Deacon Scott VanDerveer spent most of his adult life putting his religious vocation on the back burner. As he put it, "I've been trying for 20 years to test my calling to see if I could not be a priest."
But the 38-year-old will be ordained a priest for the Albany Diocese by Bishop Howard J. Hubbard June 8 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany. He believes the detours on his journey will make him a well-rounded, relatable shepherd.
"I know that the teaching of the Church is not always easy to live, and the Gospel is very demanding," he explained. "It asks people to live very deeply when it would be so much easier to live at the surface. If they don't have priests and spiritual leaders to help with that, then they won't be able to do it and the Gospel will be unlived. The job of religion is to teach people what to do with the pain they face in life."
Deacon VanDerveer and his younger brother were adopted through Catholic Charities of the Rochester Diocese and raised Catholic in Pumpkin Hook, N.Y. The boys' parents compared their adoption to Joseph becoming Jesus' earthly father.
Deacon VanDerveer was also inspired by faith-filled relatives in the Albany Diocese: His grandmother was a secretary at Sacred Heart parish in Troy, and his great-aunt was a Sister of the Resurrection in Castleton.
In kindergarten, young Scott included Jesus in a crayon drawing of his family: "My relationship with Him was so real that it was just natural. I talked to Him as if God were my imaginary friend. I just assumed everyone did that."
When Deacon VanDerveer visited his great-aunt, Sister Mary Therese Czarnezcka, her life as a woman religious made an impact on him.
"She was not like other adults, and it captured my imagination," he said. "I wanted to know all about her." She would cut some visits short and "say, 'They need me at the convent.' I think that was her real family. She loved us, but she belonged with them."
Despite those positive influences, Deacon VanDerveer was unimpressed by Mass until he joined a parish choir in high school. Hearing a homily on why people should donate valued possessions to charity was another turning point: "All of a sudden, the teachings of Jesus became exciting and not boring. The faith journey became an adventure."
He felt the first traces of a call to the priesthood as he researched colleges with journalism programs. At St. Bonaventure University in southwestern New York State, he joined a vocation discernment group and participated in campus ministry.
But after graduation, he traveled to 15 countries over two years with Up with People, which educates globally through service and music. He did stints as an Americorps VISTA grant writer at a hospice in Utica and as a school bus driver - ironically, while staying at a convent and a rectory.
Putting off a vocation yet again, he said he "realized that I could not become a priest until I lived in a big city" - so he managed a foreign exchange program in Boston for a year.
But "I knew when I got to Boston that I had made a mistake," he said. "Faith was far removed from the work I was doing. So I prayed about it and realized that the last time my work was really satisfying was [when I was] serving as a catechist."
Deacon VanDerveer went on to earn a master's degree in education from Boston College and taught religion at an inner-city Catholic high school in Boston, then at St. Pius X School in Loudonville. Teaching "was so close to what I was really called to do."
Here I am, Lord
He contacted the Albany diocesan Vocations Team and began attending discernment sessions. In 2008, he moved into St. Isaac Jogues House of Discernment, the Diocese's living quarters at the time for men considering priesthood. That gave him time to work through concerns about the priestly vow of obedience. He was more confident about keeping the celibacy vow, since he has meaningful connections with large circles of people.
Deacon VanDerveer studied at Blessed John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass., for four years and served summers at Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Watervliet, St. Joseph's in Stuyvesant Falls/Stottville, Holy Family in Little Falls and St. Joseph's in Herkimer. He also studied Spanish in Bolivia.
"Every one of [the parishes] has taught me something different, and I have close relationships in each," he said. Whether he ends up in a city or rural parish, "I'm not worried about any assignments."
The soon-to-be priest is most looking forward to preaching. He hopes to "infuse people's lives with hope and empower them [to] move in the direction of the Gospel." He also enjoys "the sacramental way of life, where we take common things" like oil, water, bread and wine "and bless them and let God be revealed through them. That, to me, is the greatest gift that God gives us through our Catholic faith."
Deacon VanDerveer hopes to change hearts around the divisions within the Church. He's apprehensive about his first year, but feels "as sure as anyone can be" about his vocation now.
"I do feel ready," he said. "I feel like God's the one putting me here. This is the hand I've been dealt. I'm playing it."
Posted: Sunday, June 9, 2013
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Greetings from Canada!
I really enjoyed reading Fr. Scott VanDerveer's June 6 article in The Evangelist, on his 20 years to respond to the priesthood. His testimony was very touching and it moved me to learn how he discerned his call. A very helpful story!