Father Neil to students: 'I decided one day I had to find a way to serve God'

Posted: 1/26/2017

Days before the start of Catholic Schools Week, Glenmary Home Missioners' First Vice President Father Neil Pezzulo and Manager of Communications and Marketing John Stegeman participated in a "Career/Vocation Day" for home school students at the Reading branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. About 20 students and their parents heard presenters from many walks of life, including a fashion designer, paramedic and member of the Cincinnati Reds group sales office during the Jan. 25 event.

"The kids loved hearing about all the different careers people can have, and I think they all learned a valuable lesson that even if you go to school or work many years in one field, God can call you down another path at any time,” said Emily Braun, who home schools her four children and helped organize the event. “All of our speakers came to their vocations through different avenues, and it was important for the kids to see that.”

The students were treated to Father Neil's vocation story, which included his career in sales, degree in business, and as he put it, "doing any job he could to avoid becoming a priest."

"What I really want to do is serve God," Father Neil said. "That's what I wanted to do. I just decided one day I had to find a way to serve God that was very different than working in a department store selling men's suits. That's good if you need a suit, but for me, I didn't like it that much."

Father Neil explained to students and parents that Glenmary priests and brothers serve a part of the United States unlike what they experience in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. He also talked about the kind of work he does as a priest to mission areas.

"One Sunday I realized there were 14 churches where I could go to Mass within 10 miles of where I live in Cincinnati," he said. "Where Glenmary serves, it's different. In Cincinnati, more than 20 percent of the population is Catholic. It is .07 percent in Perry County, Ky. It is .04 percent in Breathitt County, Ky. In Wolfe County, Ky., it is not even measurable. There are 11 Catholics.

"On Friday nights I'll help make the dinner in the homeless shelter,” he said. “I get on the front lines and give out the food. And some priests can't do that up here. It isn't that they don't love the people and want to feed the hungry, it is that there are more people to do that kind of work up here. Down (in mission areas), there aren't people to do the work. One day down in the missions I'm doing a baptism, next day a wedding, next day teaching first communion class, and the next day I'm mopping the floors and cleaning the toilets because that's what has to get done.

"That's the kind of stuff a Glenmary priest does," he said. "My favorite thing to do is baptisms. I could baptize every day. It's crazy. They're fun and there is a lot of great energy. Truth is, there is very little I don't love about being a priest."

"I liked learning that priests are just normal people, too,” one student said. “And that they were kids just like us."

The students were given small Glenmary flashlights and stickers, while the parents received prayer cards and additional information about Glenmary Home Missioners.

After Father Neil, John told the students about his job at Glenmary, and about his journey from sports writer to Catholic media. He also talked about the vocation to married life and fatherhood.

"When I was younger I thought about becoming a priest," John said. "I think everyone here should consider whether they're called to religious life or not, because figuring out what God wants us to do is the most important thing we can do. God called me to married life. I was lucky to fall in love with a beautiful wife and I have two sons and another on the way.

"I wrote a paper in high school where I dreamt of having an office on the top floor of the Cincinnati Enquirer building downtown, and I could look down and see the Reds play from my window," he said. "My office is in the basement now, but I've still got a window, and this is important work. I get to tell the stories about all the good work that Glenmary does for people in need.”

Story by Glenmary Communications' staff
Photo by John Stegeman