Sunday, April 14, 2024

The Called: Father Timothy Marcoe

Father Timothy Marcoe
Hometown: Allentown, Pa.
Education: Whitehall public schools; Millersville University; St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, Pa.
Current Assignment: Pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Danville
Tell us a little bit about your childhood.
I grew up in Allentown. I was baptized at Immaculate Conception Parish, which, interestingly enough, St. Joseph’s took a parish pilgrimage there in December on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It was neat to go back and have Mass for the first time there.
I grew up in the city with my mom, my dad, a younger sister and a younger brother. My mom was a cradle Catholic. My dad was a convert to the faith. He grew up Episcopalian. I got into doing genealogy for my family history. When I got to my dad’s side of the family, the Marcoes, I saw that when Pierre Marcoux was emigrating from France to Quebec, he was supposedly going to enter the seminary. He came as what we’d call an indentured servant, so he had to pay back the trip. He loses his vocation in all of that, gets married, has a family and eventually emigrates to Wisconsin. A couple of generations later, they became Protestant through marriage, then they moved to Camden, N.J., where my dad was born. When I was in high school, he became Catholic. It was about a 450-year cycle from Pierre supposedly to enter the seminary and becoming a priest to me actually doing that. God’s timing not our timing.
I went to Catholic school for kindergarten and first grade, and then we moved out of the city to Whitehall. Then I went to public school. I graduated from Whitehall and went to Millersville, and that’s what brought me into the Diocese of Harrisburg. I studied meteorology at Millersville and got my degree. Ever since I was in sixth grade, I wanted to be a meteorologist. When I would get in trouble as a kid, my parents knew the way to get to me was to take away the Weather Channel.
Meteorology involves tons of calculus and physics. I enjoyed it, and excelled in it. I thought it was what I was going to do for the rest of my life.
When did you start thinking about the priesthood?
I got to my junior year at Millersville, and something was unsettling. I just wasn’t sure if meteorology was what I wanted to do anymore, which totally rocked my world. I started brainstorming and came up with a list of different things. I thought maybe I’d just deal with it and go with the career anyway. I applied to grad schools and got accepted to four of them. I thought maybe I’d just get a job and go to an internship I had lined up in Huntsville, Ala. Then I thought maybe I’d go to culinary school and be a chef, or get a teacher certification to teach Earth Science. I was dating a girl at the time and thought maybe I’d get married.
I was involved in the Catholic Campus Ministry at Millersville. The first year, the campus minister was Father Bill Forrey, and the last three was Father Dan Powell. I grew in my faith and I thought, “I’m just going to ask God which of these options he wanted me to do.” I sat in prayer and listened, and one day, the thought was, “What about being a priest?” I literally laughed out loud because it caught me so off guard. I dismissed it for a little bit because it was so out of the blue, but when I would come back to prayer the thought just kept coming back.
I knew I needed to talk to somebody about it, so I talked with Father Dan. He listened a lot and helped me reflect what he was hearing. By that point, it was time for summer break and my internship in Huntsville. I couldn’t afford rent, so I wrote to all the Catholic parishes in Huntsville asking for spare rooms for a lodger. One of them got back to me, St. Joseph’s, the African-American parish. I went to live with two parishioners, Ron and Mary Jean. Mary Jean knew that I had a vocation. We never talked about it, but she had this sense. At one point, she called Father Powell and said, “I think you need to keep your eye on Tim; he has a vocation to be a priest.”
The summer went on, and we became good friends, and they came up for my ordination in 2007. He taught me all about the south, sweet tea and fried okra. At the end of the summer, they gave me my rent money back and said, “Someday, you’re going to meet someone who needs this more than you.” I have had the chance to give it back to others.
God’s hand was clearly in all of that, because Mary Jean had that sense that I had a vocation. I was away from everything that was familiar, and I had space to be open to whatever God wanted. I came back to Millersville and decided I was going to go for it. I talked to the vocations directors in Allentown and Harrisburg and got a sense where God wanted me. When I was ordained, I was the only one for Harrisburg, and Allentown had one. God wanted the score 1-1, not 2-0.
What seminary were you assigned to?
Bishop Dattilo asked me where I wanted to go the seminary, and I asked where we had the most seminarians. At the time, it was St. Vincent’s in Latrobe. I went there for six years and I loved it. The Benedictines there had a very holistic approach to formation.
What were some of your early assignments in the Diocese?
St. Joe’s in Hanover was my first assignment. Father Gotwalt was a great first pastor. I did Hispanic ministry for my four years that I was there. I enjoyed learning a new language; Bishop Dattilo and Bishop Rhoades sent me to Mexico for two summers. Learning the Hispanic culture was almost like learning how to be a priest in two different cultures. My last two years there, I was chaplain at York Catholic.
