Of the four men being ordained to the priesthood this June, Gerard Skrzynski has the most, let's say, life experience. The 54-year-old has spent 25 years in the workforce as a computer engineer and homeowner. He now plans on taking a radically different course of life.
"It took me quite a while for me to recognize the call. It would go through my mind every now and then, but it always seemed I was in college, I was engaged, I was ... a whole slew of reasons to stay on a career path," he said just a few days before graduating from Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora.
During a period of being laid off, he had the time to think about his vocation and decided to visit the seminary. "What gave me the time to think about it, after working almost 25 years, I had a lay off. At that point there were no more deadlines, nothing more pressing. That gave me the time to think about it," he said.
To make sure he wasn't acting out of fear of being unemployed, Deacon Skrzynski waited until he was back on the job to make the decision "between two good choices."
Deacon Skrzynski grew up in Lackawanna attending Our Lady of the Sacred Heart School and Lackawanna Senior High School, graduating in 1981. His faith came from watching his mother continue to keep her faith while caring for her three young children after her husband died.
"There were such strong examples of faith in my life. My father passed away when I was 5, and the oldest of the three of us was 8. So, just to see that example of her trusting her faith and still raising us with no bitterness. She continued to go to Church, made sure we went and got the sacraments. To me, it means so much more to have somebody live it and set the example, then to try and teach you about it bookwise," he said.
He went on to earn a bachelor's degree in Computer Engineering from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1986, then began working for SCIPAR Inc., in Williamsville programming computers to automate irrigation and hydroelectric plants.
Once he entered Christ the King Seminary he began taking classes in theology, philosophy and Church history. Quite a change from what he was used to as an engineer.
"I was used to reality, things that could be measured, tested, seen, and to get into theology, it isn't as concrete. I went from doing projects to writing papers. So it was quite a change from what I was used to," he recalled.
During the summers, all seminarians have parish assignments where they put to use the skills they learn in the classroom. Seminarians also take part in clinical pastoral education where they learn hands-on the role of a hospital chaplain. Deacon Skrzynski spent 12 weeks at the multi-campused Cleveland Clinic answering pages and consoling patients and families in times of crisis.
"When you were overnight chaplain once a week, you were the chaplain for all seven hospitals. I think it's 1,400 beds. That keeps you busy," he said, adding he enjoyed being able to talk to people one on one. "I've never been a heart patient, but there is a lot of heart disease in my family, and I know from the family members just what a stressful time it is," he said. "You can provide an objective perspective, try to help boost the family, come to terms with the decisions. Now, due to the shortage of priests, there is not the same coverage that there was 30 years ago. I want to be able to contribute in some way to help cover the gaps."
In the past six months, since being ordained a transitional deacon, he has been able to preside over a funeral, conduct the wedding of his niece, and welcome seven babies into the faith through the sacrament of baptism, which is more practice than most transitional deacons get.
As he prepares for his priestly ordination he stops to consider how his life will be different after vowing to serve the bishop, rather than his own needs. Having lived the life of a civilian, he doesn't feel he is giving anything up.
"I really don't," he said. "I didn't sell my house. My niece is living in it with her family. I'm more relaxed now than when I was working. So, I feel I'm gaining something more than I am giving up."