For Transitional Deacon Thomas Mahoney, the road to priestly ordination has been an unusual one. The Depew native and Niagara University graduate transitioned from a career as an accountant to begin attending classes at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora. Bishop Richard J. Malone will ordain him to the priesthood on June 6 at St. Joseph Cathedral in Buffalo.
Deacon Mahoney, who was finishing his fourth year of theology at Christ the King Seminary as of late April, spent last summer serving at Fourteen Holy Helpers Parish in West Seneca, after which he took a trip to the Holy Land for 17 days. After being ordained a transitional deacon on Sept. 27, he was assigned to continue his ministry, which he said has been a rewarding experience while studying.
"I taught confirmation class, just being present on the weekends and on the breaks," Deacon Mahoney said April 28. "I'm going to graduate in a week and a half." Deacon Mahoney and the rest of his classmates graduated May 8 in a ceremony at St. John Vianney Chapel on campus. Father James J. Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University, gave the commencement address and received an honorary degree.
Deacon Mahoney said his education at the seminary helped him come to understand who he is. "I don't know that I've changed a lot. I certainly think that I've grown a lot, and I've grown to understand myself. That's really what the seminary has helped me do, in terms of human formation. They help you reflect on who you are and how that fits into God's plan."
According to him, studying at the seminary helped him grow in his prayer life and academically. While it was initially difficult for Deacon Mahoney to adapt to going back to school and an irregular routine after being in a 9-to-5 job for such a long time, he said he was able to transition well and looks forward to the future. "I'm excited to get back out into the world again, so to speak," he commented.
Deacon Mahoney feels a connection to Fourteen Holy Helpers because his grandmother grew up there and his great-great-grandfather was the parish's first schoolteacher. He called the parish, formed in 1864, a "wonderful community of people" and said a recent remodeling of the church went over well. "It turned out to look really beautiful," he said. "There are a lot of great people there."
While serving there, Deacon Mahoney learned from Father David Bellittiere, pastor of Fourteen Holy Helpers, who helped him to understand the role of being a parish leader.
"He really is a prayerful guy, who helped me to understand the value and to always remember that you are in a sacred space," added Deacon Mahoney. "As priests, especially seminarians, we are around chapels and the Blessed Sacrament all the time. His reverence and love for the Eucharist was a good example for me."
"It'll be a slight transition going back from school back into the working world, and not having such a structured schedule, but I think there are just so many people who need the help of a priest. " he said. "I hope I can be available and be the person that they need me to be."
After his ordination, he will begin as a parochial vicar. If he is assigned to a school, he hopes to be able to work with the schoolchildren, since he enjoyed doing this at Fourteen Holy Helpers. When the school had closed last year, Deacon Mahoney recalled how difficult this was for the community. The school, like the rest of the parish, was a part of the West Seneca community for 150 years.
"I really enjoyed going into the school, doing that in my pastoral year," he added. "I definitely think that I would like to go to nursing homes and celebrate Mass with them." He has already attended Communion services alongside Father Bellittiere, who goes once a month to a local nursing home, but Deacon Mahoney said he looks forward to being able to do this on his own as an ordained priest.
"I think he's going to be a great priest. I'm very impressed with how he preaches his homilies," Father Bellittiere said of Deacon Mahoney. "He's very compassionate, especially to our schoolchildren because our school closed last year. Also, the way he treated the elderly and worked with them, and reached out to them. He was great with the high school kids, teaching them for our summer program."
While at Fourteen Holy Helpers, Deacon Mahoney enjoyed proclaiming the Gospel, a logical step after having served as a lector for many years. However, as he steps forward into ordained priesthood, he is going into a field that witnesses the challenges of a shortage of men willing to be priests. However, he will be open to performing whatever both Bishop Malone and the diocese require of him. Deacon Mahoney reiterated that due to the paucity of priests, he looks forward to helping however he can.
Although he has not had much direct experience with the Catholics Come Home campaign, designed to reach out to fallen-away Catholics and encourage them to return to their local parishes after being away, he was impressed by commercials he saw on TV and pamphlets the parish distributed.
"I know priests are working hard, and they're doing the best they can, and the bishop and the chancery are doing what they can," Deacon Mahoney commented. "These are challenging times for the Church in the United States, but I think we're headed in the right direction. I'm hopefully and optimistic that we'll get through any rough patches that are coming."