Then I went to campus ministry at Bloomsburg University and administrator of Christ the King in Benton. I loved that, loved the parish. It functioned more like a big family than it did a little parish. It was very life-giving and had a lot of fruitful ministry. The campus ministry I enjoyed. One of my students there from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was just ordained a priest last month. We had a lot of discussions about discernment, so it came full circle. When the college students are away from home, you’re kind of the father-figure. So there is spiritual growth and emotional growth.
Is there an aspect of ministry that you enjoy most?
That probably came in Abbottstown, at Immaculate Heart of Mary. All of my assignments were hard to leave, but that parish was probably the hardest to leave. I was there five years as pastor, and found what became particularly rewarding in priestly ministry. It’s providing the foundation and doing the work to provide the soil conditions so that the tree can bear good fruit. Seeing people through an evangelization process that was very intentional and took off at that parish was probably the most rewarding thing. I saw people go from being average, lukewarm Catholics to being on fire and devoted to the faith.
There’s also a relationship that forms, getting to know people on a personal level, not just on a functional level. That helps ministry take off even more, because you get to dive deeper into people’s lives.
Tell us about your time as pastor of St. Joseph’s in Danville.
I’ve really enjoyed this experience in the 13 months that I’ve been here. This experience has really stretched me to develop parts of my personality and skills to help me become a well-rounded person administratively. Congealing staff and others to have a shared mission has been part of the experience. I like it here very much. It’s a great parish and I’m very happy to be here.
What is it like to minister during a pandemic?
I consider myself creative by nature, and this has given a lot of fodder for creative opportunity. I’d never dabbled in YouTube and just recently learned how to do that with teachings, novenas, and prayer resources. We’ve used Facebook and our website for creative implementation of Mass.
It’s kind of getting old at this point. I think everybody is ready for things to kind of go back to what we’re used to. There’s an excitement in the novelty, but I think the novelty is starting to wear off.
We have Geisinger Hospital here. The chaplain for the hospital, Father Javed, is in residence here. His ministry, which also includes Maria Joseph Manor and Emmanuel Center, has been curtailed except for emergency anointing. We have a lot of doctors and nurses in the parish, so this has made for an interesting experience. We have people who will walk around the outside of the hospital to pray the Rosary for those who are sick or suffering. We’ve participated in local collections for personal protective equipment. The community has been very generous and supportive of Geisinger.
How do you prepare a homily?
One of the things I enjoy most about priesthood is preaching. We had a very direct professor when it came to Scripture, and he said, ‘For every three minutes of preaching, you need to have an hour of Scripture study.’ I would start on Monday with the readings and reflecting on them, but it didn’t feel like my style. What works for me now is, I’ll sit down usually on Saturday, read the readings and hear what the Holy Spirit is telling me. More often than not, I’ll start with a steady stream of writing it all out. It causes me to think and develop ideas. Sometimes, my openers will be from something that happened to me during the week. If I’m really in a pinch, I go back and look at what I did before. I enjoy writing homilies.
What do you like to read?
I love reading, but it’s just not my top priority. Reading for fun and reading for spiritual growth are two different things. I like both, but I tend to go in spurts. I’ll start reading, but then I’ll drop it. I like spiritual reading that has practical application value, tying together the human person with our faith, having emotional and spiritual growth together. For fun, I’m reading now the book on Mister Rogers. I recently read “A Man Called Ove,” so I do like real and fictional biographies.
What hobbies do you enjoy in your free time?
I like to go hiking. There’s a mountain with a lot of trails behind Geisinger. I like downhill skiing, but I haven’t done it in several years. I enjoy getting together with friends and family. My brother and his family live in Harrisburg, and most of my family lives in Allentown. I also like to vacation with my family. We usually go to the shore, and for a couple years we went to the Poconos. This year, we’re going back to the shore, to a place where there are not a lot of people.
I like to travel. I’ve been throughout Europe, to the Holy Land, South America, Central America, Medjugorje, Fatima. One of my favorite places, other than the beach, is Lourdes. At Lourdes, you feel profound peace. I think there are some places where the veil between heaven and earth is a little thinner, and that’s one of those places.
What might you say to young a person in college who is thinking about a religious vocation?
Be open. That’s the whole experience of discernment. It’s saying, “Ok Lord, I’m open. Here I am. What might you want me to do?” Don’t be afraid to take that openness to the next step, which is talking to someone about what you’re being open to. God works in lots of ways. He works in quiet, reflective prayer and in conversations with other people.
(Interview conducted by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)

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