Retirement caps off boyhood dream of being a priest

Tue, May 22nd 2018 10:00 am
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Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia, Msgr. David Slubecky speaks during the grand re-opening of the Catholic Union Store at the Catholic Center. (WNYC File Photo)
Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia, Msgr. David Slubecky speaks during the grand re-opening of the Catholic Union Store at the Catholic Center. (WNYC File Photo)

How many kids would celebrate a pretend Mass and hand out Necco wafers to their younger siblings as Communion? "I'd keep all the chocolate ones for myself," said Msgr. David S. Slubecky. "I was just drawn to the idea of being able to celebrate Mass and be involved with people in a parish."

The Sisters of St. Joseph, who taught him at St. John the Baptist School in Alden, claim that even in second grade he had talked about becoming a priest. "My parents actually encouraged me to go to a regular high school and I said 'No, I really want to do this," said Msgr. Slubecky. By age 14, he attended Diocesan Preparatory Seminary on Dodge Street, where he lived during the week and came home only on weekends. There were 122 boys in his freshman class, but he was one of only two who actually became a priest.

After studying philosophy for two years at St. John Vianney Seminary (currently Christ the King in East Aurora), he went to Rome to study theology at the North American College. He was ordained on July 21, 1973. His first assignment was at St. Mary's Parish in Batavia, where he stayed for only four months before going back to Rome to finish his graduate degree in theology. After spending a few more months at St. Mary's in Batavia, he went to St. Ignatius Renewal Center in Clarence to serve as the retreat master and to direct the formation team for the permanent diaconate. Now at age 70, as he prepares to retire, he holds that assignment close to his heart. "Many times I was really humbled by the quality of faith and the depth of faith of the people who came for retreats. In many ways, I gained more from them than I think they ever could've gotten from me."

In September of 1983, he returned to Rome to obtain a graduate degree in Canon Law. He eventually moved on to be judicial vicar of the diocesan Tribunal. "So although I initially went with the idea that I would be working in a parish, I was not really in a parish for most of the first 22 years of my priesthood." In 1994, he became pastor of Fourteen Holy Helpers Parish in West Seneca, a position he held until 2005, at which time he became moderator of the curia and vicar general for the Diocese of Buffalo.

"Msgr. Slubecky has always served the Diocese of Buffalo with great generosity and dedication," said Bishop Richard J. Malone. "He has been responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Catholic Center as well as the oversight of countless boards of our many diocesan institutions. In addition, he has been an integral member of my senior staff with whom I meet weekly. Msgr. Slubecky's keen oversight of so many diocesan functions and institutions was always a tremendous help to me. I am indebted to Msgr. Slubecky for his gracious generosity throughout the five and a half years we have worked together. I pray that his well-deserved retirement years will be marked by great happiness and good health! And I know that his priestly ministry will continue in new ways."

As Bishop Malone has been compared to being the CEO of the diocese, Msgr. Slubecky is considered to be a chief operating officer in his dual role of moderator of the curia and vicar general. "I serve on every board that exists in the diocese," said Msgr. Slubecky, who loved parish work, but agreed to go where he was needed most. "In every instance I have to say I believed after the fact that it was supposed to happen. In each case, I gained a lot from it with regard to various parts of my life."

He considers one of the most moving moments of his priesthood to be in the final days of his grandmother's life in the late 1980s. "I anointed her and when I finished anointing her, she came out of the fetal position, had a clear mind for three days, talked to all the family and then she passed away. It was just very moving the power of that sacrament."

Beginning in June, Msgr. Slubecky will be living at the Msgr. John J. Coniff Priest Retirement Home in Lancaster. He admits he has mixed feelings about retirement after being responsible for so many things, but he looks forward to more light reading. "I certainly plan to continue to help out as I'm needed to celebrate Mass in parishes."

The past 45 years of priesthood gives him a clear perspective of not only the past, but also the future of the Catholic Church in Western New York. "The last 12 years was a time of painful growth as we tried to reassess what our priorities were, what we are capable of doing with schools and parishes. They're all very painful decisions because they impacted people's lives, but it was something that had to be done. I think that now we're on the path to looking at where we are in our spiritual life as a diocese and beginning the process of making that stronger and building up evangelization and becoming committed disciples again. We had to undergo all the crosses so we can experience the resurrection."  

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