June 10-16, 2004
VOL 123 NO. 23
Ready to Serve
Father John Kurgan lies prostrate at left and Father Michael Greco kneels as a sign of submission to the will of God
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
“It was not you who chose Me, it was I who chose you to go forth and bear fruit,” said Bishop James Moynihan, quoting from the Gospel of John 15:16 during his homily at The Rite of Ordination to the Order of Presbyter on Saturday, June 5 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Bishop Moynihan spoke to Father John Kurgan and Father Michael Greco who were ordained to the priesthood for the Syracuse Diocese telling them that the Gospel chosen for the Mass contained the Lord’s words to His first priests as they sat at the table with Him for the last time. Thirty priests, Bishops James Moynihan and Thomas Costello joined family, friends, deacons and parishioners to witness and celebrate Father Kurgan and Father Greco’s commitment to the Lord.
Father Michael Greco, age 63, and father of four and grandfather to seven, entered Blessed John the XXIII Seminary in Weston, Mass. several years after the death of his wife. Father Greco spent 36 years as a science teacher in Yonkers and said that after his wife died in 1995, three things lead him to the seminary. As a way to work through his grief, Father Greco attended a grief encounter weekend, which strengthened his faith and spirituality. As a result of that weekend, Father Greco became more involved in his church and its ministries. “I talked to Father John Savocca about becoming a deacon,” said Father Greco. “He told me to consider going all the way –– into the priesthood.” Father Savocca and Father Greco started the process of finding a diocese to sponsor him, but at the beginning of the process, Father Savocca passed away. Father John Feraone at St. James the Apostle in Carmel, N.Y. continued the journey with Father Greco. “He told me to call Father Neil Quartier, director of the Seminarian Formation Office of the Diocese in the Syracuse Diocese and ask for sponsorship,” said Father Greco. After an initial interview with Father Neil Quartier and the approval of Bishops Moynihan and Costello, Father Greco was approved for sponsorship and applied to Blessed John the XXIII Seminary.
Father Greco’s journey began and soon the former teacher was back in the classroom as a student. “The courses were demanding,” said Father Greco. “They involved a lot of abstract thinking. But I loved it.” Father Greco said that he especially enjoyed the courses in church history, philosophy and the sacraments. “I loved history as an avocation,” he said. “If I hadn’t gone into science, I would have gone into history.” Father Greco said he learned much about the theology of the Catholic faith. “They teach you about the correctness of your faith,” he said. “For me, the Bible and the Catechism have been two great sources of learning my faith.” Father Greco said that at first, his children were shocked that he was entering the seminary but have come to accept it. “When he told me he was going into the seminary, I didn’t realize he wanted to become a full-fledged priest,” said Father Greco’s son, Tom. “I thought he was going to earn a degree in theology or something.” Tom Father Greco said that he and his wife are very supportive of Father Greco’s decision. While Tom admits that his father’s role as a dad and grandfather will change in some aspects, he believes his father will still remain close to the family. “He’ll be working weekends now,” said Tom. “But I don’t think his new role will have a significant impact on our family.”
“It’s something he always wanted to do deep down in his heart. Originally, it took us back a little,” said son, Stephen. “I think it’s great. He’s excited about it. It was a rough road but he reached his goal. My wife and I are very proud.” Stephen Father Greco said that his father will bring to the priesthood the same values he gave to his children. “He has passion and honesty,” said Stephen. “He also taught us to pursue our dreams and that the most important thing in life is family.” Father Greco said that he is looking forward to doing the things that need to be done. “The church is not run by men,” he said. “It’s run by the Holy Spirit. He’ll take care of it, despite what we do.” In spite of the scandal that has plagued the Catholic Church over the past few years, Father Greco said that he is more resolved to do all he can to bring people back to the church. Bishop Moynihan echoed Father Greco’s beliefs. “So in the end, my friends, your identity as priests is not rooted in what we do, but in who we are. When Jesus made the Apostles His priests at the first Holy Mass, namely, the Last Supper, He did not call them His servants, or His colleagues, or even His co-workers. He just called them His friends,“ said Bishop Moynihan. “That in itself, I believe, was a revelation showing that priesthood is to be understood not as a function or as an obligation, but as a new way of being,” he said.
Father John Kurgan agrees wholeheartedly with Bishop Moynihan’s message. “As a priest, it is an ever-increasing responsibility of service to the people of God and to the Gospel,” said Father Kurgan. “It’s not about you. It’s not about wearing the vestments. It’s about service.” Father Kurgan spoke those words as he prepared for his ordination. Father Kurgan entered St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, Md. at the age of 31 after many years of involvement with his home parish, St. Joseph’s Church in LaFayette. His colleagues, friends and family were not at all surprised by Father’s Kurgan’s decision to become a priest. Father Michael Minehan, chancellor for the Syracuse Diocese, was assigned to St. Joseph’s when Father Kurgan worked as building and groundskeeper and as a member of the ecumenical program. He was also actively involved with the food pantry and other social service activities. “Msgr. John McGraw told me when I came to the parish that John had expressed an interest in the priesthood for a long time,” said Father Minehan.
Father Minehan told of how he and John first met. “John was on the riding mower at St. Joseph’s cutting the grass. I was sitting under a tree working on my homily. John drove by and said, ‘Nice life.’ I replied, ‘It could be yours.’” Father Minehan said that people knew that Father Kurgan would make a good priest and said that he struggled with not if he should do it, but when. “He had family responsibilities,” said Father Minehan. Father Kurgan, an only child, was extremely close to his mother, who was widowed when Father Kurgan was very young. He felt a strong obligation for her welfare. “For her comfort level, I called her every morning to see how she was doing,” explained Father Kurgan. “One morning I called and no one answered.” Father Kurgan’s mother passed away in November. “She had a deep love for the church,” said Father Kurgan. “She wanted what I wanted. She was very excited about my ordination.”
Anne Kurgan, John’s aunt, said that she was not at all surprised her nephew chose to enter the seminary. “I knew he thought about it when he was young,” she said. “He had it in his mind for a long time, but he didn’t want to leave his mother alone. I think he’s doing a wonderful thing. He’ll make a wonderful priest.” Anne Kurgan said that John’s attitude and the way he feels about people will serve him well in his new role. “I’m quite sure his mother and father are together looking down on him as be becomes ordained,” she said. Brian Skeval, a childhood friend, said that Kurgan had a priestly instinct about him. “He’s was very involved in the church without ever being asked,” said Skeval. “He did a lot of the behind-the-scenes work that kept the church looking so nice. He didn’t want recognition. He’s very modest and humble.” Skeval said that those attributes will serve him well in his priestly duties. “Whoever has him for a pastor will be very fortunate. As soon as you meet him, he puts you at ease,” said Skeval. “I think he will make tremendous priest.”
Jennie DeGouff, Kurgan’s cousin, agreed with Skeval. “He was an altar boy his whole life. I’m not surprised he went into the priesthood.” Another cousin Michael Moss, said that Father Kurgan has a wonderful rapport with children. “His contemporary views will be valuable assets to the church,” said Moss. “When he talks, you want to listen. I’m thrilled he became a priest.” So is Bishop Moynihan. “I couldn’t keep the smile off my face during communion” he said. “Our hearts are filled with gladness. John and Michael, we are delighted that our people will have the benefit of your ministry,” said Bishop Moynihan. “It is such a great and special day.” Father Michael Greco has been assigned to Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Vestal. Father John Kurgan will serve at St. Matthew’s Church in East Syracuse.