JACKSON HEIGHTS — Deacon Thimote Cherelus was a small-business owner in his hometown, Port-au- Prince, Haiti, so he understands balancing profits with overhead and payroll.
A parish is similar, said Deacon Cherelus, who studied business administration in college.
“The parish is like a business because we deal with money,” he said. “But it is a little different than running a business where the goal is to make more money to become richer. In the parish we’re trying to help people. In the parish we are preaching the Gospel.”
Deacon Cherelus, 37, is also educated in the Catholic faith, having recently earned his master’s in theology from St. Joseph’s Seminary and College in Dunwoodie, Yonkers.
On June 3 he will join three other transitional deacons to be ordained as the newest priests in the Diocese of Brooklyn. The other deacons are Samuel Mwiwawi, Ernesto Alonso, and Nnamdi Eusebius Eze.
Deacon Cherelus is the youngest of six children — five boys and one girl — born to Cevelorme and Nostha Cherelus. He was in elementary school when his father died. His mother passed away in 2009, but she made sure all of her children attended Catholic schools in Haiti.
Deacon Cherelus became fascinated with clergymen attired in their vestments. At ages 5 and 6, he played “pretend priest” and often celebrated a make-believe form of the Mass, just like countless other would-be priests.
“The calling to become a priest came to me when I was a small boy,” Deacon Cherelus said. “I felt the desire, but at that point, I could neither figure out what it was, nor could I explain it. During that period, being a priest to me was about the alb.”
As his vocation took time to mature, Deacon Cherelus attended a Catholic high school. The idea of becoming a priest grew beyond his fascination with priestly attire.
He spoke with his pastor about it, who encouraged him to join a Church group so he could develop his prayer life and participate more actively in Church ministries and activities.
After high school, Deacon Cherelus earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Port-au-Prince. Meanwhile, he opened his own business — a car wash. He also dated several young women. But neither the business nor the women could displace his fascination with the priesthood.
“As I grew older, I realized the meaning was much more profound,” he said. “It is about dedicating my whole life to the Lord while I work with his people, especially the marginalized and those rejected by our society.”
Deacon Cherelus later met some recruiters visiting Haiti from Divine Word College in Epworth, Iowa.
The college subsequently offered him a scholarship and the chance to further explore the idea of becoming a priest. Deacon Cherelus moved to Iowa in 2012, and his brother took over the car wash.
Four years later he earned his second bachelor’s degree, this one in philosophy. The college is owned by the Society of the Divine Word (SVD), which is focused on missions.
Deacon Cherelus was still discerning his future, but did not see himself in other countries serving as a missionary. Instead, he considered life as a parish priest. The SVD released him to continue his discernment elsewhere. He chose New York City.
“Divine Word College helped me a lot,” he said. “It nurtured my mind. They helped me with prayers with everything regarding seminary.”
By 2017, Deacon Cherelus still hadn’t made up his mind to be a priest.
That changed, however, after he made an appointment with Father Sean Suckiel, now the pastor of Holy Family Parish in Flushing, Queens. In 2017, Father Suckiel was director of vocations for the Diocese of Brooklyn.
“I met with him and I told him my story,” Deacon Cherelus said. “And he took me in right away. Basically, that was the moment that really nailed it.”
Father Suckiel made a space for Deacon Cherelus in the St. John Paul II House of Discernment, where he resided for a year. During that time, his vocation solidified.
“The idea was there in my mind, and I pushed it away,” he said of his lengthy discernment. “I finally decided this is stronger than me. I’m not going to play with it anymore. It was time to put an action to it.”
St. Joseph Seminary in Dunwoodie admitted him and he embarked on earning his master’s in theology.
Meanwhile, he also attended seminary workshops designed to teach future priests the business side of running a parish. As a transitional deacon, he has been helping out at Our Lady of Fatima, Jackson Heights, Queens.
Deacon Cherelus said these lessons were invaluable because they broadened his understanding of business management. While he said he is eager to start his first diocesan assignment, he knows there is much more for him to learn.
“I am really excited,” he said. “Even though I already know something about business, I’m always open to learning new stuff.”