FATHER ROBERT CONTARIN
Home parish: St. Amelia, Tonawanda
Former occupation: Worked at Leonardi's Pizzeria, family business
Vocation story: The priesthood crossed his mind once or twice while attending St. Amelia School and St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute. "My grandfather helped cultivate a love for the Blessed Mother and Jesus. I always kept that with me during the ups and downs in life." After losing people close to him at age 22, he found himself inside Churches for funerals. He had plans of being a Religious Studies professor, but the feeling of being called would not go away.
Favorite Class in Seminary: Synoptic gospels and public speaking
Goals for ministry: "To help anyone I can cultivate a relationship with Jesus and know that He is the one who leads you to true peace and happiness."
Proudest moment as a Transitional Deacon: Speaking at a Mission and helping people at St. John Paul II, Lake View.
What are you most looking forward to doing as a priest: "Meeting people where they are and help them fall deeper in love with Christ."
Motivating quote: "Pray, hope and don't worry, because worry is useless. Jesus will take care of everything," from Padre Pio.
Recommendations for furthering ones' spirituality: "Visiting a church and sitting in front of the Blessed Sacrament. All it takes is 10 minutes of quiet prayer."
FATHER MOSES IKUELOGBON
From: Lagos State, Nigeria
Why come to Buffalo: While at seminary in Nigeria, he took a course on missionary enterprise in Africa, where he saw the impact of Christian missions in Africa. With an abundance of priests in Nigeria and a declining number of priests in Buffalo, he chose to be an African missionary to America.
Home parish: St. Martin de Porres and St. Lawrence in Buffalo
Former occupation before seminary: English language teacher
Vocation story: "My dad would usually would wake me up 5:30 in the morning. 'Moses, let's go to Mass.' Over time I got used to that, going to morning Masses with my dad. Upon my receiving the Eucharist, I started as an altar server. That drew me very close to the sanctuary. With the lives led by some of my pastors back home, I was inspired. First it was an attraction to what is going on at the altar." He would also go to nursing homes and schools for the disabled with his pastor. After high school, he decided to enter seminary. "Once I left high school, I wanted to become a priest, a medical doctor or an engineer. I prayed before the Blessed Sacrament. I was gambling with God, that whichever came first I would go. Luckily, the seminary application came. Three weeks after the one for college came. Since 2004, the grace of God has been sufficient enough for me in the journey."
Favorite Class in Seminary: Philosophy and Theology. "I'm inclined towards moral philosophy and ethics."
Goals for ministry: "To always meet the people where they're at. We're at that time in the Church where we might not have a lot of people in our pews. The time has come where a priest has to sit in the office. Francis has been nudging and nudging us to go to the margins, to meet people where they are at, and take the Gospel out." He has started up faith-based conversations with people he met at Canalside.
Proudest moment as a Transitional Deacon: First baptism. "The baptism was a moment I really relished because welcoming kids into the Church, the community of God's faithful, is something that is very wonderful."
What are you most looking forward to doing as a priest: "I'd love to do something like Bible study. If it's a parish where people love to have adoration, I don't mind. The needs of the parish would determine how I would craft my program around that."
Motivating quote: "All is well, that hangs well," from a former pastor back in Nigeria.
Recommendations for furthering ones' spirituality: "Our motive is Christ, following Christ."
FATHER AARON KULCZYK
Former occupation: High school student
Home parish: St. Padre Pio, Oakfield and Elba
Vocation story: He met Father Walter Szczesny (then Vocations director) in Batavia. They got to talking and he decided to take a chance on it. He said his parish was not very active after a merger due to the Journey in Faith and Grace. "It was myself really trying to find my faith outside of that area to see what's really going on here."
Favorite Class in Seminary: Homiletics with Father James Vacco, OFM, and Father Michael Monshau, OP.
Goals for ministry: "To really have a joyful atmosphere around (me.) It can be really easy to become discouraged with everything that's going on in the news. People usually go to a priest in the times they are in the most despair. They turn to you for support. So, can you have that joyful attitude amidst all the troubles people bring to you."
Proudest moment as a Transitional Deacon: Baptism the day after his ordination. Pastor helped him set up, but "when I was there, I was the guy." He learned he can handle the task by focusing on the immediate needs.
