Two brothers serve the diocese in the priesthood
By Connie Berry
Two out of five isn’t bad. That is the contribution to the priesthood given by Eugene and Rita Lang through their marriage. Father Jim Lang was ordained in 1975 and Father Brian Lang followed his brother 23 years later in 1998.
“I was born in 1949 and he was born in 1960. He’s got the higher number so that makes him older,” Father Jim joked.
The Lang’s marriage produced three sons besides the two priests; Gene, Dan and Tim all live in Baldwinsville with their wives and children. There are 13 nephews and nieces, four grandnephews and one grandniece currently rounding out the family tree. Besides the Fathers Lang, the extended family includes Father Jim Mathews, Father Ed Hayes, Father David James as well as the late, beloved Msgr. A. Robert Casey.
The brothers are far enough apart in age — 11 years — to have grown up in different areas of the diocese. Father Jim grew up in the Liverpool area while Father Brian grew up in Baldwinsville. Father Brian has vivid memories of Mass at St. Mary’s in Baldwinsville.
“Twelfth pew, right hand side, under I believe the seventh Station. And if I remember correctly, if someone else would dare to sit in our pew, our father would stand there and stare them down until they moved,” Father Brian said.
“And we always sat so that we were within arm’s reach of one of them [parents],” Father Jim added.
One advantage of having a family full of priests is that a vocation to the priesthood was considered a very viable option in the Lang family. The brothers refer to the priesthood as “the family business.”
“There was no pressure to become a priest,” Father Jim said. “But we also considered it an option like all the other options.”
Father Jim is Vicar for Parishes for the Diocese of Syracuse and works downtown at the chancery and Father Brian is pastor of St. Ann’s and St. Charles Borromeo, both on Syracuse’s west side. Though they are both priests ordained for the Syracuse Diocese, Father Jim has spent almost all of his priesthood in administrative positions. Currently he serves as the diocesan director of Pastoral Planning, is past chair of the diocese’s Safe Environment Program and he has been the diocesan Chaplain for Scouting since 1990.
After ordination, Father Jim served as associate pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Utica and then in the same position at St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Rome. Father Jim was appointed chaplain/director of the Hall Newman Center and Chapel of the Holy Spirit at SUNY Oswego in 1981, serving until 1991. Seniorchaplain/dean at the Alibrandi Catholic Center and St. Thomas More Chapel at Syracuse University came next in 1991 and Father Jim remained in that position until 1998 when took on the pastoral planning assignment for the diocese.
Besides the administrative assignments he has filled, Father Jim also serves as a member of the Diocesan College of Consultors, the Presbyteral Council, Priests Councils of New York State, and Father Jim has been a member of the Diocesan Pastoral Council since 1984, serving in a variety of capacities since that time.
Father Brian said it is true that he was able to see more of the life of a priest than most people by observing his brother.
“My eyes were more wide open because I had seen his experience,” Father Brian said. “But the vast majority of his experience was at colleges and he was involved in a level of governance in the church that most priests don’t deal with.”
Father Brian attended SUNY Oswego during the time that his brother was chaplain there. “I would listen to him and the rest of the crew talk about some of the difficulties of the priesthood. One of my fellow priests actually said, ‘You knew all this and you still became a priest?’” he said.
Father Jim said he remembers taking a walk with his grandmother around the time of his First Communion and when she asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” he answered, “A priest.”
For Father Brian, the answer might have been a husband, an artist, a communications specialist, a philanthropist or even more options. After college, he ended up working in Manhattan as a communications consultant. Father Brian said he was actually planning to marry at one time, but they eventually ended up going their separate ways. He would come to Syracuse for holidays and family visits and on one of these occasions, he was stuck in Grand Central Station on Christmas Day. Father Lang said that the experience was one that may have added to his latent desire to become a priest.
“Homeless people were having their Christmas in Grand Central. They were singing and having their own celebration and it was like they were their own community. I ended up hanging out with them,” he said.
After passing out cigarettes and dollar bills to the homeless, his idea of success changed. An opportunity to move home was presented when he came to help his mother who had been taking care of his ailing grandfather.
“Our grandfather had fallen and was having some health issues,” Father Brian said. “He was a tough Irishman and he didn’t want ‘a woman’ taking care of him and my mother had moved in with him, so I came to help.”
Father Brian was still mulling over what to do with the rest of his life when Father Jim and a friend encouraged him to give the seminary a try with the idea that he could always leave if it didn’t suit him.
“I’m not sure how this all happened,” Father Brian joked. “I went off to college with him [Father Jim] and his buddies from Baltimore and the next thing I knew I was laying on the floor of the Cathedral.”
He began the process to ordination in the early 1990s.
“My brother wouldn’t even give me hints as to what was coming,” Father Brian said. They did compare notes however, after various phases of his studies were completed. During his formation, Father Brian was interviewed by his brother’s contemporaries and even had his brother’s classmates as instructors.
The course of their two priesthoods has been different. Father Brian now serves two parishes which are in preliminary stages of linking. He has been ordained 11 years and during that time, he said, the church has changed. New priests are much more likely to find themselves shepherding their own parish just a couple of years, sometimes less, after ordination. Father Brian has gone through the priest sex abuse scandal, parishes needing financial expertise and reconfiguration in just over a decade of service to the church.
The seminary prepares a priest academically, theologically and spiritually, but there is nothing sufficient to totally prepare seminarians for what may actually await them once they are ordained.
Father Jim said the very nature of who goes to the seminary has changed drastically since his seminary days.
“When I was in college guys went directly from high school to the seminary,” he said. “And my experience as a priest has been completely different from his.”
Father Jim has been lucky enough to combine three interests he has always had — higher education, public policy and law, and the character development of young people — into his vocation.
Although he’s been Vicar of Parishes for 11 years, Father Jim has been writing about and studying pastoral planning since the early 1980s.
“It’s not about linking and merging,” he said. “It’s about building strong, healthy, vibrant parishes. And, I’ve found that the people of God, as sad as they can be at times, they recognize something needed to be done and by and large they have adjusted.
Father Brian described priests from previous eras as men who were busy building up the church, adding buildings and programs and using the growth as an earmark of their success. Now, he said, they have to witness and direct the taking down of some of the same and it can be difficult for them.
These two priests and brothers have taken different paths to the priesthood but both are encouraged by the humanness of the people of the church who try to live as disciples of Jesus. They keep themselves sane by reading and taking care of their spiritual lives. They have hobbies and interests that keep them motivated and happy. Father Brian is an accomplished painter and he plays the guitar. Father Jim has a love of books that would be hard to surpass. “I choose them by their color, by how they’ll look on my shelf,” he joked.
“Seriously, one of my concerns about the younger guys is that our society works at such a frenetic pace that if you’re going to do ministry you better make sure you have time to pray and time to read and time to reflect. If you make someone a pastor before he has mastered these disciplines, he’s going to have a hard time.”