at St. John Neumann.
Father Schütte completed studies in theology at the University of Strasbourg in France.
Msgr. Francis J. McAree, rector of St. Joseph's Seminary, will be among the concelebrants of the ordination Mass and will present the candidates for ordination to Cardinal Egan.
The new priests will give the traditional first blessings in the cathedral after the ordination Mass, which is open to the public.
His love for New York influenced him to change his plans
Like many young men on the brink of a career decision, Father James L. Miara was attracted to Manhattan. He liked the opportunities and the bustling life he found there, but not in the offices on Wall Street or Madison Avenue. He liked the busy city churches, the constant flow of people coming in to pray, the availability of Masses and confession throughout the day for working people.
"I was always very impressed with that," he said. "It seemed like the faith was really alive."
Born in New Brunswick, N.J., Father Miara, 28, is the son of Carol and Stanley Miara of Sayreville, N.J., where he and his younger sister grew up. His family is Polish and belongs to a Polish parish in Sayreville, St. Stanislaus Kostka. He attended the parish school, staffed by the Felician Sisters, a Polish congregation.
Father Miara said he can't remember a time when he didn't want to be a priest. Even as a first-grader, "I always wanted to sit up front so I could see everything the priest was doing," he recalled. One day his second-grade teacher, Sister Crescentia, told him, "You're going to become a priest."
"I'd like to," he replied. The nun picked up a gold-colored, plastic crucifix that lay beside a statue of the Blessed Virgin, kissed it, offered it to him to kiss and then gave it to him. It's still in his room at his parents' house.
He said that when the time came for a decision, he chose priesthood because "I felt it was the best way I could serve God."
He was a catechist while attending Sayreville War Memorial High School. After graduating, he enrolled at St. Mary's College in Orchard Lake, Mich., affiliated with SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary there, which he planned to attend. It trains priests to serve the Polish community.
At St. Mary's he took part in a priestly preparation program. He earned a degree in philosophy, studied Polish language, literature and music and worked on cultural events. He belongs to Polish cultural organizations in New Jersey and Michigan.
When the time came for his next step toward priesthood, he thought and prayed deeply about his love for the New York Archdiocese. Finally, he wrote to Cardinal O'Connor, came to New York for interviews and was accepted at St. Joseph's Seminary. Because of the preseminary program he had taken, he did not attend St. John Neumann Seminary Residence. He is working on a master's degree in theology, specializing in Church history.
One of the highlights of his life was serving Mass for Pope John Paul II in Central Park Oct. 7, 1995.
"I love the Holy Father very much," Father Miara said.
He served on the retreat team at St. Joseph's Seminary, taught in the religious education programs at Our Lady of Fatima parish in Scarsdale and St. Gregory the Great parish in Harrison, and visited residents at St. Patrick's Home in the Bronx. He enjoyed his three summer assignments at Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in the Bronx, where he walked through the neighborhood and visited the sick and elderly at home.
"I learned a lot from the pastor, Msgr. John Ruvo, and all the priests there," he remarked.
Father Miara said he especially looks forward to celebrating Mass and the sacraments, teaching the faith to children and helping people to "focus on their spiritual lives."
"I'm going to give it my wholehearted all, and hope I will be effective," he said.
Father Miara will celebrate his first Mass in St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Sayreville on Sunday, May 20, at 3 p.m. The homilist will be Father Mark A. Borkowski, parochial vicar at St. Frances Cabrini parish in Allen Park, Mich.
Trailblazing pro-life advocate will expand his efforts as a priest
In his opposition to abortion, Father Fidelis Moscinski, C.F.R., has gone so far as to make a federal case of it. He was involved in a four-year constitutional challenge of the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) act, which provides civil and criminal penalties for Operation Rescue-type activities.
The legal challenge began in May 1995, when he and retired Auxiliary Bishop George E. Lynch of Raleigh, sat down in the driveway of an abortion clinic in Dobbs Ferry and were arrested for blocking access. They were convicted under FACE and slapped with an injunction, which they violated a short time later by blocking the same clinic. In federal court, they cited Pope John Paul II's encyclical "The Gospel of Life," arguing that FACE and the injunction were not binding since they protect the unjust killing of innocent unborn babies and violate the natural law which comes from God.
In January 1997 Father Fidelis and Bishop Lynch were acquitted of criminal contempt charges by Judge John E. Sprizzo, who ruled that due to their sincere religious beliefs they lacked the "willfulness" necessary for contempt. The federal government appealed the ruling until July 1999.
