LEWISTON – Vincentian seminarian David Serrano spent 33 days at Niagara University, volunteering, meeting with students and serving as a guest speaker.
As part of his decision to enter the priesthood, Serrano, 28, was required to perform one month of apostolic mission work. He chose to come to Monteagle Ridge, where he lived in community at the Vincentian Residence at Niagara University.
Despite having been here during the coldest February on record, Serrano said he found the people at Niagara University warm and welcoming, which made him feel at home, right away.
During his stay, which ended on March 2, most of his weekdays were dedicated to assisting at Heart, Love and Soul Food Pantry and dining room in Niagara Falls. He would serve guests breakfast and lunch, and help as needed, stocking the pantry, surveying guests, cleaning, retrieving food donations and even translating. His authentic guacamole became a food pantry kitchen favorite, almost as popular as his relentless work ethic and disarming personality.
“I think the experience at Heart, Love and Soul and the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store really opened David’s eyes to the needs of the area, especially the poor and homeless he was serving,” said Rev. William Allegretto, who was Serrano’s pastoral mentor.
Allegretto said Serrano had lived in larger cities, such as New York and Philadelphia, but didn’t fully understand that Niagara Falls faces some of the same challenges as larger cities.
“David pitched in with just about everything,” said Sister Beth Brosmer, executive director of Heart, Love and Soul, “Mostly though, I will remember the way he listened with his heart to the stories of our guests.”
Serrano began his journey to the Vincentian priesthood in Veracruz, Mexico, where he was born and lived until middle school. His family moved to the United States, settling in Gastonia, N.C., where he and his family joined Our Lady of Guadalupe in Charlotte, the only Catholic parish that celebrated all its masses in Spanish.
It was at Our Lady of Guadalupe that he got to know the Vincentians and met his mentor, church pastor Rev. James Finnerty. After graduating from high school he entered the discernment house to live with a community of priests.
“I saw guys who were living simply and were very happy with what they were doing,” Serrano said. “I saw that they were simple men living and working together – and they were very happy. They were genuinely happy with their ministry. I said (to myself,) ‘I think I can do that.’ ”
Serrano spent one year in the discernment house before leaving, at the request of the Vincentians, to ponder whether the priesthood was for him. For the next five years, he landscaped, cleaned professional offices, worked in promotions at a Hispanic radio station and even performed as a clown. But he said something was pulling him back to the priesthood.
He entered the Vincentian formation in Queens, and enrolled in St. John’s University to study philosophy. After he earned his bachelor’s degree, he went to Germantown, Pa. , to begin the internal seminary process, part of which includes the month–long apostolic mission, a requirement that led him to Niagara Falls and the Niagara University campus.
“David is an exceptional role model for Niagara students,” said Allegretto. “It was wonderful to have this young person so involved in religious life.”