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New priests tell journey stories

Posted By May 25, 2012 | 5:13 pm | Featured Article #1

Serving at the altar comes full circle

By Tanya Connor

Serving at the altar as an altar server led him back to the altar to serve as a priest.
Deacon Michael James-Paul Clements reflected on that this week as he anticipated his priestly ordination, to take place tomorrow.
“Serving with Father Hoey in Spencer was a privilege, because it functioned as the cap, finishing my formation,” he said of his just-ended assignment at Mary, Queen of the Rosary Parish in Spencer, pastored by Father James F. Hoey.
“I started the process of discerning my vocation at his invitation, by becoming an altar server,” Deacon Clements said of Father Hoey, then pastor of his home parish, Our Lady of the Lake in Leominster. “It started simply with him pointing a finger at me and saying, ‘You’re going to become an altar server now.’ I was the kid with my own little missal book. I knew all the parts. He saw something in me.”
How did he feel about the invitation (or perhaps command) that quickly followed his first Communion?
“I was probably ecstatic,” replied Deacon Clements, not recalling clearly. “I’d play Mass with my sisters. I would be the priest and they would be the communicants.” (His sisters are Jaime, Melissa and Jillian Clements. Born December 18, 1983, he is the oldest child of James Clements, now of Shirley, and Joyce Garinger, now of Townsend. His stepfather is Clark Garinger.)
Deacon Clements said he was an altar server every Sunday, sometimes for multiple Masses. So when he got to seminary he joked that he didn’t know what was expected of people in the pews: “What do you do, just sit?”
While he had a desire for priesthood as a child, it wasn’t until middle school that he voiced it, Deacon Clements said. He talked to Father Timothy M. Brewer, then (and still) pastor of Our Lady of the Lake, who gave him some advice, he said.
The clincher came during a leadership retreat Deacon Clements made in Rhode Island after his freshman year in high school.
“I met for the first time a newly ordained, young priest,” he said. “It was good to see you didn’t have to be older to be a priest. I remember leaving that retreat so on fire to be a priest. The life-path was chosen. Lights came on: this is what God’s calling me to do.” This happened as a result of talking to that retreat chaplain, who told the youth about seminary and why he became a priest.
The youth talked again with Father Brewer, and with Msgr. Thomas J. Sullivan, then director of the Worcester Diocese’s Office for Vocations.
Deacon Clements said he graduated from Leominster High School and decided to go to a Catholic, co-ed college for a “normal college experience,” rather than immediately entering seminary. This would give him a chance to mature and gain some life experience, he figured.
He had his heart set on going to the College of the Holy Cross, but Father Brewer urged him to look at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. he said.
“I went to look at Saint Anselm’s under protest – to appease the pastor,”  he said. “From the moment I got out of the car, I felt at home.”
There he got his bachelor of arts in theology, did an internship with Manchester’s Office for Worship and worked as an Emergency Medical Technician Intermediate (EMT-I) for the college’s rescue squad, Goffstown Fire Department, and Nashua and Manchester ambulance services, he said.
“The experience of working in the back of the ambulance helped to alleviate some of the fear of working with the sick and the dying,” he said.  An unspoken part of the work is being a “back ambulance counselor,” he said; “you’re with people at some of the most trying times in their lives.”
The monastic spirituality of the college’s Benedictines helped form a spiritual life for him, and he considered joining them, Deacon Clements said. But, he said, “I knew I wanted the life of the parish priest.”
So in March of his senior year he reconnected with Worcester’s vocations office, now directed by Father James S. Mazzone, and in May, Bishop McManus accepted him into the program, he said.
He attended Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., for two years, getting a certificate of pre-theology studies. Then it was off to St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, from which he got his master’s of divinity this spring. Last June he was ordained a transitional deacon.
In addition to Mary, Queen of the Rosary, his seminary assignments were at St. Joseph’s, Charlton; St. Anna’s, Leominster; St. Joan of Arc and St. Christopher’s, Worcester and St. Brigid’s, Millbury.
Vesting him at his ordination and preaching at his first Mass at 11:45 a.m. Sunday at Our Lady of the Lake is Father Joseph Cooper, pastor of St. Kathryn Parish, in Hudson, N.H., with whom he did his college internship. Public receptions follow.