Father Fidelis said he is pleased with the ruling but disappointed that the case never made it to the Supreme Court to test the FACE Act.
Pro-life activities were key to his hearing the call to religious life and have defined his years with the Community of Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, who have houses in Manhattan, the Bronx and Yonkers. He is pro-life director for the community, training fellow friars to perform sidewalk counseling outside abortion clinics and organizing prayer vigils. After ordination he will live in St. Crispin's Friary in the South Bronx and serve as chaplain to the nearby crisis pregnancy center run by Expectant Mother Care. He also will assist with the friary's lay associates program, coordinating volunteers who help the friars in their service to the poor and homeless.
The life and example of St. Francis of Assisi inspired him "to hand my whole life over to the Lord," he said. The priesthood to him means "the privilege of making visible to people the love of Jesus Christ and the graces he wants to give them through the sacraments."
Father Fidelis, 30, born in Bayonne, N.J., is the son of Patricia and Deacon Joseph Moscinski, who serves at St. Joseph's parish in East Millstone, N.J. He graduated from Bishop Ahr High School in Carteret, N.J., and Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., where he joined the pro-life club. While taking part in demonstrations outside abortion clinics, he met Friars of the Renewal and became interested in religious life. He entered the community in September 1992, took first vows 16 months later and final vows in 1997.
In 1995 he began studies for the priesthood at St. John Neumann Seminary Residence in the Bronx, living at Our Lady of Guadalupe Friary in the Bronx. In September 1997 he entered Dunwoodie and moved to St. Leopold's Friary in Yonkers.
He will celebrate his first Mass at the parish where he grew up, St. Joseph's Church in Carteret, on Sunday, May 20, at 3 p.m. His father will be the homilist. He will celebrate Mass for his religious community at St. Adalbert's Church in the Bronx on Sunday, May 27, at 2 p.m. Father Benedict J. Groeschel, C.F.R., director of the archdiocesan Office for Spiritual Development, will be the homilist.
His formation as a Christian Brother was the foundation for priesthood
Father Stephen P. Norton recalls with great affection his years at Catholic Memorial High School, operated by the Congregation of Christian Brothers in Boston. The brothers impressed him enormously with their spirit, the quality of their teaching and the way they got students involved in activities. In his senior year he decided to join them. He remembers leaving home to enter the congregation in New Rochelle.
"I was so thrilled," he said. "It was a new adventure." He spent 16 years as a brother, and his enthusiasm never waned, but along the way he felt called to a new vocation.
Born in Boston, where his parents still live, Father Norton, 41, is the son of Margaret L. and John J. Norton Sr. and the second of eight children--five sons and three daughters. Growing up in a large, loving, devout family gave him the sense of community that he later found as a brother and wants to share with others as a priest.
After entering the Christian Brothers in 1978, he earned a degree in speech communication at Iona College in New Rochelle, which they operate. He also holds a master's degree in educational administration from Boston College.
While studying at Iona, he began teaching in the religious education program and working on youth retreats at St. Mary's parish in Mount Vernon. It became his spiritual home, and he has been active there since then. He describes its members as "holy, good people who have loved me and definitely taught me about God."
The House of Prayer in Scarsdale and the Sisters of Charity who run it helped him become "a person of prayer," he said. Active in the Charismatic Renewal, he has presented Life in the Spirit seminars in many parishes.
As a brother he taught at Sacred Heart of Jesus, St. Cecilia's and St. Lucy's schools in Manhattan, All Hallows in the Bronx and Iona Preparatory School in New Rochelle.
What drew him to priesthood was listening as people opened their hearts to him.
"Often I would sit there as a brother and think to myself, 'I would really love to offer you the sacrament of reconciliation at this moment,' but instead I had to say, 'I need you to go explain that whole story again to a priest,' " he recalled.
His religious superiors and brothers, though sorry to lose him, supported him strongly, he said. He is close to the congregation and deeply grateful for the formation it gave him in living the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and centering his life on prayer and love of the Eucharist.
He served on the seminary retreat team, taught in the religious education program at Our Lady of Fatima parish in Scarsdale and visited patients at St. Agnes Hospital in White Plains and the Convent of Mary the Queen in Yonkers, a residence for retired Sisters of Charity. His summer parish assignments were at St. Frances de Chantal in the Bronx and St. Denis in Hopewell Junction.
He said that the need for vocations opens up an exciting challenge "to invite many more men of different backgrounds and races to join us and to learn from them."
