UNIONTOWN, Pa. (AP) - The Rev. Ronald L. Simboli didn’t worry about a priest shortage when he was ordained in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Greensburg 40 years ago.
“There were a lot of priests, a lot more parishes,” said Simboli, 70, who is retiring as pastor of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Uniontown on July 1.
Simboli entered the priesthood when it was common for many parishes to have three priests: a pastor, who was a senior priest, and two parochial vicars, gaining experience before taking on their own parishes.
“You didn’t have every wedding, every funeral, every appointment that came in,” said Simboli.
Today, the priest shortage is very apparent for the Rev. Anthony Klimko, a member of St. Joseph, who is one of three men recently ordained by Bishop Lawrence Brandt in Greensburg. His first assignment is parochial vicar to Church of the Resurrection in Clymer, Indiana County, where he will be one of three priests and a permanent deacon serving five worship sites in a parish that covers 1,200 square miles, which is more than one-third of the diocese’s 3,334 square miles.
“A lot of my classmates are having their first assignment as a pastor- not having any opportunity to be a parochial vicar,” said Klimko, 40, who completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the Pontifical North American College and Pontificial Gregorian University in Rome where he graduated with 53 men now being ordained throughout the United States, Canada and Australia.
But neither man is worried about the future of the Catholic Church with each noting separately, “It all started with 12.”
A Uniontown native, Klimko’s family belonged to St. Mary (Nativity) Parish before joining St. Joseph. Klimko attended St. Mary School through the eighth grade and was taught by the Vincentian Sisters of Charity with his third-grade teacher having a profound effect on him. To this day, he keeps a statute of Mary she gave him.
“I always remember her example. She planted the seed many years ago, but it took me a while. She and the priests that I have known along the way were an influence,” said Klimko.
Klimko graduated Laurel Highlands High School in 1993 and Edinboro University in 1997, earning a bachelor’s degree in graphic design. He worked 12 years for companies in Pittsburgh.
While driving to work, Klimko began thinking about the priesthood as he listened to religious radio. He began talks with priests, including his cousin, the Rev. Kevin Dominik in Pittsburgh, and the Rev. Alexander Pleban, then pastor of St. Joseph.
Making a commitment at age 33, Klkimko was given a parish assignment at Church of the Resurrection before entering seminary.
“It made me realize what my priestly life would be like, encouraged me to realize this was the direction I wanted to follow,” said Klimko, who went on to St. Mark’s Seminary in Erie before heading to Rome where he was present for the election of Pope Francis and has been close to the pontiff on three different occasions, including shaking hands.
Still thrilled by those experiences, Klimko said of Pope Francis, “He has a great joy about him.”
Simboli is a native of North Belle Vernon where his family belonged to St. Sebastian Parish. He graduated in 1962 from Bellmar High School, now part of Belle Vernon Area High School, and attended Point Park University before graduating with a degree in liberal arts from International University in New Orleans and then from Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science. He worked as a licensed funeral director for the largest Catholic funeral home in Pittsburgh.
“We had 400 to 500 funerals a year in 40 to 50 different Catholic churches and, during this period of time, I began to think there was something more I had to offer,” Simboli said. “I didn’t know what it was, but I was exposed to so many priests.”
He began talking with priests and reading “Markings,” a book of spiritual meditations by Dag Hammarskjold, who served as secretary-general of the United Nations and was posthumously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Simboli made his decision to become a priest at age 25 and was sent to now Pope St. John XXII National Seminary in Weston, Mass., a seminary for second-career priests. He later earned a master’s degree in health care ministry from Duquesne University.
Asked what working in the private sector brings to the priesthood, Simboli said, “You can relate to people because we have lived on our own.”
Both men received support from their families and home parishes. Simboli was the only priest from St. Sebastian while Klimko is the eighth from St. Joseph. As two priests have resigned and one is retiring, Klimko will be the fifth priest from St. Joseph in active ministry - the most of any parish in the Greensburg diocese.
“The parishioners of St. Joseph should be proud the parish has given birth to the priesthood eight times,” said Simboli.
“The people help to nourish vocations,” said Klimko.
Simboli said the shortage is not just peculiar to the Roman Catholic faith.
“Other Christian traditions who permit clergy to be married and women clergy also have a shortage in ministers,” he said. “I know things are going to be difficult at times, but administering the sacraments and being Christ for people is a joy that cannot be explained with words.”
Information from: Herald-Standard, https://www.heraldstandard.com/
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.