Guest Columnists

The Question That Changed Everything

by Father Kevin Sweeney

“WHAT DO YOU want to be when you grow up?” In grammar school, that was always one of my favorite questions to answer. I would love to say that when I grow up, I want to be a professional baseball player – and play for the New York Yankees!

I began to think about the question and answer differently in seventh grade at St. Luke’s School in Whitestone. Our homeroom teacher, Sister Margaret Mary, asked us whether we thought about what Jesus wanted us to be when we grew up.

It was the first time that I can remember thinking about a “vocation,” that maybe God was calling me to be a priest. As Sister Margaret Mary explained, God has a “plan” for each of us, and she said that we should ask Jesus in prayer what He wants us to be when we grow up.

Sister Margaret Mary’s “vocation talk” was part of her helping us to think about what high school we hoped to attend. She spoke about a school called “Cathedral Prep,” which was, “a regular Catholic High School,” but it was also for boys who were open to the possibility that Jesus could be calling them to the priesthood.

I decided to attend an Open House at Cathedral Prep, and when I found out that they had a baseball team – and that it was not that difficult to make the team – I decided that I wanted to attend the school.

Examples of Faith and Love

My four years at Cathedral Prep helped me to begin to seriously consider that God could be calling me to be a priest. Looking back, I know that I was able to discern and respond to God’s call to priesthood, primarily because of the example of faith and love that I received from my parents.

Secondly, the priests that I knew in my parish; at Cathedral Prep, especially Msgr. Philip Reilly and Msgr. Richard Marchese; and the priests I got to know in the college seminary in Douglaston, especially Msgr. Vincent Keane, and in the major seminary in Huntington, all inspired and encouraged me to keep discerning, praying and ultimately, to say “yes” to God’s call.

Finally, spending a pastoral year in the parish of St. Agatha’s in Sunset Park in Brooklyn, 1994-95, with then-Msgr. (now Bishop) Paul Sanchez, Father Lew Maynard and in the middle of the year, then-Msgr. (now Bishop) Ray Chappetto, was such a powerful experience of a parish as a “community of faith” and the wonderful relationship between the people of the parish and their priests. That year helped me to know that, with God’s help, I could say “yes.”

Not One Regret

I was ordained a priest by Bishop Thomas V. Daily on June 28, 1997. It is hard to believe that it has been over 20 years! But thanks be to God, although I have had difficult and challenging moments and days, I have not had one moment of regret.

Serving as a priest in the parishes of St. Nicholas of Tolentine in Jamaica and Our Lady of Sorrows in Corona was a true joy and blessing. Then I had the privilege of serving as diocesan vocation director, working closely – and living with – Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, which was a tremendous privilege. Bishop DiMarzio not only supported me and worked so hard to promote vocations to priesthood and religious life, but also he showed that he is a truly inspiring example of a prayerful, dedicated, servant of God’s people.

As good as my first 13 years as a priest were, it has been even more wonderful to serve for the past seven years in Brooklyn as the pastor of St. Michael’s parish in Sunset Park.

To any young man considering a vocation to priesthood, and to his parents, family and friends, I would say that he should remember the words that St. Margaret Mary said to me so many years ago: Consider what (who) Jesus wants you to be, keep asking Him in prayer and if He is calling you to be a priest, allow Him and His people to help you to say “yes.”