A teacher at heart, he hopes to be involved with schools and education. "It's in my blood," he said. Most of all, he is eager to celebrate the sacraments.
"The fact that I'm able to represent Jesus Christ to people is awesome," he said.
Father Norton will celebrate his first Mass at St. Mary's Church in Mount Vernon Sunday, May 20, at 2 p.m. The homilist will be the pastor, Father John T. Meehan.
Heading for Ordination
Two to become priests in other dioceses, one as a member of a religious congregation
St. Joseph's Seminary Class of 2001 includes two men who will be ordained for other dioceses: Deacon Jerel A. Scholl of the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., and Deacon Edward J. Wilson of the Diocese of Providence, R.I.
Brother Norbert Schütte, M. Id., a member of the Idente Missionaries of Christ Crucified, has been studying at the seminary since September while assisting in pastoral ministry at Santa Maria parish in the Bronx. He will be ordained by Cardinal Egan May 19 with the Class of 2001.
Deacon Wilson, 37, the son of Dorothy and the late Edward J. Wilson, was born in Queens and grew up in Portsmouth, R.I. He thought of priesthood as an altar boy, but put it aside in high school and college. He earned a degree in finance at the University of Rhode Island and worked at Bankers Trust Co. and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.
His career didn't satisfy him. "I couldn't find contentment or interior peace," he said.
One day his father called and invited him to make a retreat at St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Mass.
"That was a conversion experience where I rediscovered God and my vocation," Deacon Wilson said. He decided to seek priesthood in the New York Archdiocese and entered St. John Neumann Seminary Residence in the Bronx in 1994, but after the death of his father he decided to serve in Rhode Island, where his mother and other family members live.
As a seminarian he taught religion and was a counselor at Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx, visited patients at Rosary Hill Home in Hawthorne and St. Agnes Hospital in White Plains and taught in the religious education program at St. Joseph's parish in Bronxville. He served summer assignments at Holy Spirit parish in Cortlandt Manor and Blessed Sacrament parish on Staten Island, and in Rhode Island.
At St. Joseph's he earned an additional master's degree in theology, specializing in Scripture.
He enjoys youth work and hopes to do more teaching and counseling. He also looks forward to working with couples and families as a parish priest. His goal is to help young people and families alike to "keep Christ at the center of their lives."
Deacon Wilson will be ordained by Bishop Robert E. Mulvee of Providence in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral there Saturday, June 23, at 10 a.m. He will celebrate his first Mass at St. Anthony's Church in Portsmouth, his home parish, Sunday, June 24, at 1 p.m. The homilist will be his seminary classmate Father Stephen P. Norton.
Deacon Scholl, 29, is the son of Dianne and LaVern Scholl of Tilden, Neb., where he was born. He said he thought about priesthood as a senior in high school but dismissed the idea and instead enrolled at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to study business. At the Newman Center there he met the diocesan vocation director and several seminarians. After three years, unsure about a career and still thinking of priesthood, he decided to enroll in St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Overbrook, Pa., where the diocese sent its seminarians to study philosophy, just to prove to himself that he didn't have a vocation.
"I thought I'd give it one year, and then I wouldn't have to worry about it anymore," he said. But he added, "I just felt that tug in my heart, that God wanted me to do something I wasn't doing." In retrospect, he said it was "a great experience" to seek and find God's will.
At St. Joseph's, Deacon Scholl served on the seminary retreat team, visited residents at St. Patrick's Home in the Bronx and taught in the religious education programs at Maria Regina High School in Hartsdale and Immaculate Conception parish in Tarrytown. As a deacon he assisted at St. Michael's parish in Manhattan. He served summers in the Diocese of Lincoln.
He has enjoyed working with the elderly. "I could see in their eyes how much love they had for the Church and the sacraments," he said.
Deacon Scholl will be ordained by Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz of Lincoln at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ there Saturday, May 26, at 11 a.m. He will celebrate his first Mass Sunday, May 27, at 2:30 p.m. at St. Bonaventure's Church in Raeville, Neb. The homilist will be Father Milton Thomas, his spiritual director.
Brother Schütte, 30, is the son of Elisabeth and Gerd Schütte of Monchengladbach, Germany, where he was born. He earned advanced degrees in physics at the University of Cologne and theology at the University of Strasbourg in France.
He first met members of the Idente Missionaries in Cologne and was impressed with their spirituality. He entered the congregation there in 1990.
