Rev. Daniel Quinn, ordained last weekend along with Rev. Michael Taylor by Bishop Howard J. Hubbard in a ceremony at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany, kneels before the Bishop, promising to respect and obey him and his successors. (Nate Whitchurch photo)
Rev. Daniel Quinn, ordained last weekend along with Rev. Michael Taylor by Bishop Howard J. Hubbard in a ceremony at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany, kneels before the Bishop, promising to respect and obey him and his successors. (Nate Whitchurch photo)
As a sixth-grader, Deacon Daniel Quinn dreamed up a contingency plan in case of his pastor's absence from Mass: He'd be the substitute.

"I could do that, and I think I would enjoy it," the boy mused. "If Father [Joseph] Barker can't be here next week, I think I have it all memorized."

This weekend, Father Barker will vest Deacon Quinn with a stole and chasuble as the 29-year-old is ordained to the priesthood for the Albany Diocese. The elder priest will also bequeath his personal chalice - the one from which Deacon Quinn took his First Communion - to Deacon Quinn.

Even though the priesthood now seems like a natural fit for Deacon Quinn, he didn't always expect to be led to it.

Educated in public schools, Deacon Quinn - taking a cue from his two brothers and parents - immersed himself in activities at his parish, St. Patrick's (now part of Holy Trinity) in Johnstown. He was a choir member, altar server, lector, eucharistic minister and food pantry and meal delivery volunteer.

"We would help out with anything," he said of his family.

But he didn't seriously consider the priesthood until after high school. A self-described "music nerd," Deacon Quinn earned a two-year degree in liberal arts from Fulton-Montgomery Community College before entering SUNY Fredonia to study technical theater.

The Johnstown pastor at the time, Rev. James Fitzmaurice, encouraged the student to choose a double major in philosophy, realizing that Deacon Quinn might eventually enter the seminary.

Midway through college, Deacon Quinn corresponded with Rev. James Walsh of the diocesan Vocations Team, and also began discerning a vocation with the help of friends with similar leanings from his college's Newman Center for Catholic students.

He earned his degree and worked for a theater company in Chautauqua, painting scenery and building sets. He even got to reproduce a Picasso painting: "That was a lot of fun, [but] I felt that I was, in some ways, made for more."

As much as he enjoyed playwrights William Shakespeare and Arthur Miller, the future priest preferred the Word of God.

"The Christian message is so much more universal and comprehensive and important," he explained.

A priest, he added, is someone "who leads a community in prayer and leads a community in life. I wanted to be that person."

At first, Deacon Quinn struggled to accept celibacy and obedience. But he decided not to date in college and realized he could happily give up his sexuality.

"I would not want to do it begrudgingly," he said. "I want it to be a gift."

Deacon Quinn took the leap: He applied to be considered for priesthood for the Albany Diocese and spent two years studying philosophy and religion at Siena College in Loudonville, then entered St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore in 2006.

During his studies, he served at Catholic Charities' Camp Scully on Snyder's Lake and Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Watervliet, St. Teresa of Avila in Albany (now part of Mater Christi parish), St. Ambrose in Latham and other parishes with large Hispanic populations, plus parishes and a hospital in Baltimore.

Many lessons
"You meet people in a hospital at a very odd moment in their life," Deacon Quinn recalled. "It's great to bring some sort of comfort to them. I found I could pray with people rather easily. That has helped me to be a more compassionate person."

At one parish with more than 2,000 members, he led an RCIA group for people converting to Catholicism. He learned from the pastor about being an effective administrator: "You don't need to be a micromanager. The people of God can carry out Christ's work without the pastor looking over everyone's shoulders."

Deacon Quinn spent two summers in a Spanish-language immersion program in Bolivia. Families there practiced a mix of Christianity and indigenous Andean religions, often asking him to do "magic" and make ghosts disappear.

He learned respect for all cultures: "Our strength as a community comes not from being homogenous, but having a variety," he said, adding that this provided him with perspective regarding parish mergers and closures back home.

When he's not working, Deacon Quinn enjoys reading fiction and theology, theater and carpentry. As a priest, he most looks forward to celebrating Mass - "having that mediator's role between God and people [and] those central mysteries of the faith. It's the high point of the week. I just feel so happy to be able to pray [ancient prayers] for everyone. I feel so privileged."

Priests and people
Like many laypeople, Deacon Quinn found the recent changes in the liturgy awkward at first, "but the more I've been practicing it, I like it a lot," he said. "They're big, long, complicated sentences; but when I'm reading it, it's just one big outpouring of prayer. And I think it works liturgically and practically."

He said that Catholics need to defend good priests in light of the sexual abuse crisis: "I think we're going to be stronger now because of this. I'm still happy that we're held to a high standard. I think we're going to have a very good presbyterate in the future. We have to be builders of community. We have to bring people together despite the loss of buildings. We need to rebuild the community and build a bigger sense of identity as Catholics."

Deacon Quinn said he feels proud to enter the priesthood as a young man at a time when vocations are declining: "I'll definitely be able to show that the priesthood isn't just an 'old guy' thing. I hope that I can put a young face on the priesthood. It's a brotherhood that spans all ages."