Support and prayers yield vocation

By Tanya Connor

“Are you still thinking about becoming a priest?”
If that question hadn’t been asked, Deacon Hugo Alejandro Cano Montaño might not be being ordained tomorrow.
But he answered Father Alvaro Cadavid, who worked at his alma mater, “Yes, Father. Why?”
“Think about becoming a missionary priest in the United States.”
If that challenge had not been issued, Deacon Cano might not be being ordained for the Worcester Diocese.
Sure, he’d been discerning a missionary vocation. He said he loved going to mission territories in his native Colombia and had been to Germany twice with a religious community – the Missionaries of St. Paul. He figured if he became a missionary it would be to Europe or Africa. So when asked about the United States, he thought, “I have a life here.”
But he gave it a try, and people helped him persevere. But that’s getting ahead of the story.
Deacon Cano is the son of Rosilia de Jesus Montaño (who will be here for his ordination) and José Ignacio Cano (who died in 2001). He was born Sept. 13, 1979 in the town of Heliconia in the region of Antioquia, in Colombia. He has eight brothers, one sister and 22 nieces and nephews.
“I always belonged to the Church,” Deacon Cano said. “My family was very religious, especially my father. I grew up watching my mom’s devotion” to the Blessed Mother. “Home devotions like the rosary were very important; going to Mass every weekend. I joined the altar servers. We used to have Jesuit missionaries. We did a lot with them as children.”
When he was in high school, Father Jorge Díaz, pastor of his parish, St. Rafael’s, did much with the youth, Deacon Cano said. He became a leader of the youth group and altar servers. The pastor and seminarians asked him about priesthood.
“They helped me a lot to discover my vocation,” Deacon Cano said. “I was thinking about it. But you know those things you never say to people?”
Now he says of a priestly vocation: “It’s about your personal relationship with God and how you get in love with him and how to share it in the Church in the life of faith. The more you know him the more he wants to embrace you, … the most amazing experience you can have.”
He attended vocations meetings and got his bachelor of arts in philosophy and education from Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana de Medellín.
“You feel the call inside and you want to be part of it,” he said. But, he said, “In my family we are not rich people and you always think about starting a career to be able to survive.” His brothers got jobs and helped support the family, “and that was my plan,” he said.
Working his way through college took about nine years, he said. He sold clothes, helped his brothers in their businesses, and taught children traditional dance, “always keeping in mind my vocation.”
In 2006 he finished college, tutored there and taught high school.
“I was getting a lot of responsibilities and forgetting my call,” he said.
Then Father Cadavid, a friend of Father Manuel A. Clavijo, a Colombian Worcester Diocesan priest, suggested he come here.
“I thought about it for a couple of weeks, and then I said ‘yes,’ and here we are,” Deacon Cano said. In the spring of 2007 he was interviewed in Colombia by Father Clavijo; Father Edwin A. Gómez, another of Worcester’s Colombians, and Father James S. Mazzone, vocations director, he said. In August that year he came to the United States.
“I couldn’t fly with all the guys because I lost my Colombian ID, and I couldn’t get out of the country,” he said of the other four coming to discern priestly vocations here. “They left me at the airport. That was so funny.” He got a new ID and arrived within two days, he said.
He studied English at Clark University, then went to St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, continuing English studies at Boston University.
It wasn’t easy.
“You spend three days writing a paper and then you go to a classmate to have him correct it and then you will destroy it within one hour,” Deacon Cano said of discovering he had nothing correct. “That was so funny.” But not at the time.
“If you don’t have a prayer life, that transition time is very difficult – to learn the culture and the new language,” he said. “The good thing is, you’re always a learner of it.”
Locals helped.
“The sense of the American people for us (Colombians) is all Hollywood movies – sunglasses, chewing gum and ‘I don’t care,’” Deacon Cano said of the stereotypes. “Then coming here … the first family we met was the Kenary family” who helped at Holy Name of Jesus House of Studies for seminarians. “Such a lovely family, very well educated … with a lot of patience with us – they with their Spanish, we with our sign language.”
Deacon Cano said it was easy to see people’s welcome, faith, love of their Church and “how they really appreciate for us to come here.” They helped him keep his vocation, he said.
“It’s very difficult to leave your family and your life there,” he said of the family-centered Colombians. “In the priesthood you’re never alone. The Lord (is) with you and many, many people who know the value of priesthood and are sent by the Spirit to help you and strengthen your vocation, to pray for you, which is what I felt here.”
He said a great support were the parishes where he was assigned: St. Anthony of Padua, Fitchburg; St. Joseph/St. Pius X, Leicester; St. Mark, Sutton; St. Louis, Webster and St. Joan of Arc, Worcester.
His first Masses are in Spanish at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow at St. Joan of Arc and in English at 10:30 a.m. Sunday at St. Anthony’s. His first Mass in Colombia is June 10 at St. Rafael’s; “it’s almost a town celebration.”
Deacon Cano expressed thanks for all who work for vocations and added, “Don’t hesitate to ask a young person.”

Diocesan Ordinations.

