Bishop Richard J. Malone, chairman of the Christ the King Seminary board of trustees, has named the pastor of the largest parish in the Diocese of Buffalo as the next president/rector of the East Aurora seminary. On June 1, 2014, Father Joseph C. Gatto will take over the leadership of the seminary, ending his service to the more than 5,400 families of Williamsville's St. Gregory the Great as he has for the past seven and a half years. He will succeed Father Peter Drilling, the current president/rector, whose term is ending and expressed a desire to return to a parish setting.
"I am extremely confident in Father Gatto's ability to build on the resurgence of the seminary and its primary role as the local center for the formation of men for the priesthood, a hallmark of Father Drilling's tenure as president/rector, which will also be remembered for the growth in the formation of men for the diaconate, and the increasing number of men and women being educated at the seminary for lay ecclesial ministry," Bishop Malone said. "I am grateful for Father Drilling's dedicated service, and I look forward to the future with great anticipation as Father Gatto leads Christ the King Seminary in the development of new initiatives that will strengthen our diocese, our seminary and our parishes."
Father Gatto, who has served at St. Gregory's since 2006, was enthusiastic about his new position. "It is with much excitement and great joy that I accepted the opportunity to minister with such an incredible group of people at Christ the King Seminary," he said. "The history of the seminary is marked by great accomplishments and I envision that the future will continue to be blessed as we respond to the ever-growing needs of our day to proclaim the Gospel."
Bishop Malone also repeated his steadfast commitment to the seminary. "I will do all that I can to strengthen the seminary, insuring a vibrant future," he said. "It's a great blessing for our diocese to have such a treasure, a place where all Catholic adults can go to enrich their understanding of our own faith, come to know Jesus more intimately, and to know what it means to live out His mission in the world."
Father Gatto, born and raised in Dunkirk, graduated from Cardinal Mindszenty High School before moving to Ogdensburg to study at Wadhams Hall Seminary where he earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy. He also studied in Rome at North American College, Gregorian University and Casa Santa Maria. He holds several degrees in theology. The late Bishop Edward D. Head ordained Father Gatto to the priesthood in July 1983.
Since his ordination, Father Gatto has held both administrative and parish positions. He served as administrator at St. Rose of Lima, Forestville; parochial vicar at St. Leo the Great Parish, Amherst; weekend associate at Queen of Heaven, West Seneca, and SS. Peter & Paul, Hamburg; and pastor at St. John the Baptist, Lockport, as well as at St. Gregory the Great. His other assignments have been at Pope John Paul II Residence where he served as a formation advisor, acting director and director. He also has worked in the diocesan main offices at the Catholic Center as associate vocation director and later as director of the Office of Worship. Father Gatto held a number of positions at the seminary including faculty member, associate director of formation, vice rector, director of recruitment, director of facilities and director of pre-theology.
Father Gatto's final day as pastor of St. Gregory the Great will be Jan. 1, 2014.
In reflecting on his appointment, Father Gatto was quick to thank not only Bishop Malone, but also Father Drilling, the seminary's board of trustees, administration and staff who "have worked tirelessly through some challenging times to make Christ the King Seminary a well-respected center for priestly, diaconal and lay formation for the entire Diocese of Buffalo and far beyond."
Father Drilling has been serving as president/rector at Christ the King Seminary since July 2008, initially on an interim basis, but then receiving the permanent appointment from Bishop Edward U. Kmiec, now bishop emeritus, in December 2008.
Widely known and respected for his scholarship, Father Drilling intends to continue to teach at the seminary following a sabbatical.
Father Drilling, who was ordained at St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City, in 1967, studied at St. John Vianney Seminary, East Aurora; Gregorian University and North American College, the State University of New York at Buffalo and the Toronto School of Theology, University of Toronto.
His parish assignments include assistant pastor at Mother of Divine Grace, Cheektowaga; Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, Depew and St. John the Evangelist, Buffalo. When he became a professor at the seminary in 1982, he continued to serve in parishes as administrator at St. George, West Falls, and as pastor at St. Anthony, Lackawanna.
Though he has served at the seminary for more than 30 years, Father Drilling has enjoyed the challenges and the people he has worked with over the years.
"It is a privilege to serve as president/rector of Christ the King Seminary. I am proud to be involved with such a committed faculty and staff, and to work with such ardent seminarians and deacon candidates, and lay women and men ministers," he said.
"Now that my term of office is coming to its end in May 2014, I am pleased that Bishop Malone has selected Father Gatto to succeed me. I know that Bishop Malone and Father Gatto are dedicated to strengthening and growing Christ the King Seminary."
Christ the King Seminary originally began at St. Bonaventure University in 1857 when it was founded by the Franciscan Fathers of the Order of Friars Minor. In 1974, the seminary moved to East Aurora, where it replaced St. John Vianney Seminary. The Diocese of Buffalo assumed sponsorship and administration of the seminary in 1990.