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OCTOBER 2018 PRIEST OF THE MONTH - REV. TIMOTHY KOESTER

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The name, Fr. Tim Koester, may not be very familiar to some people. Ordained for the Diocese of Buffalo in 1983, Fr. Tim has been serving our country outside of Western New York for the past 28 years. He recently returned to serve locally again bringing with him a multitude of experience and insight from his many adventures throughout the world.

Father Tim began his Christian journey at his baptism at St. Paul Church in Kenmore. He spent the first four years of elementary school at Blessed Sacrament and the last four years at St. Andrew Parish. In the second grade, Fr. Tim recalls that he was impressed and inspired by his parish priest commenting, “He always had kind and gentle words.” He considered becoming a priest then but ended up putting those thoughts on the back burner for a while.

He wanted to attend the Diocesan Preparatory High School but was advised to try another school until he was sure about the call to priesthood. He enjoyed his high school years at Cardinal O’Hara, a co-ed school. He dated and had many friendships but realized that the call to priesthood was still there. After high school he spent a year working as a custodian in an elementary school and spent the summer working at Camp Turner. He then entered Wadhams Hall Seminary in Ogdensburg and went on to Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora continuously working the summers at Camp Turner. He was ordained September 10, 1983 and just recently celebrated his 35th anniversary of priesthood. Father Tim recalled, “I always prayed that there would be this big bright light that would come on in the middle of the night and a booming voice would say, ‘Tim, I want you to become a priest!’ I’m still waiting! Funny, I said that after I was newly ordained but it’s still there. In a positive way, the whole idea of a call to me has been – it’s every day. The more I learn, the more I understand, the more I embrace life and truly appreciate my vocation and the vocation is dynamic!”

Father Tim valued the experience of caring for the poor and needy during the year he spent as a deacon at Holy Cross Parish on the West Side of Buffalo. His first assignment as a priest was to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Dunkirk which he enjoyed very much. From there he was asked to minister at the Diocesan Youth Department which enabled him to continue spending summers at Camp Turner. He noted that, “If you can help the young people understand and feel good about themselves then you’ve got at least three generations because the parents and grandparents will always respond to you.” Father Tim did a lot of retreat work, young adult education, communication workshops and camps. He went back and forth during the summers from his office in Buffalo to Camp Turner (for boys) and at the time, Camp Mary Glen (for girls). He lived with the Christian Brothers at St. Joseph Collegiate Institute in Kenmore and helped out as chaplain there for three years.

After that, Fr. Tim was assigned to SS. Peter and Paul in Jamestown. He liked the size of that city. It was also his first experience of being in an area where there were many different faiths, not just Catholics. This ecumenical experience came in handy for the next chapter in his life. In 1990 Bishop Head asked him to join the Navy Chaplain Core. With permission from his diocese, Fr. Tim was “on loan” to the Archdiocese of the Military. He attended officer school and was commissioned to the U.S. Navy as an officer chaplain.

His first assignment was to the Marines at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina. He was deployed to Saudi Arabia for eight months to minister during Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Desert Clean Up. He returned to the U.S. and was deployed again, this time to Guantanamo, Cuba. There was a camp set up there to keep people from using boats to cross from Cuba to the U.S. because of the danger it posed to them.

Another assignment included 45 days north of the Arctic Circle in Norway and then he was sent to Norfolk, VA where he was assigned to a ship that was still being built. In his experiences as chaplain he learned how important people’s faith was to them. He said, “In all of this what I’ve really found is that the call of God is in our everyday life and everyone has it. It’s just that we all need to find it in our own way and that’s what a chaplain has always been about.”

In 1995 Air Force Pilot, Scott O’Grady was shot down over Bosnia and Herzegovina and forced to eject from his F-16C into hostile territory. After nearly a week of evading the Serbs he was eventually rescued by the Marines. Father Tim was aboard that ship in the Adriatic Sea and was called to spiritually minister to the rescued pilot. He then went on to serve as the chaplain in Washington, DC in Henderson Hall as the support element to all Marines in the DC area. He ministered to people who lived and worked off that base. He also worked at the Pentagon and the Navy Annex and helped out one day a week at Arlington National Cemetery doing funerals. That turned into three days a week and added up to over 600 funerals. Father Tim commented that often in the process of doing the funerals he would find a link to Western New York.

