By Tanya Connor
“Your worst day as a priest is better than your best day as a seminarian,” a fellow priest told Father Donato Infante III.
Father Infante, ordained June 20, agrees: he starts the day offering the most important prayer – the Mass – for someone.
“How could I ever think it’s been a bad day when I’ve done something so meaningful?” he asked.
Hearing confessions is “so beautiful,” he said. “To watch as someone who’s mostly unconscious wakes up to receive holy Communion on their death bed” is bittersweet. “And yet what the priest does in that moment … is the most important thing that can be done. … God uses him as an instrument.”
Father Infante got to this point in a different way than those he was ordained with, most of whom came here from their native countries to prepare for priesthood. He left the Worcester Diocese, where he was reared, to study in Rome – and served briefly in other countries.
He’s now serving at Christ the King Parish in Worcester and returning to Rome this fall to complete his studies.
Father Infante said he grew up at St. Anne Parish in Southborough, where his family got more involved after his mother, reared Congregationalist, became Catholic.
“The way she explains it, when I was growing up I would ask questions about the faith,” he said. Seeking answers for him brought her to the Church.
As a highschooler, he asked God a question.
“I was outside in the front yard praying and I asked God, ‘What do you want me to do?’” he said. “I meant more along the lines of volunteering: ‘Do you want me to help at the food pantry or maybe tutor someone?’ But what came to mind instead was priesthood. That was the first time, and I laughed it off as if the idea came from within me.”
But the idea persisted, so he got information about religious orders and contacted the Worcester Diocese’s vocation director, then Msgr. Thomas J. Sullivan, now Christ the King’s pastor. But, in a way, he didn’t want to be a priest.
“I had this image of being a dad with a wife and kids,” Father Infante said. “That was a big thing for me – being my kids’ soccer coach. … That’s what dads did in my town.” His father and his friends’ fathers did that when he played.
He also didn’t think he was holy enough for priesthood, and still doesn’t, he said. But it’s about having an authentic call, which the Church decides by formally calling some who seek to become priests.
“My senior year of high school, with the passing of St. John Paul and the reading of some of his books on the priesthood, I saw the way in which the priest is a spiritual father,” Father Infante said. “I said, ‘OK, God, if this is what you are inviting me to do, I’m open to that. I just need to know for sure and I need to know what type of priest you desire me to be.”
As a Boston College student who went to adoration and some meals at St. John’s Seminary, he received discernment guidance from the college’s Jesuits and the seminary’s faculty, he said. He learned one can be a diocesan priest with the heart of the Jesuits’ founder, St. Ignatius, to whom he was attracted. But he wanted to be “on the front lines” – in a parish.
“Very often the parish can be the first encounter that people have with Christ and his Church,” he explained.
He applied to the Worcester Diocese, got his bachelor’s and master’s in philosophy from Boston College, and studied at St. John’s Seminary.
Father Infante said it sounded exciting when Bishop McManus invited him to continue preparation for priesthood in Rome, but he worried about being away from family. He’s his mother’s only child; his three sisters are from his father’s first marriage, and his father had had health problems. Someone must have informed his father, who told him, “If the bishop invites you to Rome, and the concern happens to be my health, say ‘yes,’ and go.”
So when Father James S. Mazzone, vocations director, said, “The bishop is wondering what your thoughts are,” he agreed to go.
In 2011 he went to Siena, Italy, for an immersion program in the Italian language, then to Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, where he got his bachelor’s in sacred theology in 2014.
He began studying for his licentiate of sacred Theology at the Angelicum, came home to be ordained a priest (he’d been ordained a transitional deacon in Rome), and returns this fall to continue studies for his licentiate. In Rome he lives at the Pontifical North American College, where he received priestly formation.
The first summer, he went to Krakow, Poland, for a program papal biographer George Weigel ran about the life and thought of Pope John Paul II, he said.
Then he and three Texan classmates served in Albania, with a pastor and an associate pastor from Peru, at two parishes that each had three churches, he said. Most homes had dirt floors, and daily technical failures left the rectory without power.
Under Communism in Albania, religious education was outlawed and people were martyred, so there are few native priests and nuns left and young people did not replace them, Father Infante said. But now religious sisters are beginning to get native vocations.
Older women had cross-shaped tattoos, a sign of rebellion when wearing crosses was prohibited. The people know little about the faith, “but they know how to say the rosary and they know that Jesus is present in the Blessed Sacrament,” Father Infante said.
Father Infante said he visited many countries, took a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and helped organize a mission trip to Benin, in Africa.
“All of it is part of God’s providence and he uses all of it to transform my heart of stone and replace it with the heart of the Good Shepherd,” he said.
One of the biggest things he brings to his ministry here is “seeing how priests do ministry in all of these varied situations, whether it be the great poverty and lack of catechesis in Albania or just a general distrust of the Church in … Austria,” he said. “Seeing these different situations shows me ways that priests attempt to bering the good news of Jesus Christ to the people.”
He said this offers ideas for ministry here. For example, Church leaders in Albania didn’t treat summer as the slow season, but promoted youth ministry while students were out of school.
While he didn’t get to be a coaching dad, he watched soccer matches where priests and seminarians played students to get acquainted with them and give them the opportunity to ask about Jesus and life.
Now, back home, Father Infante likes watching Christ the King’s youth play volleyball. He says, “Priests have to be present to their people in whatever way possible.”