Journeys to the priesthood

   For Deacon Peter Tassini, “the thought of becoming a priest was there and grew over time very slowly,” he said.

  Deacon Tassini was a student at Bishop Ludden Jr./Sr. High School when that thought got so big he knew he had to do something about it, he recalled. He spoke with Father Dan Muscalino, a member of the Ludden faculty. 

   “Through my conversations with him, I began to do what every Christian is supposed to do, which is to try to live a life of virtue and grow in holiness — and only then can God speak to any of us,” Deacon Tassini said.

   He started going to daily Mass, making Confession regularly, receiving spiritual direction, and praying every day. Through those practices “the thought that was there before came into focus and I could see it for what it really was…. I said then that if this is what God wants, then I’ll do it.”

   The native of St. James Church in Syracuse went on to Canisius College, where he earned a degree in theology. After being accepted as a diocesan seminarian, it was on to Theological College at the Catholic University of America, where he has just completed his formation and studies for the priesthood.

   The Church sets out four pillars of priestly formation: intellectual, spiritual, human, and pastoral, Deacon Tassini explained. Seminary engages all four of them, he said, “but I think the biggest aspect of formation is that it’s not about learning something as much as it is submitting to something, which is submission to Christ. Only then can you be formed into the man he wants you to be, the priest he wants you to be.”

   On the cusp of his ordination, Deacon Tassini said he was “on the threshold,” and though he doesn’t know what lies on the other side, “I don’t need to know. I need to know this is where I need to be, and I’m not where I’ve been and I’m not where I’m going, but it’s Christ who is with me here.”

   He is looking especially forward to one aspect of his priesthood, however. “The thought of being a priest was most clear when I was attending Mass,” Deacon Tassini said. “In my time of understanding what my vocation means and my submission to the Church, I’ve come to really love the Mass because it’s the gift of Christ himself to us. So for me, I look forward to celebrating Mass and to being able to literally feed people Jesus Christ.”

   Deacon Kenneth Kirkman, a parishioner of Holy Cross Church in DeWitt, attended Holy Cross School and Christian Brothers Academy, but it was during his college years at SUNY Geneseo, where he studied medieval history, that he began to hear his calling.

   He hadn’t been as regular in his practice at college, he said, “but in my contacts with the medieval Church and other convinced and active Catholics in college, I started to go back more regularly on my own and go to Confession. And all of a sudden, faith for me took on a whole different character: It was a personal choice, rather than, ‘Oh, I’m with my parents on Sunday, I’ll go.’”

   “It was during that time when all these suggestions people had made — ‘You should think about the priesthood,’ ‘You should go to seminary’ — all that started to make sense. So I met with my pastor, Msgr. [J. Robert] Yeazel, and discussed applying to the diocese [seminarian formation program]. I did my last year of college, was accepted, and started at St. Mary’s [Seminary in Baltimore] in 2009.”

   Since then, Deacon Kirkman has been focused on his formation. Much of the day-to-day was geared toward academics, “but I would say it was a really important formative experience for me as well, and that’s really what I took away from it,” he said of his years in seminary. “The education you can get at a comparably good Catholic school, but I think that formation, the experience of interacting with parishioners, being part of people’s lives, serving in parishes and hospitals and soup kitchens, that was something you can’t get anywhere else.”

   The most important part of that formation, for him, has been “the realization that people have a great need. They have a huge need for God in their lives. And that the job of the priesthood is to bring people and God together, to be that bridge between the people of God and their Father who loves them,” he said.

   As his ordination approaches, Deacon Kirkman admits to some nerves and butterflies in the stomach. “I’m hugely excited about it,” he said. “This is something I’ve been working for for a long time and I can’t wait to get out there.” Once ordained, he says he is most looking forward to “being in the parish, to being plugged into people’s lives again, and to being involved in the work of the Church on an everyday level in places where it’s sorely needed.”

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