"I found an authentic way to live the Gospel in our times and to integrate the teaching of Christ in our daily life," he said.
Brother Schütte completed most of his academic preparation for priesthood in Europe. He took courses at St. Joseph's in subjects including canon law, moral theology, social justice and medical ethics.
He stressed the importance of priesthood as "a sign of inner commitment to Christ and the Church." He also noted the "indispensable service" that the priest provides in celebrating the Eucharist, "the source and aim of all Christian life."
At Santa Maria, Brother Schütte has taught in the religious education and baptismal preparation programs and, as a deacon, has assisted at Mass and conducted prayer services for the deceased. He particularly enjoys youth work, and he wants to draw young people to strong spirituality, active participation in Church life and love of the Eucharist. Not everyone is called to priesthood or religious life, but everyone has "a vocation to be a saint, to be holy," he said.
He will celebrate his first Mass at Santa Maria Sunday, May 20, at 10:15 a.m. The homilist will be the pastor, Father Fernando Real, who is the superior of Idente Missionaries in New York.
The third priest in his family, he found his calling in his own way
It would not be fair to say that Father James F. Pilsner is simply following the path others have blazed. Although two of his older brothers are priests, he came to his vocation independently and was not pressured by his parents, he said.
If there was a preset plan, he allowed, it was a "holy conspiracy" named the Holy Trinity which kept after him even as he consciously avoided the idea of becoming a priest like his brothers.
"At a certain point, I wanted to ditch the whole vocation bug," he admitted.
That was 10 years ago, when he went to Poland to teach English and find his direction in life. Far from home, amid new surroundings, he expected to find new horizons. But in November 1992, God came knocking.
"It hit me rather suddenly," he recalled. "I couldn't run away from my vocation anymore, and knew I had to return to New York to see if God was calling me to the priesthood."
The following September he entered St. John Neumann Seminary Residence in the Bronx. Like his brother Father Peter R. Pilsner, a religion teacher at Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx, he wanted to be a priest for the New York Archdiocese. His other priest-brother, Father Joseph E. Pilsner, C.S.B., is formation director with the Congregation of St. Basil in Toronto.
As Father Pilsner describes it, he wants to be "a G.P. priest," a general practitioner in the parish.
"If there's a shortage of priests, I think the most essential work of the priest is through the sacraments at the parish level--"celebrating Mass, hearing confessions, ministering the other sacraments," he explained.
Pro-life work also will be a major part of his ministry. While in the seminary, he trained to be a sidewalk counselor outside abortion clinics and was head of Dunwoodie's Respect Life Club. A smile breaks across his face as he speaks of the women who turned around outside abortion clinics.
"I knew if I was out there day after day, there was a chance at least one woman would keep her baby," he said.
Father Pilsner, 31, grew up in Seaford on Long Island, the youngest of four sons of Marcia and Arnold Pilsner. His other brother, John, is a married college professor and his sister, Mary, died of cancer two years ago at age 25. Mrs. Pilsner says that Mary's sufferings offered to God won the graces for three of her sons to become priests.
Father Pilsner holds a double degree in humanities and mathematics from Gannon University in Pennsylvania. He was in the Neumann pretheology program for two years and took part in the spirituality year. He entered Dunwoodie in September 1996 and then embarked on a pastoral year, serving at St. Columba's, a booming parish with 5,000 families in Hopewell Junction. A year immersed in parish life convinced him that he indeed was called to be "a G.P. priest." He credits the example and guidance of Msgr. Dominick J. Lagonegro, pastor and regional coordinator of Dutchess County, for helping him to develop a deeper life of prayer and service. He returned to studies at Dunwoodie and graduated with an additional master's degree in sacred Scripture.
His apostolic assignments were visiting retired sisters at Mary the Queen Convent in Yonkers, teaching religious education at St. Eugene's parish in Yonkers, visiting patients at Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center in Manhattan and at Rosary Hill Home for terminal cancer patients in Hawthorne.
Father Pilsner will celebrate his first Mass at his home parish, Maria Regina Church in Seaford, on Sunday, May 20, at 2 p.m. Father Joseph Pilsner will be the homilist.
A 'lifer' who heard the call through the ministry of priests in his parish
Inspired by priests who were "totally in love with the priesthood," Father Robert M. Repenning entered high school seminary as a freshman. Over the next 14 years, his call changed but his vision never wavered as he moved through the archdiocesan system and earned the title "lifer," which is rarely given in these days of later vocations.
