DEACON ZACHARIAH CHICHESTER, soon to be Father Chichester.
DEACON ZACHARIAH CHICHESTER, soon to be Father Chichester.
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Deacon Zachariah Chichester has been an inventor, a political campaign manager, a graduate and postgrad student and a seminarian for the Albany Diocese.

On June 16, he’ll be ordained a priest in a ceremony at Albany’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Though the Diocese has a good number of men in formation for the priesthood, Deacon Chichester is the only member of the “graduating class of 2018.” It’s a self-described “massive step” — not only from his former career paths, but from his upbringing in rural Austerlitz.

“My entire life has been spent in the woods,” Deacon Chi­chester told The Evangelist; but, in the course of his priesthood studies, he served at urban Blessed Sacrament and Mater Christi parishes in Albany and at suburban Holy Trinity in Cohoes.

Ministering in the heart of cities was “out of my norm,” Deacon Chichester noted.

The middle child of five, he initially attended Chatham public schools while growing up, then was homeschooled along with his siblings. The family was “as Catholic as you can get,” he said, attending daily Mass together as part of their regimen. St. Patrick’s Church in West Stockbridge, Mass., was their home parish, since it was just three miles from home.

Inventive

Still, Deacon Chichester didn’t consider a priestly vocation back then. He attended tiny Magdalene College in New Hampshire, studying liberal arts, then went into ornate metal fabrication.

“I’m an inventor,” he said of that work. He created novelty items like the Barrage Barrel, an adapter that allows paintball guns to also shoot BBs and Airsoft pellets, and has been working for a while now on an engine he invented.

Now 36, Deacon Chichester reflects on that time with hindsight. “The Lord gives every person a set of talents and skills,” he said. “[I was] trying to exercise talents and skills He gave me. Then He asked me to do something else.”

After a few years, Deacon Chichester had a sense that he wasn’t meant to continue his initial career for the rest of his life. He enrolled at the University of Dallas, earning a master’s degree in political philosophy in 2011. He also completed an ROTC program and was commissioned as a lieutenant, but was soon discharged from military service for medical reasons.

Step back

That was when “I started asking the question, ‘What are you looking for?’” he said.

Deacon Chichester next worked as a campaign manager for a state Senate race. He said it opened his eyes to “how deceitful that whole realm is,” although he would have run for political office himself if the priesthood hadn’t panned out.

By the time the campaign was over, he’d made a promise to God to go on two retreats to try and figure out what the Lord wanted of him.

Deacon Chichester tried a couple of one-day retreats led by the Marians of the Immaculate Conception and by the Albany Diocese, but their brevity didn’t give him a clear answer. He then did an eight-day silent retreat in Massachusetts with the Oblates of the Virgin Mary.
“I finally put away all the thoughts, the busyness of the world,” he said.

In the quiet, he heard God speaking: “I would like you to be a priest.”

“I said, ‘OK.’ The rest is kind of history,” Deacon Chichester said, adding wryly: “Once all the sweat and tears ran their course.”

He went home and told his parents.

“I don’t know if they were expecting me, two days after [the retreat], to tell them I was applying,” but “they were absolutely thrilled.”

Seminary days

Friends and siblings were equally supportive. Deacon Chichester would see in the seminary that men who come from supportive Catholic homes usually get responses of joy, albeit with a little trepidation, when they announce their vocation.

Deacon Chichester attended Mundelein Seminary in Illinois. The diverse student body included men in their 20s and others in their 60s. As the seminarian re-learned how to juggle seven courses at once in a tightly-scheduled day, he also encountered 20-somethings who had no experience out of the world outside of an educational environment.

In a short biography on the diocesan vocations website (www.albanyvocations.org), he mused that having been out in the working world before seminary gave him a “fairly reasonable perspective of the way the world is: its dangers, trials, and blessings,” but admitted that “some of the guys coming right out of minor seminary find the adjustment a little smoother.”

Looking ahead

Deacon Chichester also came to see one area of ministry he hopes to focus on: helping Catholic couples prepare for marriage. He is working on an STL, a licentiate in sacred theology, which is a post-graduate degree; his thesis will be on the vocation of marriage.

“I see how much need there is for very realistic yet very faithful marriage education,” he told The Evangelist. “I’m hoping to convey that over the course of my priesthood.”

With ordination day approaching, Deacon Chichester said it would be nice to stand on the altar with other men being ordained at the same time, since he’s “never been one to seek the limelight,” but he knows that classmates will be ordained in the years to come.

Having met other priests at the parishes where he’s served — Rev. John Bradley, who’s about to retire, and Revs. James Ebert and Brian Slezak, ordained more recently — Deacon Chichester joked about having learned “proprietary priest knowledge.”

After he's ordained, he said, he’ll have the “full initiation” into priestly life.

“I don’t have any regrets,” he concluded. “The Lord let me see and do the things I needed to do to be prepared to be the priest I needed to be.”