Rev. Thomas Hayes has been pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle parish in Delmar since February. Ordained in 1974, he has served as pastor of St. Mary's, Crescent; Our Lady of Victory, Troy; St. Helen's, Niskayuna; and St. John/St. Ann's, Albany. He has also been associate pastor at St. Joseph's and St. Vincent's in Albany.
Who and what inspired you to be a priest?
I decided to go the seminary when I was a senior at Catholic High in Troy. I wanted to be a high school teacher. However, my experience in St. Mary's Seminary in inner-city Baltimore led me to focus on urban ministry -- hence, my work in [Albany's] Arbor Hill, the South End, and later at the Center City Cluster.
Thus, the original reason why I went to the seminary and consequently why I stayed changed over the years.
My inspiration for my vocation was Rev. Tom Tooher, my pastor while growing up at St. Jude's in Wynantskill. He later worked in Arbor Hill and became a model of urban ministry, as well.
What did your family think about your choice?
My family was supportive of my choice to pursue the seminary, although they were concerned about the "loneliness" of not being able to have my own family. They always said if I left the seminary to come home and get married, it would be fine with them.
Were your expectations of religious life met?
My expectations changed. I did try high school teaching in Maryland for two years while in theology school, but the inner-city ministry was my true calling.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
Looking back, one thing I would have done differently would have been to learn Spanish. I have been celebrating Mass in Spanish over the past few years, but my command of that language is very limited.
If I had to do it over again, I would have considered serving in the missions as either a Maryknoll associate priest or by working with the St. James Society in South America for a number of years.
What's the toughest part of being a priest?
The most difficult part of being a priest has been the movement of the institutional Church away from the unfulfilled agenda of Vatican II [in the 1960s]. The centralization of authority in the Vatican and the lack of openness to facing the challenges of the modern world, coupled with resistance to change on the part of some people in the pews, is a source of anxiety and frustration.
What's the best part?
The best part is the celebration of Eucharist and preaching, with the added dimension of fostering the growth of adult spirituality in the parish, offering people permission to grow in their faith and to be at peace with God. I also take satisfaction in helping people deal with losses, especially with funerals.
What do you do for fun?
Good, stimulating conversation makes me happy, as well as reading up on current theology and spirituality. I also enjoy travel -- especially to Ireland -- and older classic movies on Netflix. Being in nature is also fulfilling for me.
What sacrament gives you the greatest inspiration?
The Eucharist gives me the greatest spiritual nourishment. Why? Because when you have been in a parish for a while, you get to know the stories behind the faces as you celebrate the parish Eucharist. It is a special sensation of the presence of the divine.
What do you want others to know about the life of a priest?
Priests are just normal human beings who like to be treated as such and not be left on a pedestal in a special category.
Performer: Wynton Marsalis
TV: "Law and Order"
Recreation: nature hikes, canoeing
Food: haddock or seafood
During the "Year for Priests," which concluded in June, The Evangelist began a continuing series of Q&A interviews with not just priests, but women religious, brothers, deacons and laity.