Deacon Luke Uebler, just a month before being ordained a priest to the Diocese of Buffalo, introduced himself as a "Renaissance Man." Articulate and intelligent, the 26-year-old seems to have the credentials of a person who spans genres of interest.
"I love a little bit of everything and anything, up for new things," he said in between classes at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora.
The Elma native loves the outdoors as much as computers, and science as much as literature. In his role as a priest, he will need to be all things to all people, and it seems he has a good start to accomplishing that.
"I was a science/math kind of guy in high school, but that changed. At college I went into really liking history and English. It was kind of a big flip-flop, but I appreciate all these different things," the third-generation Eagle Scout said.
His interest and knowledge about Catholicism has remained in him since childhood. He credits his "Uncle" Father Michael Uebler (actually first cousin once removed) with setting him off on his course. "I like to start off saying my uncle baptized me and it's working," he said. "His influence has been good."
The younger Uebler looks at sixth grade as the point where he could first see himself in the role of a parish priest.
"I went to St. James in Depew. I was really good at religion class, and people knew it. My classmates called me 'Father Luke' as a nickname. My teacher asked me, 'How do you know all these things?' because I was the only one exempt from taking the final exam. It got me thinking," he said. "We go to Church on Sundays, and it's funny what you pick up from the priests, listening to the homilies and listening to the words of the Mass. That gave me a leg up to what exactly is our faith, and how to articulate the knowledge of such. Right then it was kind of a head thing."
He wasn't sure what to do with this head knowledge. Then, through the Pope Pius XII Faith Formation Program in the Boy Scouts, the teen could see himself as a teacher of the faith in a classroom or maybe as a permanent deacon, but not as a priest.
"Every time I came up with a new scenario for what I would be doing with my life, I kept saying 'No' to the priesthood and 'Yes' to something else. Why was the priesthood coming up?" he wondered.
After talking to Father Walter Szczesny, then director of Vocations for the diocese, he realized, "I was really kind of running from what God had wanted for me."
Deacon Uebler is known as a "lifer" in the priesthood. He entered St. Mark's Seminary in Erie, Pa., immediately following high school. He took classes at nearby Gannon University, where he majored in philosophy during the day, and at night would live with other seminarians, attend daily Mass, and meet with a spiritual guide once a week.
In the seminary, he learned to make faith more than just a head thing, but a heart thing. "God, you love me, and not just me but all these people in your creation. I do want to share this," he said. "I am convinced in my being and my heart that God has a plan for all of us, and I want to do my part in sharing that. What better way to do that than as a priest?"
He asks, somewhat rhetorically, how can you love the greatest? "For me, it's through the priesthood. For someone else, that might be becoming married or entering the religious life or devoting their single life to a given endeavor," he explained.
All priests go through similar training, but it is not completely standardized. Some foreign-born candidates go through a cultural training. Life experience counts for older seminarians. Deacon Uebler's training took two years longer than the standard seven years. (Two years pre-theology, four years theology and one pastoral year.) Luke did a four-year program at St. Mark's Minor Seminary, where he picked up his two years of pre-theology. So he only spent five years at Christ the King, a major seminary.
"Long nine years. I needed every one of them," he said, reflecting. "In some respects I will never be ready because the world keeps moving forward and the demands of the people are always evolving in some way, but these were important years for me and I treasure all of them."
During summers he worked in parishes. He served at St. Mark and St. Rose of Lima in North Buffalo with Father Joseph Rogliano, where he got his first taste of seeing funerals, being around another priest and witnessing the ins and outs of life in a Roman collar. "You get a good taste. That summer was more of a shadowing experience where you get your feet wet," he said.
He spent his pastoral year, a period in the middle of his studies, in Chautauqua working with Father Todd Remick at St. Mary of Lourdes Parish in Mayville and Bemus Point.
"The people there are just so wonderful. They really embraced me and welcomed me into the community," Deacon Uebler said. "I was able to claim a priestly identity there, develop a priestly heart."
Since his diaconal ordination about six months ago, he has served at St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown Buffalo. It's not a typical parish. He tries to find a way to serve the spiritual needs of not only the regular Sunday parishioners, but the crowds who stop in for daily Mass during their lunch hour as well. As the seat of the diocese, the cathedral hosts special events like Blue Mass, White Mass, Anniversary Mass, which he served.
"I can't wait to get started and serve the people of God here in the Church of Buffalo," he said.