What are you most looking forward to doing as a priest: "Confession was a big source of strength in my faith while growing up. That's one of the aspects I've been most looking forward to."
Motivating quote: "Give everyone an even shake," from his father, a corrections officer.
Recommendations for furthering ones' spirituality: "Talking is healing, so you have to find someone to talk to about it. Really find someone, it can be a family member or friend, and really talk about what's going on with your faith."
FATHER ROBERT OWCZARCZAK
Home parish: Our Lady of Pompeii, Lancaster
Former occupation: Youth Minister at Our Lady of Pompeii and licenced clinical social worker with Catholic Charities Msgr. Carr Institute (trauma therapy)
Vocation story: "It developed over the years. In high school I loved sports and different things. In junior year, I went to a retreat in Jubilee year 2000. When a seminarian was speaking, he felt like he was speaking to my heart. That's where I met Father Leon Biernat (then director of Vocations) for the first time." They talked about his vocation. In college that feeling came back. "I'm hard-headed sometimes. I asked the Lord to give me a sign." He specifically asked for part of the priest's large host during Communion. He received it nine times, eight at Canisius and once at his parents' parish, where the Eucharistic minister ran out of hosts and had to take a piece from the pastor. While still discerning he found a girlfriend, who suggested he take a job as youth minster at Our Lady of Pompeii, where he met Father Biernat again.
Favorite Class in Seminary: Public Speaking with Father Xavier Seubert, OFM. "He brought a lot of different dynamics to class." Including watching "The King's Speech," projecting voices across the lake, and working with microphones.
Goals for ministry: "Bring as many people to heaven as I can. Let them know the love and mercy of God. Hopefully, when I get to heaven, God will show me all the people that I helped bring there."
Proudest moment as a Transitional Deacon: Baptisms of niece and nephew.
What are you most looking forward to doing as a priest: He has a list. "I want to be with the people. I want them to see me as someone they can go to. With my background in counselling, I would probably say spiritual direction is something I'm looking forward to." He hopes to bring the Church back to where it was in the 1940s, a place with activities going on all the time, a place to pray and eat and gather together, and not just on Sundays.
Motivating quote: "Yesterday's history, tomorrow's a mystery, but today is a gift. That's why they call it the present." "I got that from 'Kung Fu Panda,' but I know someone famous said that."
Recommendations for furthering ones' spirituality: "Know the importance of the Eucharist. God wants us to Himself and to be one with us."
FATHER MARIO RACHO
From: Balilihan, Bohol, Philippines
Home parish: Our Lady of Victory Basilica, Lackawanna
Former occupation: Business manager of a chemical company
Vocation story: "When I heard stories of Jesus that were told in the Gospel, during the celebration of the Eucharist with the priest, I said to myself, 'I want to be like that one day.'"
Favorite Class in Seminary: Sacraments, "Impressed by my professor," and Synoptic Gospels
Goals for ministry: "Bring back the people to the Church and make them realize again their faith and relationship with the Lord, that they are loved by God."
Proudest moment as a Transitional Deacon: Baptizing three babies at one ceremony. Coincidently all their names began with the letter A. "So, I got three A's in my first baptism."
What are you most looking forward to doing as a priest: "Continue to be a witness of Christ's love and the mercy of God."
Motivating quote: "Never give up."
Recommendations for furthering ones' spirituality: "I highly recommend (to) just be patient and continue to be guided by the mercy of God."
FATHER PATRYK SOBCZYK
From: Miastko, near Gdańsk, Poland
Home parish: St. Timothy, Tonawanda, and St. Andrew Bobola SJ Parish, Biesowice, Poland
Former occupation: religion teacher in public school in Poland, and interpreter for sacraments
Vocation story: Eight years old the first time he felt in his heart. At church, he would always ask his parents what everything meant. In preparation for first Communion, he conducted a practice ceremony where he played the role of priest. In high school, he visited seminary on retreat for young boys. "I wanted to be part of this community." After high school, choose to attend seminary.
Favorite Class in Seminary: Leadership. "When I went to a parish two years ago, I used this class. It was very helpful to learn how to work among God's people in the parish."
Goals for ministry: "In the future, I would like to be a more humble and spiritual priest who is available for people in a confessional, where they can reconcile with God, to experience His mercy."
