Glenmary VP Serves and Supports Behind the Scenes
Father Neil Pezzulo's latest ministry is one he didn't expect. In 2011, he was elected by fellow Glenmarians to the society's Executive Council as first vice president—after spending his previous 12 years of priesthood as an associate pastor and then pastor of Arkansas missions. He felt some initial trepidation about taking on his new role. But he has come to understand that leadership is another way to serve, and that this is where God wants him to be right now.
"I really love serving in the missions," says Father Neil—"being present for people, working one on one with them, helping those in need, administering the sacraments. But I'm making other needed contributions in my current ministry. Many missioners have spent time in administrative jobs over the years. This is my turn to work behind the scenes and support those ministering in the home missions."
His transition has been made easier by the fact that president Father Chet Artysiewicz and second vice president Brother Jack Henn are his fellow Council members. "They were two of my formation directors," he says. "I have great fondness and respect for them and enjoy working with them. Also, Father Chet's example, love of priesthood and love of Glenmary were major influences when I was discerning about Final Oath."
Father Neil remembers thinking, as a boy, that he might want to be a priest because the priests he knew always seemed "like happy people." He believes he was first called to a religious vocation during Ash Wednesday Mass in 1983. As a 21-year-old college student majoring in business administration, "I turned to my girlfriend that day during the service and said, ‘I could be a priest.'"
After graduation, he worked in sales but changed jobs frequently. He thought if he could just find the right job, he'd be satisfied. But he finally found happiness and heard the vocation call again when he volunteered for a week at the Glenmary Farm in Eastern Kentucky, original Appalachian site of the Glenmary Group Volunteer Program—where he assisted elderly and developmentally disabled people, helped build a house, and felt a joy he had not experienced in sales.
"I felt a connectedness with people, God and everyday life," says Father Neil. "And I realized the Gospels hold the answers." After further vocation discernment, Glenmary formation, and more work in impoverished areas of Appalachia and the South, his path led him to priesthood.
As first vice president, he handles a wide range of tasks. These include planning and decision making with Council; working closely with Glenmary's commissions on ecumenism, justice, and multicultural living/ministry (the latter focuses on missioners and students), as well as its environmental committee; assisting the president in whatever ways necessary; giving a significant number of parish appeals around the country each year; making visitations to missioners and missions; and sometimes assisting the vocation department.
When visiting missions, Father Neil feels "privileged to see all the great things going on there" and gains a much broader perspective on Glenmary's work. "I also get to see and appreciate the giftedness of other missioners."
What he feels best about in the last three years is the growth-from-scratch and development of young mission communities in Maynardville, Rutledge and Erwin, Tenn., established in 2011 near when the current Council was installed in office. He points out that all three missions have acquired land for future construction of churches—and that the rapidly expanding Erwin congregation has already moved to a larger rented space. "The positive developments in all our newer missions in Tennessee and Georgia, as well as our other missions, are really gratifying."
Glenmary's biggest challenge is clear, he says: "We need to find creative ways to keep growing—to expand our ministries and open more missions, because they're as needed as ever. Hundreds of U.S. counties still have no Catholic presence, and each one represents an opportunity to grow the faith." That's why, when he gives appeals, he asks for parishioners' prayers and financial support and stresses that Glenmary's most pressing need is vocations.
Since making the transition to Council, Father Neil says his biggest personal change has been in his prayer life. As a mission pastor, he prayed primarily for the people in his mission counties and their concerns, along with the daily intentions for certain other missioners and missions. But as a Council member, "I pray more for Glenmary as a whole, for all Glenmarians and coworkers, and for all the people we serve," he says.
Father Neil feels very blessed to be a Glenmary priest, regardless of what his future ministries might be. "And I believe that, with God's guidance, Glenmary can meet the challenges in its future."
This article appears in the August 2014 Boost-A-Month Club newsletter.