Bishop Edward U. Kmiec ordained three new priests for the diocese at St. Joseph Cathedral in Buffalo on June 2. The new priests, Seán Paul Fleming, Andrew Lauricella and Jeffrey Nowak, are anxious to begin serving the people of the diocese.
Six months ago Father Jeffrey Nowak spoke to the Western New York Catholic about his decision to join the priesthood. He said that even though he had served the Church for most of his life - as an altar server, organist and music director - he still felt there was a piece missing from his spiritual life. Now, with his ordination he feels complete.
"I get asked all the time, 'Are you ready for June 2?' I go back to what I told people when I was ordained a deacon. When the bishop laid hands on my head I knew I was ordained," he said. "I look forward to that. I think to be a priest nowadays means to be so much to the people. You're not only being a sacramental minister; you're there when they're down in the dumps, through life's most stressful moments; you're there to share their joyful moments. I think, very much, it's a unique way to be a part of the lives that you serve. You cannot do that in any other profession."
Since his diaconal ordination in October, Father Nowak has spent his time finishing his studies at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, and serving as a weekend assistant at three city parishes - Blessed Sacrament, St. Martin de Porres and Holy Cross. Being a transitional deacon has allowed him to preside over baptisms, celebrate benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, proclaim the Gospel, preach in the parishes, and do some work in RCIA. It's been a juggling act for sure, but a satisfying one because of the reaction he receives from his flock.
"These past six months have really been busy with different things in the parishes," he said. "I think what really brings a joy to it all is the enthusiasm of the people. I've been so welcomed by the people of the different parish communities that I've served, it gives me the energy to engage in the ministry."
Each of his parishes has its own unique flavor. St. Martin de Porres has a predominantly African and African-American population. Holy Cross, traditionally an Italian community, now has a Hispanic and a rising African immigrant community. Father Nowak calls Blessed Sacrament, an average downtown neighborhood parish. This teaches the seminarian how to work with different cultures and can stretch him to his limits, as each parish needs at least one customized homily tailored to the traditions of its congregation.
"In each parish there is a different dynamic of ministry," he explained. "When I prepare to preach at Holy Cross I prepare three different homilies - one in English, and one in Spanish. Someone once said to me, 'Can't you just translate from English?' I said, 'No. The spirituality is different. The culture is different. The examples I use need to be relevant.'"
Still, he is comfortable serving in the city of Buffalo and would not mind having a permanent assignment there after ordination. Some have suggested that his knowledge of the Spanish language makes him perfect to serve the Hispanic community.
Looking back at the seven-year formation process, the 32-year-old Lackawanna native feels like a changed man.
"The process has changed me to be able to self-surrender myself," he said. "It's easy to say I want things on my terms. The priesthood doesn't work that way. And the process of formation has allowed me, not only to embrace that, but understand it. There is a kind of genius to the whole process," he said. "The process takes time in order for it to come to fruition. Some of the things that I initially looked at as hurdles or stumbling blocks or detours on the path to the priesthood, in the end, as I look back, were really blessings."
As a last note he would like to thank all the priests with whom he has served, the Franciscans and Jesuits who taught him, as well as his fellow seminarians, who he said, have been his closest mentors.