"It all goes back to the parish, St. Augustine's in New City, when I first started getting involved in the Church and got a sense of the priesthood," he stated.
The priests who inspired him were Msgr. John J. Gillen, pastor of the parish from 1980 until his retirement in 1994; Msgr. Desmond G. O'Connor, now pastor of St. Stephen's in Warwick, who served as his confirmation sponsor, and Father William B. Cosgrove, now pastor of St. Denis in Hopewell Junction.
"They made you feel you wanted to be a part of what they were doing," Father Repenning said.
As his calling matured, he came to see priesthood in terms of gathering a parish family around the altar and "being a presence for the people" wherever they are. "Faith life is the most important thing for me and I want to bring that faith to other people as something alive and vibrant," he said.
He added, "I want to reach out to people who get lost in the shuffle of life. People who may be away from the Church and are looking for a way back.
"Also, I have a great sympathy for people who are homebound and the elderly," he said. "I know one lady who hasn't been to Mass for seven years. I can't wait to be ordained and celebrate Mass for her in her house."
Father Repenning, 28, born in Farmville, Va., is the son of Christel W. Repenning, of New City, and the Rev. David A. Repenning, a Methodist minister in Milford, Pa. His parents are divorced.
His mother brought him up in the Catholic faith in New City, where Mrs. Repenning attends St. Augustine's. In 1987 he entered Cathedral Preparatory Seminary High School, then located on Manhattan's West Side, and lived in the archdiocese's Ford Residence a few blocks away. After graduation, he entered St. John Neumann Seminary Residence in the Bronx, the archdiocese's pretheology house of formation, and enrolled in St. John's University in Queens.
After receiving a bachelor's in philosophy, he delayed entering Dunwoodie and spent a pastoral year at Incarnation parish in Washington Heights. Under the guidance of Father Gabriel La Paz, the pastor, he experienced parish life anew and "re-evaluated my whole vocation." The parish was run as an extended family, and he saw firsthand why a priest is called "Father."
With energy renewed, he entered Dunwoodie and embarked on the spirituality year in Northampton, Pa. He began studies in September 1997 at Dunwoodie and served as editor of the annual Dunwoodie Review.
His pastoral assignments were teaching religious education at Immaculate Conception parish in Tuckahoe and St. Eugene's parish in Yonkers, visiting cancer patients at Rosary Hill Home in Hawthorne and AIDS patients in the Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center in Manhattan. Summer pastoral assignments were at Our Lady of the Assumption parish in the Bronx.
Father Repenning will celebrate his first Mass at St. Augustine's on Sunday, May 20, at 1 p.m. Msgr. Desmond O'Connor will be the homilist.
A late vocation, his pro-life work gave him the impetus to give more of himself
Before entering the seminary, Father Francis J. Samoylo, 50, was attending Mass daily and working as a counselor in a Rockland County public school. Although he was happy, he thought God was asking more of him.
"I thought maybe I should give totally, without any hindrance," he recalled. "I wanted to devote myself fully to God, the Blessed Mother and the Church."
His work with the pro-life movement helped to focus his thoughts and activities in the direction of the priesthood. In 1988 he volunteered at the Good Counsel Home for single mothers and their babies in Spring Valley and began praying with members of the Rockland Right to Life Committee outside an abortion clinic in Nanuet. He was influenced especially by the strong pro-life leadership of Msgr. John M. Harrington, then pastor and now pastor emeritus of Immaculate Conception in Stony Point, and Father John J. Vondras, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Newburgh.
"There are extraordinary people in the movement who are humble, simple and selfless," Father Samoylo said. "They give so much of themselves for the mothers and their babies that you're inspired to do the same."
A late vocation, he entered St. John Neumann Seminary Residence at 44, living in the same house as college students and postgraduates younger than he. The age difference was not a difficulty, he said, since he was used to dealing with young people as a counselor for 14 years at Clarkstown North High School in New City. He also coached basketball there and at his alma mater, Albertus Magnus High School in Bardonia.
A seminary life of prayer, study and work was not new to him either. For six years in the 1970s he was a Benedictine brother with a community in Still River, Mass., leaving before he took final vows.
"The regular hours of prayer became a part of me," he said.
He grew up in Valley Cottage with his three brothers and belonged to St. Paul's parish in Congers. He holds a bachelor's from Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta and a master's in urban education from Iona College in New Rochelle.
