It is a long journey to become a priest, but following his October ordination as a transitional deacon, the end of Bryan Zielenieski's road is in sight.
A native of Arcade who grew up on a dairy farm, Deacon Zielenieski, 34, is entering the final stage of his path to the priesthood. It is a path that took seven years at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora and will culminate with his anticipated ordination as a priest in June 2014.
For the lay Catholics unaware, studying to become a priest is a comprehensive, full-time process. The curriculum focuses on the academic, spiritual, intellectual, human and pastoral formation aspects of each man.
"It's a four-legged approach," Deacon Zielenieski said of the process. "One of the challenges (of the seminary) is the rigorousness. It involves every aspect of your life. It's not like going to graduate school and coming home at night. When you say yes to God's call, you're all in."
The first two years of the program involve philosophy courses. The second two years introduce the seminarians to intro theology courses. Then, it's time for a seminarian's "internship," so to speak, by assigning him to a diocesan parish for a year, along with attendance at some programs at the seminary. Years six and seven involve the third and fourth theology programs. And if that wasn't enough, seminarians are also assigned for parish ministry during the summer breaks.
"You eat, live and breathe vocation," Deacon Zielenieski said of his formation.
Deacon Zielenieski spent his one parish ministry year at Christ the King Parish in Snyder. He enjoyed the opportunity to take the lessons he learned at the seminary and apply them in a practical way in parish life.
"You try to take that into different parish settings and religious education programs out in the diocese," he said. "It's a wonderful experience. I loved being at the parish. It's a hands-on lab year."
Deacon Zielenieski's most recent summer assignment sent him to SS. Peter & Paul Parish in Hamburg, where he'll return to serve as a transitional deacon. He noted that he was ordained a deacon at St. Joseph Cathedral on Friday, Oct. 25, and already presided over baptisms that weekend.
"It's a great parish, but there's a lot going on there," Deacon Zielenieski said of his current assignment. "It's never slow."
When asked whether it was difficult to walk into a new assignment and integrate himself into the parish community, Deacon Zielenieski said he only senses excitement from the audience.
"Everyone is curious about who is this person," he said. "Christ the King (Parish) was a little different because they've never had a seminarian, so they were learning who this person was (that was) learning to be a priest. For me too, there's an excitement of learning who this community (is) and how they revere Christ. It goes both ways."
Prior to enrolling at the seminary, Deacon Zielenieski worked as a teacher. It's an aspect of his life he hopes will be included in his ministry following his clergy ordination.
"My dream has always been to be at a parish with a school," he said. "I loved working at the school at Christ the King and SS. Peter & Paul (parishes)."