The first time Deacon Michael Taylor set foot in a Catholic church was to research a role for his high school musical. He's come a long way: This weekend, he'll be ordained a priest for the Albany Diocese.

Catholicism was considered cultish in his hometown of Warner Robins, Ga., which had 75,000 people and only one Catholic parish. Deacon Taylor, cast as a priest in the school play, was messing up his role - so he drove to a church seeking education.

He went to another town to keep from being spotted. Entering during a liturgy, he was immediately puzzled by the "swinging ball of smoke" (incense), the cross "with a guy on [it]" and Mass-goers' constant "interrupting" with prayer responses. As for the missal, it "might as well have been in Chinese," he remembered.

He mirrored the people in the pews as they sat, stood and kneeled. Then it was time for the Eucharist.

"This priest was all about this piece of bread," said Deacon Taylor. He was familiar with the concept of communion, but "I couldn't figure out why this priest thought it was so important."

Sense of humor
The visit sparked something. "Catholics were so weird that I was just curious. I joke with people that my conversion was an intellectual exercise that got out of hand."

As the 28-year-old (whose real first name is James) looked toward his priestly ordination, he remarked that "looking back on it now, I kind of realize God's chuckling on multiple levels."

Deacon Taylor grew up in a military town. He and his brother attended Sunday school and worship services at Methodist, Pentecostal Church of God and non-denominational churches.

"I probably visited every denomination except for Catholic," he told The Evangelist.

His mother was the heart of the family's faith: "She'd give us a quarter for every Bible verse memorized," he said. One summer, he earned $15.

But when Deacon Taylor was a high school junior, his mother lost her battle with breast cancer. It caused a "crisis of faith" for the teenager.

"I couldn't understand where God was in all of this," he said. "I was in a fog for months. I just started positing God as this foreign concept [and] just kind of succumbed to the numbness of that time."

His parents had also divorced a few years earlier, causing a tense relationship between Deacon Taylor and his father. The teen lived with a friend his senior year of high school, before entering the University of Georgia and enrolling in the Army ROTC program.

After his peek at a Catholic church, he delved into the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Church history and other books about the faith. As a college freshman, he entered a Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program for people interested in converting.

Despite discouragement from family and a social stigma in the South against his decision, he became Catholic in 2003. Deacon Taylor found solace in his campus' Newman Center; he even studied ancient Greek to better understand the Bible and led a Bible study group.

"It meant something to say ['I'm] Catholic,'" Deacon Taylor said.

"It was almost like you knew what you were about. Finally being able to receive the Eucharist was awesome."

By his junior year, Deacon Taylor had a life plan. He had received a two-year Army scholarship and would be commissioned for four years of active and four years of reserve service. He planned to earn his political science degree and maybe attend law school after his military service. He was thinking of proposing to his girlfriend.

But the idea of ministry - something he had pondered in high school - returned to his mind.

Vocation spark
"There was something there, but I just ignored it for a while," he remembered. Close friends and even his girlfriend started telling him he'd make a good priest. The Newman Center chaplain seemed to sense his vocation, too.

Deacon Taylor started attending vocations retreats. He felt angry at God for interfering with his plans, but came to realize that "He was just asking me to follow Him, one step at a time."

At one of the retreats, he met Rev. James Walsh of the Vocations Team for the Albany Diocese. Deacon Taylor dated his girlfriend until the end of his junior year ("I felt like I was cheating on her when I was at church"), then interned as a military chaplain and applied to be a priest of the Albany Diocese before his senior year, getting a service delay.

Albany "felt like the place God was calling me to," he explained, pointing out that there's a town named Albany in Georgia, as well.

Deacon Taylor was commissioned as a second lieutenant and a seminarian at Mundelein Seminary at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Ill., after graduation.

It was the year before news of the U.S. clergy sexual abuse scandal broke.

"You learn that the frailties of the human condition exist even in the priesthood," the future priest said. "There's something greater to Catholicism than its members. For some reason, I was able to see, 'This [crisis] isn't the faith.'"

Deacon Taylor believes that men of his generation will continue to enter the priesthood because it's now seen as counter-cultural.

"There's just something about Catholics that drives people insane," he said. "I want people to encounter Christ. I think we want to believe in a truth beyond ourselves."

As he studied for the priesthood, Deacon Taylor served at parishes in Illinois and South Carolina and at St. Peter's parish in Saratoga, Blessed Sacrament in Albany, St. Jude's in Wynantskill and, for a year, at Corpus Christi parish in Round Lake. In his spare time, he enjoys running and playing bluegrass and country music on his guitar.

After his ordination, Deacon Taylor will serve as a parish priest for two years before turning to military service. He looks forward to celebrating Mass and hearing confessions.

He has repaired the relationship with his father; his brother is engaged to a Catholic girl. Deacon Taylor noted that he's openly accepted his own celibacy and singlehood: "I'm so grateful for what [God has] done, He can ask me to do anything."