This is part of The Evangelist’s ongoing series of reports from diocesan seminarians on their formation for the priesthood. Read previous installments under “specials” at www.evangelist.org.
This is part of The Evangelist’s ongoing series of reports from diocesan seminarians on their formation for the priesthood. Read previous installments under “specials” at www.evangelist.org.

This past academic year, 31 dioceses and five religious orders sent men to study for the priesthood at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass.

In fact, the word “national” is a somewhat of a misnomer, as students from Canada to Australia to the Republic of South Sudan prayed, worshiped and studied together as part of the seminary’s international community.

The program of theological study at Pope St. John is four years. (Men without a bachelor’s degree spend an additional year or two in pre-theology.) At the successful conclusion of what we call “fourth theology,” a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree is awarded.

Earning a diploma, however, is of little concern for me and my brother seminarians. The real purpose for our studies is to prepare us for lives as diocesan priests.

Sometimes — like when we are undertaking research for an exegesis paper or cramming for an Old Testament midterm — our greater calling takes a backseat to more immediate concerns. In seminary, as in life, we often can’t see the forest for the trees.  

At daily Mass May 8, despite the distractions of final exams, our shared purpose was made crystal clear. The principal celebrant for Mass that day was Rev. Frank D’Amato, who, less than a week earlier was finishing up classes at Pope St. John as a seminarian for the Diocese of Palm Beach, Fla.

He was the first of the class of 2018 ordained to the presbyterate (priesthood), and the only class member to return to his soon-to-be alma mater as a priest this past semester.

Graciously, the newly-minted Father D’Amato took time out of his hectic schedule to answer some of my questions, which I’m sharing with The Evangelist:

Q. How does it feel, after five years of study at the seminary, to be ordained to the priesthood?

Father D’Amato: It went by quickly. As one seminarian put it, “The days were long, but the years went fast.” Honestly, it is all a bit overwhelming, and an amazing honor to be chosen by the second person of the Blessed Trinity to serve the Church and world as a Catholic priest.

Q. An important part of seminary life is continuing to discern the Lord’s call. Was there a point in your formation that you knew for sure that the Lord wanted you to be a priest?

Father D’Amato: Yes. At the beginning of third theology I brought the, “Is God calling me to be a priest?” part of my discernment to a close. But discernment continues through life by keeping our ears and heart open to the Holy Spirit.

Q. What are you going to miss most about life at seminary?

Father D’Amato: After having been in religious life for three years with the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land and five years in seminary, I will miss the community support. I look forward to priestly fraternity, which is a necessity for any parish priest.

Q: What are you looking most forward to in your ministry as a priest?

Father D’Amato: Preaching God’s truth in season and out of season. Catholics and the whole world are hungry for the truth. Also, administering the sacraments at all stages of life.

Q. Do you have any advice for second-career guys (men over 30 years old) who think they might have a call to the priesthood?

Father D’Amato: Honestly, with God, there is no time; He calls each man at a certain point in salvation history and in his life. This is a vocation, but it is certainly not “belated.” Talk to a priest, religious or the diocesan vocation director. Try to find a spiritual director to help, too. The least a man should do is look into it, even if he doesn’t have a high degree of clarity.

As we pray for Father D’Amato’s ministry 1,300 miles from Albany as a new parochial vicar at St. Jude parish in Tequesta, Fla., we also pray that men of all ages who hear the Lord calling them to have the courage to answer Him.

I put my toe in the water and pulled back a few times before I took that momentous leap of faith. Jesus has blessed my life immensely for doing so! God willing, after three more grace-filled years of study in the vibrant global community of Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary, I too will lay prostrate before the altar of the Lord and have my hands anointed by my bishop. It is a day I look forward to with great joy.

Witnessing the example of Father D’Amato celebrating Mass helped me recall what seminary is all about: not the term papers, deadlines, day-to-day aggravations or myself. It is about serving the one whose “steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations:” God.

(Mr. McHale is a native of Holy Trinity parish in Hudson/Germantown.)