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Becoming men of the cloth; 3 new priests celebrate finding their true calling

The Rev. Jeffrey L. Nowak is fluent enough in Spanish to have preached to the Hispanic community on Buffalo's West Side.

The Rev. Sean Paul Fleming worked in retail, fundraising and information technology before finding his true calling, which he first considered in high school during a conversation with the principal.

And the Rev. Andrew R. Lauricella said he knew what he wanted to do when he was 12 and has been working toward it ever since.

The three were ordained as priests Saturday during a two-hour ceremony in St. Joseph Cathedral that featured laughter, tradition and sincerity, and packed the first to the last pew.

In a diocese known for its graying priesthood, the relative youth of the three -- the oldest is 32 -- was duly noted.

"We got them young this time," said Bishop Edward U. Kmiec, who conferred the sacrament.

Kmiec, the outgoing bishop of the Buffalo Diocese, struck a jovial note throughout the ceremony.

"Welcome to the ordination of these three men," Kmiec said. " And happily, I'm standing on this altar to ordain them," he added to the laughter of those gathered.

As of January, the diocese had 177 active priests, down from 285 in 2000 and 417 in 1990. The diocese census also counted 109 religious-order priests -- including Franciscans and Jesuits -- a decrease from 191 in 2000 and 235 in 1990.

"The numbers are down, but we know that," Kmiec said after the service. "It's been that way for a goodly number of years. Nevertheless, men are still stepping up to become priests."

Kmiec noted that the diocese still has at least one resident priest in every parish.

"It's always going to be a challenge," Kmiec said. "But nevertheless, we're just really happy to have these three men join us."

After the presentation of gifts, the many clerics gathered hugged and congratulated their new colleagues. The three also were honored with a standing ovation that lasted more than a minute.

When the applause stopped, Kmiec said, "You did it [the ovation] spontaneously, but I was going to ask you to do it anyway." As the ceremony neared its close, the three priests got some fatherly advice from Kmiec.

"A family priest turns into a family chaplain," he said. "Every family should have a priest."

Nowak, 32, grew up in Lackawanna and graduated from St. Francis High School before studying at Canisius College.

"One of the greatest ways that I found fulfillment was entering into the seminary, engaging in ministry in the church and it was brought to fruition today," he said.

"It's been a very interesting venture along the way," Nowak added. "I've been as far as Orleans and Chautauqua counties to right here in downtown Buffalo."

He has been assigned to St. John Vianney Parish in Orchard Park.

Fleming, 30, graduated from St. Francis High School and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy.

Though he has had many role models who were priests, the idea of becoming a priest was suggested by the principal when he was a student at St. Francis.

"He just asked me, 'Have you ever thought of becoming a priest?' " said Fleming. "And that sort of awakened a serious thought about it."

He is assigned to St. John the Baptist Parish in the Town of Tonawanda.

At 27, Lauricella was the youngest to be ordained Saturday. But becoming a priest has been on his mind for quite some time.

"It's just a feeling I've always had deep within myself since I was 12 years old," he said.

A graduate of Cardinal O'Hara High School and D'Youville College, he is assigned to St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Niagara Falls.