The Rev. Michael Parker, a Dunkirk native, was selected as the Diocese of Buffalo's Priest of the Month for April.
"My vocation story is very boring," Parker said as he described his "road to the priesthood" story. "It's from the womb to the tomb."
After his father passed away when he was 6 years old, his mother raised him and his three older brothers with the help of her parents and close family and friends. She made sure the boys remained close to their Catholic faith because she knew it was essential to their well-being. She asked her son to help a neighbor who had trouble walking. She relied on him to go to the store and do some chores she found difficult. He recalled that the neighbor would see him out playing with his friends in the yard and always seemed to call him when he least wanted to leave the fun.
He grew up in Dunkirk at St. Hyacinth Parish and was very involved in CYO, altar serving and various other activities. He attended the parish elementary school and can't remember a time when he didn't want to be a priest.
"Our center was really with the church," he said.
He credits his Polish heritage with his devotion to Catholicism.
"To be Polish is to be very much involved in your Catholic faith," he proudly said.
He also remembers the Felician Sisters being very influential in the parish community. He and his friends often found themselves helping the sisters with anything and everything they needed.
When it came time to think about high school, Parker could have gone to the local Catholic school but he decided that since he was fairly certain about becoming a priest, he wanted to learn more about the secular world and have experiences outside of his church community. He thought it would be a good challenge and got involved in track, swimming, and other various opportunities at school. During his junior year in high school, he and his mother, who was a guidance counselor, started looking into colleges. He got involved in a Home Seminary Program which met once a month and was led by a priest who helped the boys in the group to better understand the priesthood.
This aided in solidifying his decision to become a priest and upon graduation from high school, he went on to spend four years at Wadhams Hall Seminary College in Ogdensburg. In the summers between college, Parker worked at his uncle's marina along the shores of Lake Erie in Dunkirk. He fixed docks, managed the care of the boats and pumped gas. Once again he found himself exposed to people not necessarily connected to the Catholic church with different perspectives on things. He appreciated the opportunity to learn and grow from his acquaintances with them.
After he graduated from Wadhams Hall, he continued on his studies at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora. His ordination was on July 8, 1983. He was the 13th person from his parish to be ordained a priest. He was grateful to the 70 or 80 priests who made the trip to Dunkirk to be a part of the ceremony.
"They were a great source of support especially after I was ordained a deacon," he recalled.
Parker's first assignment as assistant pastor was to Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna. He was reassigned after five years to Nativity of Our Lord Parish in Orchard Park where he spent five and a half years. He went to Rome to further his studies, then returned to Buffalo. He was assigned as administrator of St. Mary's in Mayville. After that, he then spent two and a half years at St. Amelia's in Tonawanda and was then assigned as pastor of his original home parish in Dunkirk, St. Hyacinth's.
After the first six years as pastor, he took on the added responsibility of chaplain of the Newman Center at Fredonia. When St. Hyacinth merged with St. Hedwig to become Blessed Mary Angela in 2008, Parker's 10-year reign ended as pastor. He returned to Rome, and met with Pope John Paul II many times while he was there; he became involved with the Pope John Paul II Foundation.
Upon returning from his second sabbatical to Rome, Parker was assigned to St. Pius X in Getzville. That only lasted a short while and he was then assigned as pastor to St. John the Baptist in Kenmore where he currently resides.
Parker finds great joy in working with people in different capacities in the parishes in which he has served. He feels that being with people is what it's all about as a priest.
"There are times when we hope the Lord will make a difference through all of us as we journey in faith together," he said.