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home : features : people of faith

6/15/2017 9:00:00 AM
'GRADUATION DAY'
New priest is marking days till ordination
There's an app on Deacon John Cronin's smart­phone that counts down the days until his priestly ordination for the Albany Diocese. He's been checking it compulsively.

"Maybe I should stop doing that," he admitted. It's been spurring him to stay up nights, practicing for the June 17 ordination Mass at Albany's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and planning his first Mass as a priest, to be held at St. Madeleine Sophie parish in Schenectady.

Much of soon-to-be-Father Cronin's vocation seems focused on time. It took a long time for him to answer God's call -- so much so that, when he told friends and family that he was finally entering the seminary, they said, "It's about time!"

The newest priest of the Diocese was raised in St. Brigid's parish in Watervliet (now part of Immaculate Heart of Mary parish). His was a family of faith; he attended Mass with his parents, Jack and Clementine, and his brother and sister, and remembers saying grace at meals and watching his grandmother pray the Rosary.

Other than that, he said, "we didn't have deep spiritual conversations."

Instead, he found happy inspiration from his pastor, Rev. Joseph Grabys. Deacon Cronin remembers the priest crossing the schoolyard with children swinging from his arms, eager to play with him.

"He stood out," said Deacon Cronin. "I'm sure he had his worries [about] running the parish, but you never saw that." What was evident was Father Grabys' "kindness, joy and faithfulness."

As a 10-year-old altar server, Deacon Cronin served at a Good Friday service. He was struck by Father Grabys' simple explanation of what great love it showed that Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross: "He said it's the most clear way to know somebody loves you, if they're ready to give their life for you. I had goose pimples."

As inspired as the young boy was to consider priesthood, a lynchpin of his story is that he and his siblings were adopted. Deacon Cronin always knew his origins and believed it was a grace from God that he'd found a loving family, but he struggled with anger over feeling rejected by his birth parents.

That anger extended to God. Eventually, he drifted away from the faith. By college, he was exploring different belief systems. He'd make the sign of the cross every night, holding onto that gesture, but he felt empty.

Aimlessness affected other parts of his life, too. "I was a bit of a drifter in different fields," Deacon Cronin told The Evangelist.

He studied psychology, government and politics at Manhattan College and earned a master's degree in educational psychology and statistics from The University at Albany, even starting a Ph.D. program, but he was unhappy with that path.

He did know he wanted to help people. He ended up on the "substitute circuit," spending seven years as a substitute teacher in schools around the Capital Region. To make the payments on his student loans, he managed a Rite Aid drugstore in Schenectady on the side.

In his 30s, Deacon Cronin also came back to the Church, realizing that God had always been present in his life, even when he hadn't believed it: "It was I who turned my eyes from Him."

At St. Madeleine Sophie, his new parish, he became a catechist. He spent time in prayer. What had been a curiosity question in his 20s -- "What if I had stayed the course and become a priest?" -- now turned into a persistent tug at his soul.

Finally, he told Rev. John Provost, a personal friend who is pastor of St. Mary's parish in Albany. "You're not too old," Father Provost told him.

It didn't take long for Deacon Cronin to apply for consideration as a seminarian for the Diocese.

"As soon as I took those steps, I knew: It just felt right," he said. When he'd ask himself, "Why didn't I do this sooner?" he would think, "I may have needed all those experiences" in order to be ready.

Starting at age 41, Deacon Cronin attended Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass., along with other "second-career priests." He said it was disconcerting to readjust to academic life, but he liked being around other mature men who also wanted to let go of careers and secular success to serve God.

As ordination day approaches, Deacon Cronin, now 46, has been thinking a lot about what it means to be a priest.

"It's definitely not a 9-to-5 job," he stated. "You wear so many hats. You have to be a manager, a custodian. You always have to be receptive to people, no matter how you might feel that day."

A priest's treatment of parishioners can even break their faith, he said: "It takes so little to turn someone away from God. You always have to 'be Christ' for these people -- and you might even get yelled at. We represent much more than ourselves."

Because he struggled with his own faith, Deacon Cronin hopes the compassion he developed will serve him well in ministry.

"I have come back and experienced God's mercy and grace," he said. "I have compassion for people who are struggling, and try to speak to them with gentleness and invitation."

During his formation, Deacon Cronin served at parishes in Massachusetts and at All Saints in Albany and St. Mary's in Clinton Heights. St. Mary's in Albany became an extra "home parish" for him, too.

Right after ordination, the new priest will undergo hip replacement surgery, so his placement in a parish will have to wait a bit. While he'd like to be assigned by Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger to a parish with a school, where his background in education can be put to good use, he's not too concerned about that.

"Wherever I'm sent, there will be people who need a priest," he said. "That's all that really matters."





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