Proudest moment as a Transitional Deacon: Being at St. Gabriel, in Elma. "It was a wonderful thing to work with the pastor, with an assistant, with people in this parish. So, I experienced a lot. I think this experience will help me to work in my new parish as a priest because I know what to do now. Sometimes I was scared when I had to celebrate marriage or baptism first time. But, now through this experience at this parish, I feel I am ready."
What are you most looking forward to doing as a priest: He hopes to find a new spiritual director and confessor to help him continue to grow in spirituality.
Motivating quote: "Whatever you did for one of these least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me," Matthew 25:40
Recommendations for furthering ones' spirituality: Find a spiritual director and confessor. "That's all I can recommend to others."
FATHER JUSTIN STEEG
Home parish: St. Dominic in Westfield
Former occupation: Auto repair mechanic in Virginia, roofer in Westfield
Vocation story: He grew up in a Protestant faith-filled family who attended a Pentecostal and later United Methodist churches. His parents were Catholic, but became non-denominational. Father Steeg a conversion moment when grandfather and cousin died. "That is what led to a change in priorities for me. I started to think what is actually important? What lasts and matters in this life? That's people, that's family, that's a relationship with God." He wanted to get to the roots of parents faith and roots of Christian Church.
Favorite Class in Seminary: Two. Scripture and Theology "(Scripture) gets us back to the foundations of our faith, of those saving events that God worked in history, of saving the Jewish people from slavery and especially of the incarnation. (Theology) has developed over 2,000 years as people have reflected on Scripture and God's place in their lives."
Goals for ministry: Getting people involved in worship and service to community.
Proudest moment as a Transitional Deacon: Proclaiming the Gospel at the Easter Vigil. "That was a really special moment for me as a deacon."
What are you most looking forward to doing as a priest: "Leading people in worship."
Motivating quote: "For it is not much knowledge that fills and satisfies the soul, but the intimate understanding and relish of the truth." "This quote grounds me and tells me the important thing is not how much you can know, but what are you doing with it?" From St. Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises.
Recommendations for furthering ones' spirituality: Ignatius' Discernment of Spirits.
FATHER DONALD WATKINS
Home parish: All Saints Parish in Lockport
Former occupation: Permanent Deacon serving as director of Spiritual Life at All Saints Parish, Lockport
Vocation story: He was asked to become a priest by Father Raymond Talty, who worked as assistant to Venerable Nelson Baker. "Nelson Baker showed him what being a Catholic priest was all about." That was in the mid-1970s. Father Watkins described his three sisters being killed in a car accident when he was 15 as a "life transformative event." He spent six years in the Army. Then attended Niagara County Community College. He admits he was not close to faith for a while. "I had to reclaim it," he said. "When I made my comeback, I'm sure it had the Holy Spirit behind it. There were so many doors that opened up to me that I hadn't realized were available to me." Through relationships with people in Church, he became interested in the Permanent Diaconate. Bishop Edward U. Kmiec ordained him on June 11, 2005. "Almost immediately, even from my very first Mass as a permanent deacon, people were saying to me, 'Don, you do this deacon thing really well, but we think you should go back to the seminary and study for the priesthood because God is calling you to do more than just be a deacon.' The Hounds of Heaven chased me from Lockport to East Aurora to study for the priesthood."
In winter 2014, "I began to realize everything God had asked me to do at that parish was fulfilled. I was no longer truly needed there. So, the time of transitions is ripe."
Favorite Class in Seminary: Transformative Leadership for the 21st Century, with Father Kevin Gray, CM.
Goals for ministry: "The thing I strive for is prayer to the Holy Spirit, that the Holy Spirit will guard and guide my steps as I make this transition." Or as his father, who passed away six months ago told him, "Be a good and holy priest."
Proudest moment as a Transitional Deacon: September's Transitional Deacon Ordination Mass at Our Lady of Victory Basilica, where he proclaimed the Gospel to classmates and ordination mates and permanent deacons.
What are you most looking forward to doing as a priest: "Help people encounter Christ."
Motivating quote: "If you change your beliefs, you'll change your thoughts. If you change your thoughts, you'll change your habits. If you change your habits, your life opens up to unlimited possibilities," Matthew Kelly.
Recommendations for furthering ones' spirituality: Study Scripture, but don't get caught up in genealogy of Genesis. "This one begat this one." He suggests starting with Gospels, then Acts.