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Q&A: Priests find peace and joy through their vocations

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Priests of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati process into the cathedral prior to the 2015 Ordination Mass. (CT Photo/John Stegeman)
Priests of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati process into the cathedral prior to the 2015 Ordination Mass. (CT Photo/John Stegeman)

By John Stegeman
The Catholic Telegraph

To be  Catholic priest is a calling fraught with challenges, but it is also one that, through the grace of God, many find peace and joy.

Nov. 1-7 is National Vocation Awareness Week. 

The Catholic Telegraph spoke with Fathers Leonard Kostka, Todd Grogan and Timothy Ralston to learn more about the life of priests. Father Kostka is a 101-year-old Missionary of the Precious Blood who is now retired and living in Carthegena after 75 years as a priest. He answered with the help of his order’s Director of Communications, Jean Giesige. Father Grogan, pastor at Annunciation Parish in Clifton, has been a priest for 25 years. Father Ralston, associate pastor for the Coldwater Cluster, has celebrated his fifth anniversary of ordination.

1. What has surprised you the most in your time as a priest?

Father Kostka: (via Jean Giesige) “He was surprised when he was first ordained, how much the faithful people accepted him… He had a lot of education and no practical experience as a priest, yet they listened to him.”

Father Grogan: “When I was ordained in 1990, it was a totally different world… We have to be extremely intentional in our efforts in catechesis and evangelization. I think I assumed we were static and that we’d be in essentially the same place… The world in which we minister is a moving target.”

Father Ralston: “One of the biggest surprises is the joy that comes in hearing confessions and absolving people from their sins.”

2. What has been your greatest challenge in carrying our your vocation?

Father Kostka: “I stayed with it. In a broad sense, the greatest challenge was to maintain the spirit of fervor which with we were ordained.

Father Grogan: “It would be nice if we were all on the same page… Are we pulling in the same direction? Ultimately we are, and we want too, but sometimes it is not apparent in the way individual parishes are governed or led that the people of God are being guided along the same path.”

Father Ralston: “For me, the biggest challenge is realizing that you don’t always have to have the right thing to say. A lot of times there is nothing good to say… Terminal cancer, and unexpected death — that’s been a challenge worrying about what to say and what not to say. A lot of times there really is nothing to say.”

3. How have you seen God’s grace at work in overcoming challenges?

Father Kostka (who lives in the infirmary at St. Charles Center): “People who work in hospitals, in nursing homes: they have a vocation. It’s more than just a job to them.”

Father Grogan: “Daily Eucharist. It is food for the journey and sometimes it is door in the wilderness. It has been sustenance and survival and blessing and grace.”

Father Ralston: “The best thing you can do in those specific moments is pray with the person or the family whoever it might be, and leave it in God’s hands.”

4. After your time of service so far, is there anything that “doesn’t get old?’

Father Kostka: I wonder how many Masses I have offered in 75 years. Here’s a thought I like to contemplate: as the angels look down from heaven, what do they see? They see a million chalices raised aloft, adoring and imploring the Trinity.”

Father Grogan: “The prayer of the church. It never ever gets old. It is fresh every morning. Mass, sacraments, Liturgy of the Hours. It is ever ancient, ever new. It was nice this morning to know I’m stepping into a stream that has been flowing for thousands of years.”

Father Ralston: “The sacraments don’t get old. Even though I celebrate a lot of Masses, those never get old. The call to have that personal encounter with Christ never gets old for the priest himself or encouraging that call for others.”

5. There are many men out there being called to the priesthood, as you once were yourself. What do you tell them concerning the life they are in for if they’re ordained?

Father Kostka: “I’ve often thought this; most people’s work deals with things. They’re fixing things, working on the plumbing, mowing the front lawn, always dealing with things. A priest deals with people. … The question is, do we love God? I would say to a young person: if you’re looking for something to do, is there anything you can do that is greater than offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? Jesus at the last supper said, ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’ I think that’s a powerful sentence. If nothing else was written, that alone would tell me what to do.”

Father Grogan: “It’s totally worth it. If you get to where I am hopefully you’ll be able to say what I say which is, ‘no regrets….’ It is a call worthy of a response.”

Father Ralston: “This is the greatest joy and happiness they’ll find if this is what God has planned for them. There’s no need to be afraid. There’s no need to be frightened about what might come up. If you’re doing it for the glory of God in accordance with his will, everything is going to be fine.”

For young men interested in exploring a call to the priesthood or to learn more about vocations in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, call 513-421-3131, ext. 2890, or visit www.CincinnatiVocations.org.

This vocations feature originally appeared in the November 2015 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.

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