When Peter Donnelly turns 48 later this month, his birthday celebration will include one of the most unique gifts he's ever received in his life, and it's a spiritual one.
Donnelly will be ordained to the Permanent Diaconate by Bishop Richard J. Malone at St. Joseph Cathedral in Buffalo on May 23, the day after his birthday. A former Catholic school student who attended and graduated from St. John the Baptist School in Kenmore, St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute in Kenmore and St. Bonaventure University in Olean, Donnelly finished his last year at a religious education institution this year after graduating with a master's degree in Pastoral Ministry at Christ the King Seminary, East Aurora.
"I was used to the whole graduate school routine, but it was a bit of a change," Donnelly said of his studies at the seminary. "It was challenging. It was difficult at times to balance, but it was part of the formation process. Because of the amount of effort it required, it made me look at how I was using the time in my own life."
Now married to his wife Catherine, and parent to three children - Peter, Maggie and Matthew - Donnelly had considered becoming a deacon in the past, but as parents of any young children or infants will tell you, free time to do other things is at a premium.
"I've actually thought about it for more than a decade, but with a young family, it really wasn't in the cards," he said. "There was too much stuff going on. I put it aside and let it go, but six years ago, I still had the thought that it was something I needed to do. It wasn't any magical moment, just that the feeling over time got stronger."
Born to the late James Donnelly and Joanne Henry, Peter's parents divorced when he was younger, but thanks to his mother, his faith formation remained strong throughout childhood with weekly Mass and schooling.
"Like a lot of kids, I'm not sure I quite appreciate it," Donnelly said. "As I got older, I started to own it for myself."
Although he briefly considered going into the priesthood, Donnelly discarded the notion at a very early age. He wasn't even aware of the ministry of the diaconate until after he was married. The Donnellys are parishioners at St. Gregory the Great Parish in Williamsville, and it was there Peter received guidance in his spiritual journey to the diaconate from pastor Father Leon Biernat and former pastor Father Joseph Gatto, who is now the president and rector of the seminary. He is also grateful from the support of his wife Catherine and children.
"She was supportive of me investigating it," Donnelly said of his initial query when their children were younger. "A few years later, she brought up the subject again. She has always been very supportive and was always the one who has grounded me through this."
The path to his diaconate formation was not always easy, even while Donnelly was studying at the seminary. The demands of his family and his career, as he currently works as a product manager at ATTO Technology in Amherst, put a lot of pressure on him.
"Several years into the process, I was deep into the educational component, work was very busy and home was very busy, and there was a couple of times I considered stopping," he said. "After taking a step back and talking to my wife, we understood that we could make it through. We needed to make sure that we were also on the same page."
He is grateful for sticking with it, as Donnelly believes the difficult times will make him a better deacon.
"That's part of what formation is about: pushing yourself into places you're not comfortable going," he said. "It changes you."