The joy of his ordination will be touched by the sadness of his father's death last month. John Samoylo, 83, underwent surgery for colon cancer in January, and Father Samoylo was praying that he would be well enough to attend the ordination. His mother, Carolyn, of Valley Cottage, will be at the ceremony. Father Samoylo is dedicating his first Mass the next day to his father.
"He was a quiet man, of few words, but I think he was very pleased about my decision to become a priest," he said. "Both my parents sacrificed a lot to bring up four boys. Their generosity and selflessness has been a big influence in my vocation."
Father Samoylo said that his maturity and experience with young people will help him relate to people of all ages in parish work. A priest "brings Our Lord to the people through the sacraments and through his ministry," he said.
His apostolic assignments at Dunwoodie were teaching religious education at Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in the Bronx and Sacred Heart parish in Dobbs Ferry and visiting prisoners at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining. He served summers at St. Mary, Mother of the Church in Fishkill.
He will celebrate his first Mass in St. Paul's Church in Congers on Sunday, May 20, at 2 p.m. The homilist will be the pastor, Msgr. Thomas E. Gilleece, who will begin serving as chancellor of the archdiocese on June 1.
Parish life shaped his vocation, and seminary life took him to Rome
As a seminarian, Father Luke M. Sweeney experienced the universality of the Church firsthand. For the past four years he studied at the North American College in Rome, where U.S. seminarians live while earning their degrees at some of the Church's most prestigious institutions of higher learning.
"When you go out to the universities, you have a microcosm of the whole world sitting in the classroom with you," Father Sweeney said. "You get to build friendships with seminarians and also religious men and women and lay students from all over the world."
For Father Sweeney, who once considered a career as an astronaut, it was a different way of soaring to the heavens. He expects to return to Rome for a year to complete his studies, but he is eager to put his learning to work in the kind of setting that nurtured his vocation: the parish.
Father Sweeney, 26, is the son of Luke M. and the late Mary Esther Connors Sweeney of Irvington-on-Hudson. He was born in Yonkers but the family's home is in Irvington, where he grew up with his brother, belonged to Immaculate Conception parish and attended the parish school.
His parents were devout; he went to Mass with them not only on Sundays but also on Saturdays and on weekdays during the summer. He became an altar boy, then a sacristan and later worked as a receptionist in the rectory.
By the sixth grade, he was mulling over two career choices: priest or astronaut. At Fordham Preparatory School, he found that priesthood attracted him more and more, and the Jesuits he met there encouraged him; Father Sweeney said he might have entered the Society of Jesus had it not been for his early attraction to parish priesthood.
He lived at St. John Neumann Seminary Residence while earning a degree in history and philosophy at Fordham University. When the chance came to go to Rome, he was excited--the New York seminarians had visited Rome only months earlier as part of the centennial celebrations of St. Joseph's Seminary--but he also wanted to discuss it with his parents. Father Sweeney acknowledges that it was a sacrifice for them to be separated from him, a sacrifice made more poignant after his mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She died last September; Father Sweeney was with her for the summer preceding her death.
In Rome he earned a degree in theology from the Gregorian University, and he is continuing his studies for a licentiate in theology at John Paul II Institute for the Theology of Marriage and the Family.
"I want to help couples prepare for marriage," he said. "I'd like to help them be as prepared as they can be for such a holy commitment, particularly in the face of a culture and society which doesn't always share our values."
Father Sweeney emphasized the importance of priestly and religious vocations as a sign "that another world lies beyond this one."
"The world tends to be focused on the material realm," he said. "We need to balance that with the spiritual...It's important to have people who dedicate and consecrate their lives to God: men as priests, men and women as religious."
He served in Rome in campus ministry and in presenting holy hours for sisters and visiting patients at a children's hospital. His summer assignments were at St. Theresa of the Infant Jesus parish in the Bronx; previously he was a catechist at his home parish.
While on retreat in Ars, France, this spring, Father Sweeney came upon a story about St. John Vianney--the holy Curé of Ars, patron of parish priests--that sums up his hopes for his own priesthood. En route to Ars, Father Vianney stopped to ask directions of a shepherd boy, who told him how to reach his parish. The priest then said, "You have shown me the way to Ars. I shall show you the way to heaven."
Said Father Sweeney, "That's what I think we need to be all about as priests--liturgically, in our work for the poor, in building the parish community. That has to be our overriding goal."
Father Sweeney will celebrate his first Mass at Immaculate Conception Church Sunday, May 20, at noon. The homilist will be his uncle Father Brocard M. Connors, O. Carm., director of lay Carmelites of the Province of St. Elias-New York.