The calling from God can come in different ways and at different times in life. For Deacon Thomas Mahoney, the calling to the priesthood came after a great personal loss and a major change that led him to trade a 9-to-5 job and business attire in for a more irregular schedule and vestments.
Mahoney, 49, who is currently in fourth theology at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, grew up in Western New York and went to Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, now St. Martha Parish, in Depew. He attended Lancaster High School, graduated from Niagara University in Lewiston and worked as an accountant for nearly 20 years before his father suffered a stroke in 2000 after a medical procedure.
"I wound up being his caretaker," Mahoney said. "After he passed away, I decided I would do a eulogy. He died in June 2002. I gave the eulogy and I talked about my faith, my father's faith and growing up in the faith. Father Louis Dolinic, the priest at OLBS at the time, said, 'You know, Tom, you'd make a good priest if you thought about it.' At the time, I wasn't really thinking too much about it: I had a house, and a nice job, and a career and everything." At that time, he was the comptroller of a company in Amherst.
A few years later, Mahoney was at a daily Mass and felt directionless, so he asked God what he should do next with his life, and the idea to pursue the priesthood came to him. "I called the vocation director, Father Walter (Szczesny), and started discerning. A couple years later, I decided I would just take the chance, leap in and do it. I sold my house, sold my car and entered the seminary," he recalled.
Mahoney said he was not overly active in the Church before entering the seminary and taught one year of religious education at OLBS, which differentiates him from many peers. He was a "faithful, everyday parishioner" who sat in the middle of the church for Mass and had a close relationship with God, but "it wasn't based necessarily on anything other than going to Church every week" and living his faith.
"That's unique in the sense that most guys are more active in the Church before they enter than I was," Mahoney said. "I always had a deep connection with God in my life and He's always been an important life, but it never translated to being active in the Church until Father (Dolinic) planted that seed."
Once he is ordained to the priesthood next June, he will look forward to going to his parish on weekends and serve at the altar, as well as proclaiming the Gospel, which he called his "biggest joy" and a "great thrill." He is not sure if he will do baptisms, since most of his nieces and nephews have not had children. Challenges of the seminary included its schedule, which differed greatly from his former job.
"We have a schedule and it's not like a regular job. I went from a career where I worked, essentially, a 9-to-5 office job, and here it's more of a regiment where you have to be at certain places at certain times, and so your freedom as a grown adult, having your freedom restricted, was definitely a struggle," he added. "I've been out of school for quite a long time, and writing papers was difficult, but I overcame all of those things."
Once he becomes a transitional deacon, Mahoney said he feels his relationship with God will continue its growth, much as it has grown since he entered the seminary. "I think having been ordained will help that tremendously; the graces that come from ordination are special and unique, and I think that will help me grow in my relationship not only with God, but with the people of God, in serving them in a new way."
"I've had the joy of walking with him since he entered the seminary program," Father Szczesny said of Mahoney. "He's a leader on campus, a very well-balanced, spiritual and ministerial young man, extremely dedicated to ministry and to prayer. He's very active in the community at the seminary; he's done very well in parish ministry situations that he's worked at, summertime assignments."
"I look at him as a tremendous model at the seminary, but I know that he's done well in parishes. I know he'll be a great model as a priest, also," Father Szczesny also commented.
Mahoney said the Church faces one of its largest obstacles in appealing to the younger generations. He supports the New Evangelization Richard J. Malone and the diocesan Office for Evangelization and Parish Life and its director, Dennis Mahaney, will be promoting in Western New York. Mahoney stressed the importance of giving a genuine, undiluted message of the Catholic faith to help people realize it.
"I think that's an important aspect, that the Church needs to not water down its message, always hold true to the message, but to bring it to people and help them understand that the fundamental teaching of the Church is the dignity of the human person, and that everything flows from our understanding that people are always the subject, and never an object," he said. "If people could understand that their dignity is involved, they would have a better understanding and appreciation of the Church's teaching as a whole."
In order to encourage more people to come to Mass as a priest, Mahoney also stressed the importance of having priests who are genuine, joyful and loving, in order to get more people back in the pews. He said the priests he grew up with were "wonderful priests,' but today's priests must continue to be outgoing and joyful, and they must always let people know what a great joy it is to be a priest. "I had a career, I had a house and life before this, so to speak, but I've never been happier than on this journey," he added.
"This has been the most incredible, wonderful journey. I've met some amazing and wonderful people everywhere I've been in the Catholic Church, and so just to be a smiling, welcoming presence, I think, will bring people in and help them realize that being a Christian, being a Catholic isn't just about following rules; it's about being joyful in God's love for you."