On Saturday, June 1, Bishop Richard J. Malone, bishop of Buffalo, will ordain eight men to the priesthood. This is the largest class to be ordained since 1985. The ordination Mass takes place at St. Joseph Cathedral, 50 Franklin St., Buffalo, at 9:30 a.m.
The men, who were ordained transitional deacons in September 2018, to become the newest priests in the Diocese of Buffalo are Robert Contarin, Moses Ikuelogbon, Aaron Kulczyk, Robert J. Owczarczak, Mario Racho, Patryk G. Sobczyk, Justin Steeg and Donald R. Watkins Jr. Each of the men, three of whom are natives of other countries, graduated from Christ the King Seminary, East Aurora, in May.
Deacon Contarin, the son of Gulio and Antonietta Contarin, has one sister and grew up in Tonawanda. He graduated from St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute, Kenmore, and Niagara University. When he was 16 years old, he began working in his family's pizzeria, Leonardi's. Following college, he was not sure if he was ready to answer the call to the priesthood. He went on a few pilgrimages to Italy and took some time to pray and discern his vocation before entering the seminary three years after graduating from Niagara University. His home parish is St. Amelia in Tonawanda.
The son of Joseph and Victoria Ikuelogbon, Deacon Ikuelogbon is a native of Lagos State, Nigeria, and is one of six children. He earned a bachelors' degree in philosophy from the University of Ibadan in western Nigeria. While at seminary in Nigeria, he took a course on missionary enterprise in Africa where he saw the impact Christian missions had in Africa. Because of the abundance of priests in Nigeria and after having learned about the declining number of priests in Buffalo from priests he knew here, he chose to be an African missionary to America. Deacon Ikuelogbon calls St. Martin de Porres and St. Lawrence, both in Buffalo, his home parishes in the diocese.
Batavia native Deacon Kulczyk, whose home parish is St. Padre Pio, Oakfield, attended Gannon University, Erie, Pa., where he majored in philosophy with a minor in history. His personal vocation journey began as a call to service in helping others. He believes everyone has the call that they "will be needed" even though everyone's call may be different. Although there have been some highs and some lows in his path to the priesthood, the call that he will be needed has seen him through his journey. Deacon Kulczyk is the son of Deacon Paul and Joan Kulczyk and has one brother.
An East Aurora resident, Deacon Owczarczak graduated from St. Mary's High School, Lancaster, and Canisius College, Buffalo, with a bachelor's degree in psychology. He furthered his studies at the State University of New York at Buffalo where he earned a master's degree in social work. Deacon Owczarczak grew up as one of nine children of Gerald and Jaquelyn Owczarczak and attended Our Lady of Pompeii Parish in Lancaster. Prior to entering the seminary, he worked as a therapist and mentor for youth at Gateway Longview, Williamsville. Last summer, he hiked the 799 km Camino de Santiago with his father.
Deacon Racho is the son of Marcial Sr. and Genara Racho. He grew up in Balilihan, Bohol, in the Philippines. He has 17 siblings and attended Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Balilihan. Deacon Racho is a graduate of Philippine Maritime Institute College, Bohol, where he earned a bachelor's degree in marine transportation. He worked in an industrial company for several years before entering St. Paul's Seminary, Siland, Cavite, where he studied philosophy and communications.
Deacon Sobczyk, who is a Polish sign language interpreter, was born in Poland and is the son of Wladyslaw and Krystyna Sobczyk. He entered St. John Kanty Seminary in Koszalin, Poland, and graduated in 2009. He went on to study at the Theological University of Pope Paul VI in Szczecin, Poland, where he earned a master's degree in theology. Deacon Sobczyk, who has one brother, taught religion in public schools in Poland prior to coming to the United States and entering Christ the King Seminary. His home parish is St. Andrew Bobola in Biesowice, Poland.
Born in Rochester but raised in Westfield, Deacon Steeg came to the seminary after working as a general auto service technician and in the construction business. He was home schooled and graduated high school after participating in a correspondence school based in the state of Washington. He attended Patrick Henry College, Purcellville, Va., where he earned a bachelor of arts degree in political theory. Deacon Steeg is the son of James and Susanne Steeg, has two sisters and one brother, and his home parish is St. Dominic in Westfield. Deacon Steeg said his call to ordained ministry started as an idea and a desire that wouldn't go away.
The final candidate for ordination, Deacon Watkins, was a permanent deacon for nine years before he decided to go back to the seminary to study to become a priest. Born and raised in Lockport, Deacon Watkins is the son of the late Theresa and Donald R. Watkins Sr. He was raised with three sisters who are also deceased. Deacon Watkins received an associate of arts degree from Niagara County Community College in 1986 and continued to take business management courses after his graduation. In the years before entering the seminary, he worked as a service manager at an automobile dealership. As a permanent deacon he served at St. Patrick Parish, Lockport, which later merged into All Saints Parish.
The newly ordained priests will begin their first assignments as priests on June 17:
Robert Contarin - St. Mark and St. Rose of Lima, Buffalo
Moses Ikuelogbon - St. Gregory the Great, Williamsville
Aaron Kulczyk - St. Gabriel, Elma
Robert Owczarczak - St. Bernadette, Orchard Park
Mario Racho - St. Mary of the Assumption, Lancaster
Patryk Sobczyk - Holy Family, Albion
Justin Steeg - Our Lady of Victory Basilica, Lackawanna
Donald Watkins Jr. - St. Joseph Cathedral, Buffalo, and Collins Correctional Facility