Bishop Harrington was an inspiration

By Tanya Connor

WORCESTER – “For me it began with good ol’ Bishop Harrington.”
Deacon Jonathan Joseph Slavinskas was talking about his journey to the priesthood. The young man, born June 25, 1984 in Worcester, reminisced as he sat in his church, St. John’s.
He was trained as an altar server when retired Bishop Timothy J. Harrington moved into St. John’s rectory, he said.
“I think the first time I served was for him, in this church,” Deacon Slavinskas said. “I just remember being a nervous wreck. Good ol’ Timmy came out of this door with a big ol’ smile on his face that put me at ease. And then he talked to me.”
The bishop who often said of himself, “God’s been good to Timmy,” told the boy, “Don’t worry; if you mess up, no one’s going to know.” Deacon Slavinskas said he says that to altar servers he trains.
“As I would serve with him each week he would talk about his life as a priest, and it didn’t seem dull at all,” Deacon Slavinskas said of Bishop Harrington. “And he never said, ‘This is something you should do.’ But it did instill in me: ‘This could be an interesting life.’ I think he knew what he was doing. I think he was guided by the Holy Spirit.
“And since then, within this church, I’ve had great examples of what it means to be a priest. I think of Father Martin Manahan,” now deceased. “He always had his breviary with him. I remember him trying to explain it to me as a kid. He’d be praying in front of the tabernacle. Such a great witness.
“I think of Msgr. (Edmond) Tinsley, a truly dedicated servant of Christ,” still assisting at St. John’s. “Always I have the image of him on Saturday afternoons opening the church for confessions, never saying ‘no,’ always assisting in such a humble way. He vested me last year, which was such a great honor,” at the transitional deacons’ ordination in May. (Father John F. Madden, St. John’s pastor, is to vest him this year, he said.)
“Father (Joseph) Coonan, of course, was such a great influence, and helped nourish my vocation,” Deacon Slavinskas continued, in reference to St. John’s former pastor, now deceased. “His preaching really influenced me – the way he was able to bring the Word of God into the lives of everyday people and make them feel at home.
“Father Madden came into my life during a very difficult time,” Deacon Slavinskas said. (After Father Coonan was removed from St. John’s, Father Madden served as administrator before becoming pastor.)
“Father Madden was just so understanding,” Deacon Slavinskas said. “And he really began to shape and influence my understanding of what it means to be a priest, and living that life of simplicity and completely trusting in God. You see how he’s opened up the house here to those who have gone through struggles, he opened up the soup kitchen and he’s just been very supportive of me these past few years, certainly a good role model.”
Deacon Slavinskas was quick to credit his parents, Daniel and Deborah Slavinskas, too.
“Really my mother and father – they brought all of us up in the faith,” he said of himself and his siblings, Amy, Beth and Christopher. “My vocation really begins with them. Their example of love and sacrifice has made me aware of the presence of Christ in my life. They were always involved in Church.”
At his ordination they are to be gift bearers, and a Lithuanian choir is to sing, he said. His father and grandparents were from St. Casimir’s, the Lithuanian parish now merged with St. John’s.
At his first Mass at 12:15 p.m. June 3 at St. John’s, his parents are to present his chalice, which came from St. Casimir’s, he said. Msgr. Francis J. Scollen, now pastor of St. Peter’s-St. Andrew’s, who married them and baptized him, will bless it. Seminary classmate Father Chad Arnold, of the Diocese of Wichita, is preaching. A public reception follows on the church grounds. June 6 the new priest plans to celebrate Mass at Knollwood Nursing Home, where his grandmother lives.
The journey to this point wasn’t always easy, especially because of people’s reactions to Church teachings and clergy sexual abuse scandals, Deacon Slavinskas said.
After graduating from North High School, he went to Anna Maria College for his bachelor’s in Catholic studies. During that time he didn’t attend Mass as often as he should have, he said. One day, watching Msgr. Tinsley at the consecration, felt peace and realized, “This is the real deal.” He’d reached a turning point.
How did he remain strong?
“A: I had those great priests around me,” he replied. “B: Prayer.” Sometimes that included yelling at God. He recalled entering an empty St. John’s asking why, but also finding peace there.
“Christ is where I found my strength,” he said. “He certainly didn’t have it easy and I’m certainly no better than Christ.”
Fighting the vocation didn’t work, he said. He went to Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., from which he received his master’s of divinity this month. Summers he served at St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Fitchburg; St. Louis Parish, Webster; Our Lady Immaculate Parish, Athol; St. Peter Parish, Worcester, and St. Mary Parish in Southbridge, which merged with others to form Blessed John Paul II Parish.
“I’m at peace with my call,” Deacon Slavinskas said. “Knowing that Christ has given me this gift to bring his joy and peace to others is such an honor – to bring God to the people and the people to God. There’s nothing that touches close to that.”
He recalled asking Bishop Harrington about his motto, “To serve, not to be served,” and added, “That’s how I wish to live my priesthood.”


