A South Buffalo native will be among the four men ordained to the priesthood on June 3 at St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown Buffalo. Transitional Deacon Martin Gallagher, who attended high school and college in Western New York before studying theology at Christ the King Seminary, reflected on his strong Catholic upbringing and the factors that led to his decision to become a diocesan priest.
Deacon Gallagher, who is currently serving at Nativity of Our Lord Parish in Orchard Park, grew up as the middle child of four siblings, one girl and three boys. He recalled how he grew up seeing the positive example of his own diocesan priests at St. Teresa Parish in South Buffalo, as well as that of his uncle, Msgr. William J. Gallagher, a retired priest who is still serving in the Diocese of Buffalo.
"He's retired now, but he's still working, helping out, saying Masses at a number of churches, baptisms and weddings. He was always a good role model growing up," Deacon Gallagher recalled of his time with his uncle. "He was always very busy. He had a number of assignments throughout the diocese."
Deacon Gallagher, 34, attended high school at Bishop Timon-St. Jude in South Buffalo and graduated in 2002. He went on to major in sociology and anthropology at the State University of New York at Fredonia, graduating from college in December 2005. After completing his undergraduate degree, he did not immediately enter the seminary, but accepted a job that allowed him to gain multicultural experience.
"Right after college, actually, I took a job teaching English in Japan for two years," he said. "I was there from August of 2006 until August of 2008. Generally, living in a foreign country for two years is very, very different, especially a country that is unlike living in Europe for two years. The whole culture is very different. It is very hard to blend in there, too. You sort of stand out, no matter what you do."
When asked about the most significant lesson he received while living in Japan, Deacon Gallagher learned how to appreciate the lives and experiences of people around the world, to live in a culture and learn a new language that was not his own. This appreciation for the diversity of God's people continued once he decided to enter Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora. His discernment was a "slow process."
"I think it was a slow turning point. It was slowly percolating under the surface," Deacon Gallagher said of his thought process in the matter. "I thought about being a priest at many points during my life. I thought about it as a little boy. I thought about it as I was preparing to enter high school, and when I was in college, but at every point, I found myself not really ready to respond yet. Thankfully, God was patient with me."
It was in Japan, he recalled, when he seriously began to consider entering the seminary and pray over his decision and what it would mean for his life. This led up to the present day. Deacon Gallagher is in his final of seven total years at Christ the King. While studying, he served at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Dunkirk in 2012, and Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish in North Tonawanda in 2013. In his pastoral year, from 2014-15, he served at St. Mary of the Cataract and Divine Mercy parishes in Niagara Falls.
While serving at parishes, Deacon Gallagher learned how important it is to be part of a team, and to appreciate the work and leadership of the pastor. At the same time, he also learned how much the pastor depends on the gifts of other people who help him, including devoted men and women who work at all levels of parish life, from decorating the church to celebrating Mass, expressing their faith, he said.
"Thankfully, I've had a number of pastors who were very good models of what it meant to be a leader, a pastor, to lead the parish, and recognizing the great gift that the people of God always offer," added Deacon Gallagher. "I got a lot of good teaching experience when I was in my parishes. When I was in my pastoral year, I taught confirmation class. That was really good, to be with a group of students for a whole year, to teach them and walk with them on their journey as they prepared for confirmation. It was very different from teaching in Japan - a different educational setup, but there was the common thread between them."
Once he is ordained, Deacon Gallagher said is looking forward most to being able to celebrate the Mass each day with the people of God. He thanked his parents, Mary Beth and James, and his siblings for their contributions to his formation and for staying with him through every step of the way in his priestly formation. "I'm very grateful for the family that I have. They've been very supportive," he said.