In preparation for the priesthood, Deacon Peter J. Santandreu took a lap around the world. The 30-year-old who is being ordained June 2, flew to Argentina, Poland and Bangkok for educational and ministerial experiences.
Learning and teaching are two loves of Deacon Santandreu, who once had hopes of being a college professor. He grew up in Hamburg, attending SS. Peter & Paul Elementary School, and later St. Francis High School in Athol Springs.
He attended St. John Fisher College in Rochester to study religion and philosophy with the expectation of becoming a professor. He immersed himself in a four-week excursion to the North of France learning French language and culture. He also took Greek and Latin courses, really enjoying the academics.
"My dream at that point was to become a college professor at some level. So, I wanted to get more degrees in Theology and teach religious studies or Theology," he said.
After earning his master's in Systematic Theology from St. Michael's College at the University of Toronto, he felt it was time to discern his future. It could have gone in a very different direction. He had a girlfriend and was considering proposing.
"It was only when I was writing my thesis in my last semester in Toronto, I had some deep prayer experience of being called to something else. I started taking that seriously for the first time," he said in the clear, direct manner that seems be his trademark.
He went on vocational discernment retreats with different religious orders. He wanted his future to have three things: a Catholic-style prayer life, community and some kind of service. He found Heart's Home, an international Catholic community of volunteers that offers a culture of compassion to impoverished neighborhoods. Deacon Santandreu calls it "being a friend to the friendless."
After a come and see weekend with them, he fell in love with it, and signed up for an 18-month mission in a slum outside Buenos Aires.
"That was the most beautiful experience of my life, being down there with those people giving that kind of direct service and contact," he recalled. "A lot of what we did was a ministry of presence, being with the people, inviting the children into our house." He saw a lot of street children living with drugs and violence on all sides of them. "So, to invite them into our house and give them some kind of a childhood was really a beautiful experience."
While living in a house with many international people and languages, he learned to speak Spanish, the common language.
The whole time he was discerning what order he would join.
"Finally, I was so impressed by the work that the diocesan priests were doing in that part of town, they were so close to the people and had a good handle on what was going on in their communities, they were really members of the communities that they ministered to. I found that to be inspiring. I found that to be a way that I could continue doing the work that I fell in love with in Argentina in communities in the United States."
Upon returning home, he met with family friend and then vocation director Father Walter Szczesny. Five years later, he is ready to carry on the ministry and theology, so close to his heart.
While studying at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, Deacon Santandreu was accepted to participate in the Fellowship at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics. He traveled with a group from New York City to the most famous of the Nazi concentration camps to learn how the atrocities of over a million deaths could have happened.
"This group studies the Holocaust from the perspective of the perpetrators. In that way it tries to find out what exactly was going on in Germany during that time and how each respective field contributed to the horrors of the Holocaust," Deacon Santandreu explained. "The fields that are represented are journalism, medical, seminary, business and law, because everything the Nazis did was legal. That was the big thing. How do all these fields of people who inform opinions or people who are respected members of society, how did those fields fail in not providing helpful deterrents to the Holocaust."
There, he spent time with seminarians, a rabbinical student and medical students visiting museums, reading and discussing current issues such as Black Lives Matter and Fake News to learn how to read into it and reply through their own professions. They also talked about conflicting loyalties to God, state and community.
"What is your ethical metric to discern what your best way forward is?" he asked.
He also spent eight weeks in Bangkok, Thailand with the Maryknoll Brothers teaching English to the locals in a Buddhist temple. He also managed to get a visa into Mynamar, formerly known as Burma. He had done some ministry at Our Lady of Hope Parish in Buffalo, which has a large Burmese immigrant population.
"Having worked with some of the kids at Our Lady of Hope, it made sense of everything. A lot of cultural things came into focus for me," he said.
"I definitely have a sensitivity for working with migrants or immigrants from being a foreigner in a foreign land in Argentina, having that experience of being out of my element and understanding what that's like."