Wednesday, July 17, 2024

The Called: Father John Kuchinski

Father John Kuchinski

Father John Kuchinski
Hometown: Lancaster
Education: St. Leo the Great School in Rohrerstown, public school in Chelmsford, Mass., Lancaster Catholic High School, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, Pontifical North American College in Rome
Current Assignment: Pastor of Immaculate Conception BVM Parish in York
Tell me a little bit about your childhood.
When I think back, the most important thing for me was that I learned the faith from my parents. My siblings and I went to Catholic school for most of our upbringing, or religious education when we were in public school, and we were always involved in the Church, but my parents taught us the faith and what that meant.
I am one of four. I have an older brother, a younger brother and a younger sister. We went to Mass every Sunday, every Holy Day. That was tremendously important; it was always the priority. It was always clear from my parents that this is what we do.
My parents were always very supportive of my vocation. I’m also very proud of my dad, who is currently in the Permanent Diaconate Formation Program. Our whole family is looking forward with a lot of excitement to his ordination in June.
When did you first consider the priesthood?
It didn’t seem out of the norm, but it wasn’t something that I ever thought about until I was in high school. We were always very close to the priests in our parish wherever we were, but it was never something that actually crossed my mind, at least that I remember, until I was in high school.
It was gradual. There are key moments, when I look back, that I remember thinking about it. I link it to Confirmation. I was Confirmed in the spring of my eighth-grade year, and then when I got to high school, it began to grow. It was around that time that Bishop Rhoades and Father LaVoie began the Quo Vadis Days retreat. That was in 2005. Right when I had begun thinking about the priesthood, all of a sudden this opportunity appears and I was lucky enough to be able to go to Quo Vadis Days. That really helped the trajectory of my discernment through high school in terms of letting the desire grow.
Because it was gradual, I guess I was always comfortable with it. Yes it was challenging and there were aspects that were overwhelming, but it just seemed right.
For someone considering a religious vocation, what does discernment mean? Is it ongoing?
It continues through seminary. I remember when I got to St. Charles, there was a point where the rector met with all the parents and talked about how discernment is continuous. Entering the seminary doesn’t mean it’s too late to turn back. Discernment is recognizing “Where is God calling me?” within the context of the Body of Christ. It takes a while to get there with any vocation. It’s considering, “Where is God calling me?” What is he giving me to do?”
What was your seminary experience?
I enjoyed my time in seminary. St. Charles was great. I remember when we got there, and those big imposing buildings looked so magnificent from the outside. Inside, it was like you were walking back in time. I have a number of classmates that are not just from our Diocese who I still keep in touch with. I still look back and have great memories of praying in St. Martin’s Chapel. I remember very clearly my first 40 Hours there. We stopped classes, and it was a beautiful memory of prayer.
Then Bishop McFadden asked if I would study in Rome. I found out right before Christmas, and it wasn’t exactly the Christmas gift I was expecting. I was overwhelmed by what an opportunity it would be. I am very close to my family, I am not an adventurous person at all, so I had some concern about going. My dad told me to pray about it and say yes.
The preference of the seminary in Rome is that, the summer between the first and second year, you can have any kind of pastoral or language-related experience you want, but you just can’t go home. I went there in the summer of 2012, and it was two years before I was able to see the United States again. I was lucky that my family came to visit in the meantime.
During my first year there, Pope Benedict announced his resignation – something that I never thought I would experience. I was there for the election of Pope Francis, and it’s one of the most positive memories that stands out. I witnessed the smoke coming out of the Sistine Chapel and saw Pope Francis come out on the balcony.
Traveling by myself, learning another language, experiencing another culture, they were all positive experiences that helped me to grow.
You were ordained to the priesthood in 2016. Is the priesthood what you imagined it would be?
For anybody, as they’re embarking on a major career, a life choice or even getting married, you walk in with expectations. You’ve been thinking about it for a certain way for a certain amount of time, and you’ve probably dwelled on the appealing aspects of it rather than the challenging or frustrating ones. The answer to the question is yes and no, and I think that would be true for anybody in anything. In some ways, it has surpassed what I thought it could be, and it has challenged me. But I would say that it isn’t limited to the vision I had when I first entered the seminary.
What is your ministry like at St. Mary’s?
St. Mary’s is an amazing parish. The church itself is extraordinary, but I don’t want to be distracted by that because the parish is the people. The people are faithful, kind, generous, loving, forgiving and patient. They’re all sorts of wonderful words.
It is the Hispanic parish in York, and I was kind of prepared for that at my previous assignment in Gettysburg, where I relearned Spanish. The Hispanic community in York is diverse, and so the ways of speaking Spanish are diverse.
As far as regular things go, I do a lot of things in English and in Spanish. We have active prayer groups. There is a hospital up the road, and Father Charles is our full-time hospital chaplain, but I go there to visit parishioners. We have a very vibrant religious education program. We had more than 50 baptisms and 21 weddings last year. There’s a lot going on.
What do you enjoy most about being a priest?
Celebrating the sacraments: Mass, baptisms, sitting in the confessional, visiting people for the Anointing of the Sick. Those are everyday but meaningful moments. It’s always edifying when you can see the lightbulb going on for somebody, and to be a privileged witness to other people’s journeys. The priesthood is not a miserable, dour, painful existence. It has its unique challenges, but it also has some extraordinary blessings.

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