Vocation Director's Story
Message from The Vocation Director
Greetings! My name is Fr. Andrew Lauricella. I am happily serving you as Director of Vocations for the Diocese of Buffalo. While everybody whom God calls to priesthood has a unique story about their calling, I am delighted to share with you my own.
As I begin, I must acknowledge my parents for all of the care that they have taken to instill the Catholic faith and values in me. It was definitely their care that laid the framework through which I came to discover my vocation. Among other things, going to Mass on Sunday was always a priority. Belonging to St. Margaret’s Church in Buffalo, NY, I recall watching the priests at Mass as a young boy. Even though I was not yet old enough to appreciate the significance of the Mass, or the meanings of the priests’ actions, I did have a feeling that there was something very special about what they were doing. As I grew, and attended St. Margaret’s School, I came to appreciate the parish priests as men whom the community looked up to, and I observed how people from the community would turn to them for guidance and consolation when they were experiencing their worst difficulties or facing the biggest decisions that they would have to make. Simply put, I saw a profoundness and attractiveness to the priests’ work.
When I was in the sixth grade my class was visited by Fr. Robert Wozniak, the Director of Vocations at the time. He spoke to my class about his vocation story, and spoke about the joy that he would experience when he would baptize babies, share Christ’s mercy through the sacrament of reconciliation, unite couples in Holy Matrimony, bring peace and healing to those on their deathbeds, celebrate the Holy Eucharist with the faithful and carry out many other pastoral ministries. The joy that he spoke of while doing these ministries made priesthood appeal to me more than it ever had before. It was after hearing this that I first began to wonder if priesthood was my own vocation.
Over the next while my thoughts of priesthood had weaned considerably. After graduating from St. Margaret’s school in 1999 I began my freshman year at Cardinal O’Hara High School. At O’Hara I met Fr. Leon Biernat, who was the school chaplain as well as the next Director of Vocations for the Diocese of Buffalo. While Fr. Leon encouraged me to consider priesthood frequently over the next four years, I was not very inclined to think seriously about my future. Although I knew that I would eventually have to come up with a plan for what to pursue after graduating, I often put it off, telling myself that I would cross that bridge once I get to it.
Once my senior year came, I grew quite anxious because I was still unsuccessful in determining the most fitting career path for me to pursue. I felt that I wanted some career through which I would be able to help people be their best, but I couldn’t narrow the possibilities down to anything specific. I did briefly consider being a teacher, and a counseling psychologist, but not with much conviction. Unable to decide on a career, I decided to enroll in a two year program at Erie County Community College (ECC), take the general education courses that would be necessary for any degree program, and then transfer into a degree program at another college after affording myself an additional two years to explore career possibilities and the respective curriculum at suitable colleges. After making this arrangement, I felt a little less anxious since I now had a plan to follow graduation, but I was not completely satisfied as many questions and uncertainties remained.
Shortly after I applied and received my acceptance letter to ECC, Fr. Leon approached me and invited me to consider priesthood one last time. This time he went into a little bit more detail and explained that the Diocese of Buffalo had a discernment program called the Pope John Paul II Residence. He explained how it was a community of college students who felt called to priesthood, and its mission was to assist the gentlemen as they explored their vocations. He also mentioned that D’Youville College was very accommodating to the program, and that I could attend there while fulfilling all of my prerequisites for graduate studies at Christ the King Seminary should I enroll eventually. Upon hearing this, it sounded remarkably fitting for me—almost too good to be true. One advantage that I appreciated was that I would not be bound to complete the program should I come to realize that priesthood was not for me. This gave me peace of mind.
Over the next couple of weeks following Fr. Leon’s pitch for the Pope John Paul II Residence, thoughts of priesthood began to resurface. They came subtlety at first, but the more I considered them the more they made a sense that I couldn’t deny. Eventually, I had feeling deep down in my gut that the most fitting thing for me to do was to change my plans and pursue enrollment in the Pope John Paul II Residence. The feeling would get stronger, but then I would “come to my senses” and deny it. Yet, the Holy Spirit was showing me gently yet undeniably, one hint at a time that I was meant to be a priest. However, at the same time, I did not consider myself to be the least bit qualified. My practice of the Catholic faith was at a bare minimum. Basically, I went to Mass on Sunday and prayed when I wanted something. I knew little to nothing about the saints, devotional practices, special traditions, canon law, Church history or even the sacraments. I knew that there were other people my age who knew so much more about such things, and I considered them to be much more qualified for priesthood than I was. Nonetheless, I was feeling the nudge of the Holy Spirit growing stronger. This puzzled me. I just could not understand why God would be so persistent in calling somebody to priesthood with so little qualification. Somehow, I eventually remembered that God knows what’s best, even if His plan doesn’t seem to make sense. Upon realizing that, I finally mustered up enough courage and confidence to approach Fr. Leon and take the next step in pursuing what God was calling me to. I made an appointment with him, and shared that our last conversation had really gotten me thinking about priesthood more deeply than ever before, and that through my prayers I had been led to believe that pursing priesthood would be the right choice for me. With bated breath I waited for his response. It was a response that I cannot forget. He said to me: “Andrew, for three and a half years I’ve been praying that we would have this conversation. Now, just as I give up, you come to me! Had I known, I would’ve given up sooner!” To this day we still laugh about this. Father Leon then encouraged me to pursue what the Holy Spirit had been inviting me to, and then guided me through the application process for the Pope John Paul II Residence.