Eric Asante

Love of Eucharist tied to vocation

By Tanya Connor

Deacon Eric Kwaku Asante says he’s loved the Eucharist since childhood.
Now he sees fulfillment in sharing it as a priest.
Next week he can start doing that – at his ordination, first Masses and beyond. He credits his parents, priests and the Ghanian Catholic community in Worcester with helping him get to this point – and this place.
“I think the priest is someone who joins heaven and earth through Jesus Christ on the altar, because the Eucharist is living food for us that Jesus Christ gave us,” Deacon Asante said. “Without the priests, there’s no Eucharist, and without the Eucharist, there’s no priests. The priesthood and the Eucharist flow from Christ. They are inseparable.
“Celebrating the Eucharist, being in the person of Christ, giving his body and blood to those who need it – personally I think it’s fulfilling. It’s the fulfillment of everything that’s been handed down from the apostles to our generation.”
Deacon Asante is to be the Worcester Diocese’s first Ghanaian priest. Other Africans ordained for the diocese are Deacon Anthony J. Xatse, a Ghanaian permanent deacon; Deacon Charles Omolo, a Kenyan ordained transitional deacon Saturday, and Fathers Anthony Mpagi and Patrick Ssekyole, Ugandan priests.
Deacon Asante was born in Ghana April 2, 1973. He said his parents, Christian Asante and Margaret Brako, were very influential in his vocation; as active Catholics they channeled him in the right direction.
“When I was a really, really young boy, that’s where it started,” he said of his interest in priesthood. “But as I progressed through school, the notion kind of faded away. When I was in college, that feeling came back.”
He graduated from St. Mary’s High School in Tekoradi, and got a certificate as a laboratory technician from Accra Polytechnic.
In 1999 he came to the United States to study at DeVry University in Chicago, from which he got his bachelor of science in computer information system in February 2005. He stayed with his uncle before renting his own place.
As a full-time student working two jobs, he didn’t usually attend Mass, he said. One day in 2003 he passed a church just as Mass was starting, and something told him to go. The desire for priesthood returned.
Later that year he came to Worcester to visit family friend Paul Mensah and his family, who are among the Ghanaian Catholics here, he said. Mr. Mensah introduced him to Father Anthony Ogunleye, then chaplain of the African Catholic community, with whom he shared his interest in priesthood. Father Ogunleye introduced him to Msgr. Thomas J. Sullivan, then director of the diocese’s Office of Vocations.
After finishing college, Deacon Asante said, he moved here, influenced by the presence of the organized Ghanaian Catholic community, after being alone in Chicago.
“They’ve been very, very supportive” of the journey to priesthood, he said.
He met with Msgr. Sullivan, and Father James S. Mazzone, who succeeded him, and was accepted into the program, he said. In August 2005 he started studies at St. Charles Seminary in Philadelphia, Pa., and later transferred to Saint John’s Seminary in Brighton, from which he received his master’s of divinity this month.
He served at Saint Anthony of Padua Parish, Fitchburg; Christ the King Parish, Worcester; St. Mary Parish, Southbridge; St. Joan of Arc Parish, Worcester, where the Ghanaian community is now located; St. Christopher Parish, Worcester, and most recently has been at St. Joseph Parish in Auburn. He was ordained a transitional deacon last May.
Deacon Asante said his parents have come to the United States for the first time for his priestly ordination, at which they are to be gift-bearers. The Ghanaian choir from St. Joan of Arc is to sing. Vesting him is Msgr. Federico A. Britto, pastor of St. Cyprian Parish in Philadelphia, who supervised him on a field assignment.
He is to celebrate his first Masses June 3 at 11 a.m. at St. Joseph’s in Auburn, and at 2 p.m. at St. Joan of Arc. Homilists, respectively, are Msgr. James P. Moroney, Worcester Diocesan priest and rector-elect of St. John’s Seminary, and Father Frederick Agyemen, his parish priest at Corpus Christi Parish in Sakumono Estate in Tema, Ghana, who is now studying in New York. Public receptions are to follow both Masses.
Deacon Asante said his first Mass in Ghana will probably be in Corpus Christi in July, so is siblings away at school can attend. He has six siblings: Jennifer Asante, a high schooler; Peter and Daniel Asante, college students, and Rebecca, Gifty and Edward Asante, who are finished with college. He said this will be his first time back in Ghana since leaving 13 years ago.