It was a crisp September day in 1964 when 14-year-old Robert Mazur was dropped off at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore. Mazur, a Cresson native, was not allowed any contact with family members for two months.
Although he knew he always wanted to be a priest, it was the most difficult time of his life.
"I mean you're 14, going to Baltimore. I was like, 'oh my goodness, what am I getting into?' That was not easy on anyone. It was very hard on my mom and dad too," said Mazur, rector at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament and director of the Office of Liturgy for the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. That day will forever be etched in Mazur's mind.
(Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec) Monsignor Michael Servinsky is vicar general for the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown and rector of Holy Rosay Parish.
The other day that sticks out in Mazur's memory is May 8, 1976, the day he was ordained at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Altoona.
"It was sort of a little chilly spring day. As I was getting ready that morning, I was shaving and looking in the mirror and I thought this date is going to be on my headstone when I die. This is going to be a very important date. And it was," Mazur said.
Most priests say ordination day was the most important one of their lives. It is the day after years of training that they are set apart for ministry.
Priestly ordination creates new men who are bestowed with the gift and office of sanctifying, teaching and governing, Pope Benedict XVI said when he declared the Year of the Priests that began June 19. It is in celebration of the 150th anniversary of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests.
In his address, Pope Benedict said he was calling for the special year for priests in an effort to foster the priest's yearning "for spiritual perfection, upon which the effectiveness of their ministry principally depends."
"This year is meant to deepen the commitment of all priests," Tony DeGol, secretary of communications for the diocese.
Although priests are responsible for the spiritual guidance and teaching of their parishioners, some have dual roles.
The Mirror spoke with three priests who have those responsibilities about their lives.
Mazur, 59, would never have imagined when he was ordained in the Cathedral at age 25, that he would return 19 years later as rector of the most important place of worship in the diocese.
The Cathedral is the mother church, the bishop's church and serves as the center of prayer for the community.
Not only does Mazur oversee the Cathedral, he is the director of the Office of Liturgy for the diocese.
"I love Catholic worship and ritual, and I understand its history and tradition," said Mazur, who works with Bishop Joseph V. Adamec, chief liturgist. "I am here to assist the bishop in ensuring that our worship is reverent, holy, participative and touches the hearts of God's people."
Before working for the diocese, Mazur taught at Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School.
"I've always had two plus jobs," he said.
Sometimes he has to be two places at once, but Mazur said he loves both roles.
"It's busy. I do enjoy being a priest. I enjoy being busy. I feel as though I'm using my gifts and talents that God has given me and returning it to the church," Mazur said. "I always wanted to be a priest. It's a wonderful life."
Monsignor Michael Servinsky, 64, rector of Holy Rosary Parish in Altoona and vicar general for the diocese, also knew he wanted to be a priest at a young age.
Servinsky grew up in Portage and realized his call when he became an altar server in grade school.
"I just thought it would be wonderful to be able to celebrate Mass. That feeling got very strong, and I mentioned it to my parents who mentioned it to my uncle who was a priest," Servinsky said. After eighth grade, Servinsky left for St. Gregory's Seminary in Cincinnati.
"For months I was really homesick," Servinsky said.
He later attended Gregorian University in Rome with a residence assignment at North American College in Vatican City, which he said was an amazing experience.
Servinsky was ordained a priest Dec. 26, 1970, and was assigned to Our Lady of Victory in State College. About five years later, he began working for the diocese as assistant to the judicial vicar. Three years ago, he was appointed vicar general and serves as second in command to Adamec.
"I oversee the administration of the diocese. I'm also involved in taking care of priests and parish life," Servinsky said. Servinsky spends four days a week at the diocesan offices and the rest of his time at Holy Rosary.
"I know the bishop often asks how I get everything done. I think it's the grace of God," Servinsky said.
As vicar general, Servinsky enjoys assisting priests.
"Bishop Joseph likes to say that our job is to minister to ministers," Servinsky said.
As a priest, Servinsky enjoys being involved with parishioners and significant points in their lives, like baptisms, weddings and funerals.
"For a priest, the highlights are those rich moments that you share with families. When they receive a new baby and I'm asked to baptize them. They're inviting me, their priest into their life at that tender moment," Mazur said.
"When I marry a young couple, that's a sacred date in their lives. I'm part of that, and at a funeral. I don't want to underestimate death. Being in someone's home as they're dying, being with the family. Those are sacred moments. Being a priest has allowed me to share those Christ-filled moments. Jesus Christ is at the heart of all of this, and I was ordained a priest of Jesus Christ."
Monsignor Timothy Stein, pastor at St. Mary's in Altoona and editor of the Catholic Register, said he never doubted that he would be a priest.
"From day one, I have known where I was supposed to be and doing what I'm supposed to be doing. That doesn't mean that every day is a picnic. It was the life I was meant to lead," said Stein, 51, of Wilmore. "I don't remember a time I didn't want to become a priest, at least by the time I was 4 years old, that was all I ever thought of."
Unlike some fellow priests, Stein did not enter the seminary as a teen. Instead, he earned a degree in journalism.
"I wanted to go to the seminary directly out of high school. My parents were a lot wiser than I am, and they wanted me to go to college to get a useful trade," Stein said.
He was ordained a priest May 8, 1984, and began working at the Catholic Register two years later. In 1989, he became editor.
"I've been doing it a really long time, so it really doesn't seem difficult," Stein said, speaking of running a parish and serving as editor of the Register. "I really think that it's probably the best thing for me. I think the fact that I have to go out and work every day just like everybody else does, helps me understand where people are coming from. I'm in the same boat that they are. I have to go to work and balance everything," Stein said.
Like Servinsky and Mazur, Stein enjoys being a part of the lives of his parishioners. He enjoys supporting them during good times and bad, and recently received support in return when his parents died in the last two years.
"People really went out of their way to show they cared," Stein said. "The support was just really phenomenal."