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Priest-in-training finds fulfillment in serving

NIAGARA FALLS -- Thomas Roman started on-the-job training last month at Prince of Peace Catholic Church.

Roman, 37, a student from Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, is helping parishioners while he puts in a year experiencing what life as a priest is like.

He already likes the job and his new surroundings.

"They all seem like very nice people," Roman said last week of his new parishioners.

He is in the middle of his seminary education. After he finishes his year at Prince of Peace, he'll go back to Christ the King to finish his schooling.

The Catholic Church has changed how it educates aspiring priests, Roman said, and now gives them a chance to serve a sort of internship in the midst of their schooling.

Those who have second thoughts about priestly service during such a journey -- and that's rare, said Roman -- won't be judged by this seminarian.

"I think the important thing to remember is everybody has a different calling and no calling is better than another one," he said.

Roman said he felt the call to become a priest when he was in his early 20s. He doesn't plan to change his mind about serving the church.

That became clear during his previous service, at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Buffalo and Our Lady of Czestochowa in North Tonawanda, and while ministering to the sick in Buffalo General Hospital.

"I think just seeing a lot of things people going through is really moving," Roman said. "A lot of people really suffer."

Roman also said that working at Vive, a refugee camp in Canada, helped him realize how priests can be a great help.

"To be able to be of service to other people is an attraction, I think, to the priesthood," he said.

Roman, who hails from Harrisville, Mich., along Lake Huron, said his parents are happy with what he is doing.

"He really has tenacity," said his mother, Cindy. "He really hangs in there."

After trying out several places and ways of serving God, Cindy Roman said her son met with the Rev. Leon J. Biernat, the Diocese of Buffalo's vocations director.

"He talked to Tom, and it was like a light went on," Cindy Roman said, adding that her son found a purpose in working as a diocesan priest.

His father, Walter, said Thomas is the youngest of their five children. Perhaps one of his son's defining moments on his way to becoming a priest was when he counciled women who were entering an abortion clinic in Detroit.

"It really touched his heart. He's very strongly against abortion," Roman's mother said.

Margaret "Peggy" Beaton, who serves on the Prince of Peace Parish Council, said, "What strikes me about Tom is that he's really dedicated his life to service."

Beaton also said Roman gives wonderful talks in the church.

The Rev. Robert S. Hughson, pastor of Prince of Peace Church, said he welcomes Roman as a seminarian.

"I think he's very gifted," Hughson said, "and I think from the time that he's been here, I think we've seen a lot of attributes which will serve the church well once he's an ordained priest in a few years."

e-mail: pkowalik@buffnews.com

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