It was then back to Guantanamo Bay as Command Chaplain for another two years. After that, Fr. Tim was assigned to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD where he worked with one of the battalions. He found it to be, “a great place where you’re influencing people who are going off into the future.” He mentioned that it was almost like working in a cathedral because every Sunday there would be 1,500 – 2,500 people packed in the chapel. He enjoyed it very much and called it, “an eye opening experience.”

Father Tim then joined up with the Marine Air Wing out of Cherry Point, NC and deployed for the second time with them to Iraq. He recalled, “The rule of thumb was, you fly at night with the Army and you fly in the daytime with the Marines.” He covered a good number of bases there. He was assigned to a particular air base, Aliased in the Province of Iraq. He crossed over the Euphrates River a number of times to cover a base. They were once trapped at the base for a few days and took mortar fire.

Back again in the United States he was assigned to a ship out of San Diego with the Marines. There were 5,000 people on board between the Marines and Navy. Father Tim was pastor for all the people on board, Catholics and other faiths, and mentioned, “You become very close. Ultimately, you are a city out at sea for six to ten months or longer. You do everything; you make your own water, you make your ship move, the sewage system has to work, everyone has a job and each job is important. I learned the sense of community”.

He then served in Hawaii where he said, “It was beautiful but the job was one of the most challenging jobs I’ve done.” He had the task of being involved in merging two bases together; Pearl Harbor and Hickam. They spent one and a half years merging and one and a half years managing the merger. Father Tim was the pastor of all the faiths which included the third largest synagogue of all the Hawaiian Islands as well as communities of Buddhists and even Wiccans.

Father Tim was then sent to an aircraft carrier in Norfolk, VA. They deployed for a year and then came back to work in the shipyards. Deployment was easier for them because they had a certain date when they would return. Being in the shipyards was more difficult because people came and went for uncertain time periods. It wreaked havoc on married people because it took them away from their families without clear start and finish dates. Cell phones were prohibited while in the shipyard which made communication difficult.

Boot camp in Paris Island, South Carolina is where Marines are made.  That was Fr. Tim’s most recent and final assignment as chaplain. Throughout his years spent in the Marines, he would return home from time to time. While back in Buffalo he always made it a point to introduce himself to the new bishop and ask to continue in service to the Marines. For 28 years he was granted that opportunity but Bishop Malone expressed an interest in having him return for good. Upon his return he found an opening at St. Joseph Parish in Gowanda and St. Mary in Cattaraugus filling in for the pastor, Fr. Joe Porpiglia, while he’s on sabbatical. He was assigned as temporary administrator for five months and has been enjoying meeting new people as well as re-connecting with some of the friends he made in that area when he served there years ago.

Father Tim has an older sister who lives in the Buffalo and younger brother in New York City as well as nieces and nephews from both siblings. He enjoys bike riding and kayaking which he did a lot of during his Camp Turner days. He also has an interest in older cars.

The people he ministers to make his priesthood what it is. For better or for worse, it’s the people who influence his experience as a priest. Father Tim mentioned that, “In the military you are one of them. You do the things that they do; get up early, work out, etc. There’s something different about being the chaplain. You offer that link with God that everyone needs to have. It was a beautiful role of priesthood for me. Back here it’s not different except you have separate living quarters but you are still instrumental in spiritual interaction. It’s the people who make that difference. They give you the life and the vibrancy especially now as I see the challenges we’re facing. It has a lot to do with communication and how we interpret things. Not just in church but across the U.S. We need to be that level head that brings peace back to situations. We need to slow down.” He also feels that morality needs to be brought into every situation. Sometimes moral law is in step with civil law and sometimes it is in conflict with it. He added, “We have to find the balance; to live in the present, for the future, from the past.” Communication can sometimes present a problem. Too much technology – cell phones, computers, etc. can be an obstruction to communication rather than an enhancement. He added, “The link between people goes beyond simply the physical to the spiritual. That’s an important part of our life and I think that’s what the priesthood is all about. Maybe one of the greatest challenges we have is communicating better.”

When advising men considering the priesthood, Fr. Tim recommends that they be open and listen. He tells them, “God is speaking to you right now. God is speaking to you all the time. When communicating with military recruits, he advised, “Finish out your commitment to the Navy. If God is calling, he will keep calling and you will know it when your military commitment is over. You will be more sure of your response when your time is through.” He was likely reminded of the advice given to him to attend a high school other than the Diocesan Preparatory. God calls everyone to something. We have to listen and that’s what makes the difference.

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