The year was 2003. In the Spring I graduated from Cardinal O’Hara High School, and in the Fall I moved into the Pope John Paul II Residence. Upon entering, I told myself that I would do so with an open mind and open heart, and that I would take this new endeavor one year at a time. From 2003 to 2007 I was living at the Pope John Paul II residence while studying at D’Youville College. I was majoring in philosophy and taking some religious studies courses. At D’Youville, I enjoyed many interactions with the college’s small yet diverse student body. In 2007 I graduated from D’Youville and began my graduate studies in theology at Christ the King Seminary, and graduated in 2012. During my time at Christ the King I enjoyed pastoral learning placements at Immaculate Conception Church in Wellsville, Fourteen Holy Helpers in West Seneca, St. Andrew’s in Kenmore, Cephas Prison Ministries and Viva La Casa Refugee Shelter. At the end of each of the nine years of my schooling, I felt in my heart that I was meant to proceed to the next year in pursuit of priesthood. However, when November of 2011 arrived, my journey took me to a new height. It was time for my ordination to the transitional diaconate, which would be the first step into the sacrament of Holy Orders. While I felt certain that I had been following the right path for the past nine years, I was definitely a bit nervous as I saw the next big step drawing closer. I felt that it was the right step to take, but I was also looking for assurance that I was ready to take it. It was very difficult for me to believe that what I had been anticipating for nine years was about to come to fruition, and I was frantically looking for a “green light”-- something that would indicate that everything was in order and that I was ready to proceed. As much as I was looking for this sure feeling, I eventually realized that I had to step forward in faith if I believed that this was what God had planned for me.
On November 4, 2011 I was ordained by Bishop Edward Kmiec to the transitional diaconate. Yes, I had butterflies in my stomach as the big moment was approaching, but I also felt a tremendous encouragement from the large group of friends and family that had come to support me in prayer and cheer that evening. When the moment came, and Bishop Kmiec laid his hands on me, I felt something indescribable. It was a peace and a strengthening that I had never felt before. Moments before the ceremony I was nervous, and moments after I felt that I experienced the coming of something that was meant to be my whole life. Upon being ordained as a deacon, I was assigned as a deacon to St. Andrew’s Parish in Kenmore, where I spent most weekends while completing the academic year at the seminary. This was a real joy and privilege.
In May of 2012 I graduated with a Master’s of Divinity degree from Christ the King, and on June 2, 2012 I was ordained a priest by Bishop Kmiec. Like my diaconate ordination, this too was moving and joy-filled event, and ushered in a new era in my life. My academic career of twenty-two consecutive years was now ending, and I was beginning my ministerial career.
Upon ordination to the priesthood I was assigned as parochial vicar to St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Niagara Falls for a term of three years, lasting until 2015. These years were filled with more blessings than I could ever account for. I had numerous encounters with Christ in His people, and I definitely experienced the joys and fulfillment of priesthood that I heard Fr. Rob Wozniak testify to some fifteen years prior. Outside of the parish, I had also befriended a number of youth ministers, campus ministers, and people involved in young adult ministry.
In April of 2015 I was asked by Bishop Malone to take the position of Director of Vocations for the Diocese of Buffalo. Without question, I was honored to be considered for this position, but it also came as a huge surprise. As I had felt about entering seminary years before, the position seemed too lofty for my qualifications. Yet, I was amazed by the numerous favorable recommendations that other priests had expressed for me. I heard that one of the qualities seen in me that was becoming of a good vocation director was my happiness. That I couldn’t deny. My three years of priesthood had undoubtedly been the happiest years of my life. By this point it became clear to me that while God did call me to priesthood, He continues to call me to new endeavors, and sometimes to other kinds of ministry. As I had realized just before my diaconate ordination, the right thing to do was to go in faith to where God called me, even though it was not going to be a piece of cake. I knew that it would be very difficult to draw such a wonderful experience at St. Vincent de Paul to a close, but I also trusted that God’s plan is for the best, and that perhaps within the affirmation that I was receiving from my brother priests was the voice of God calling me from the nets that I had been using and into deeper water. In faith I stepped forward.
In June of 2015 I began my new role as Director of Vocations for the Diocese of Buffalo. As can be expected, this change came with many adjustments. The biggest adjustment was going from helping people to be disciples of Christ, to now helping them to be leaders. As big as this adjustment was, with every day that goes by, my feeling grows stronger that this is where God wants me. I am thankful for all who assisted me in making this transition. To name a few, Fr. Walt Szczesny, the previous vocation director, has gone out of his way to advise and guide me along my new path. Michele Passafiume, my secretary, has helped me to get acclimated to the office, and has extended many courtesies to me. Last but not least, Bishop Richard Malone continues to be very appreciative of my taking this position, and looks after me with a leader’s heart.
Whether you are reading this as a friend of mine, as someone called to priesthood or religious life, or even as a friend or family member of a discerner, what I wish to leave you with is that God has a plan for you, and nothing will bring you more happiness and fulfilment than following His plan.
- Father Andrew Lauricella
- Director of Vocations