LOOKING BACK ON 40 YEARS OF PRIESTHOOD:
An Interview with Father Terry Hazel, Pastor of St. Michael Parish
Father Terry Hazel marked the 40th anniversary of his ordination on June 7, 2015. Ordained by Bishop James W. Malone at St. Columba Cathedral, Father Terry began his journey to the priesthood at a young age. He was was born May 21,1949 in Youngstown and attended St. Christine School and Chaney High School before entering St. Gregory High School in Cincinnati to begin studies for the priesthood.
He earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy from St. Gregory College and a master's in theology from Mount St. Mary's of the West Seminary, both in Cincinnati. He also has a master's degree in secondary education administration from Ursuline College, Pepper Pike, Ohio
Father Terry shared his reflections on his 40 years as a priest:
Father, you became pastor here at St. Michael in January 1997. What was your career path before then?
Well, I started out as a faculty member at Ursuline High School. In 1978 I was transferred to Warren John F. Kennedy High School (JFK) as administrative assistant for pastoral ministry and then in 1986 I was appointed principal of Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas High School.
Was St. Michael your first pastoral appointment?
No, while at JFK I served in 1984 as administrator of St. Mary Parish, Newton Falls. And in 1995 became canonical pastor of Rootstown St. Peter of the Fields Parish.
Have you been involved with other ministries over the years?
Early on, I gravitated toward ministries for people with physical and developmental challenges. I’ve been diocesan chaplain for the hearing impaired, diocesan chaplain for the physically and developmentally disabled, and diocesan coordinator of religious education for children with developmental disabilities. I served the diocese in other capacities as well, as a member of the diocesan College of Consultors, Defender of the Bond for the appellate section of the Diocesan Tribunal and diocesan Director of Catholic Scouting. Currently, I serve as dean of Mahoning County South Deanery.
What made you decide to become a priest?
It all began at St. Christine School. When I was in second grade, I knew I was going to be a priest and I never once wavered from that. It was just a given in my life.
Was there anyone in your childhood who inspired and encouraged your vocation?
My family moved to Kirk Rd. behind the current St. Christine’s when I was four years old. St. Christine Church wasn’t built there yet; it was just a field. When the parish was founded, I watched that church go
up from an empty lot to what you see there today and that fascinated me. While the church was under construction, the priests were living in a house near us on Kirk Rd. So I saw them around a lot and they would often stop over and have a cup of coffee with my parents.
I attended Kindergarten at Kirkmere Elementary because St. Christine School was not ready yet and then I started at St. Christine in the very first first grade that ever existed in the history of the school. I actually had my picture in the paper with Monsignor Gutman as the very first student enrolling in the brand new school.
The priests there really took an interest in the kids and encouraged us guys to consider the priesthood. And the nuns, Daughters of Charity, were also a big influence on me. They were wonderful. Three of the nuns in particular had a real impact on my vocation even though I may not have realized it at the time.
You come from a family of five children. Where do you fall in the family line-up?
I am second oldest. I have an older sister Diane, then myself, my brother Tom, my sister Nancy, who just recently passed to eternal life, and my brother Ronnie who had Down syndrome. Ronnie lived with me at the rectory for the last eight years of his life after our mother died in 1996 until his death in 2003. So two of my younger siblings have gone on to eternal life.
What is the greatest joy / most rewarding part of being a priest?
One of the more difficult things that a priest has to do is funerals. It’s difficult emotionally. When someone dies the priest will always meet with the family and spend time trying to get to know better the person we are going to bury so we can be personal in our homilies to try and make it really meaningful for the family. And it’s interesting, that as difficult as that is emotionally, it’s probably the most rewarding thing I do as a priest because it’s at that point that I feel most like a priest. You’re really touching people who are hurting tremendously and you can really be a great comfort to them by just giving a listening and sympathetic ear. You can have a deep effect on people more than probably at any other time.
Every now and then I’ll have a baptism and maybe it’s their third child and the parents are telling the older two children: this is Father Terry he’s the one who married mom and dad and baptised you and your sister and now he will baptise your new baby brother. It’s kind of neat to hear people saying that I’ve done these things. I’ve been a part of their lives all the way through and feel like part of their family. That’s very rewarding.
Is there one experience you are most grateful for in your priestly ministry?
One that stands out happened immediately after ordination. When I was ordained I fully expected to be assigned to a parish as an assistant pastor. And instead, I got assigned to Ursuline High school as a full time catechist, a teacher of religion. At first I was frightened. My very first thought was: am I going to be able to do this; am I going to be able to relate to that age group? But I went and within two months was completely in love with it, and I stayed in education for 22 years. It was a wonderful experience. I enjoyed education and the kids so much I decided to get my degree to become qualified to be a principal. To this day teenagers are my favorite group to work with. They are so full of life and hope and a lot of fun to be around. Often I hear people say that kids today are not like they used to be. In my opinion, they’re better. Not that there aren’t issues they are dealing with, but there were issues we dealt with when I was a teenager, too. Our kids are really good kids and I have the highest respect for our teens.
Another thing that was a major significance to me was my very first trip to Haiti around 1999. I was so taken with that and so shocked at what I saw. I couldn’t believe how I was seeing people live in the 20th century. It was absolutely appalling. That trip was a life changing experience. I’ve been there four times and once to El Salvador. That brought about a very important change in my spirituality. I became much more sensitive to the poor and their plight--although I would not describe Haiti as poor, I would describe it as destitute.
And of course, St. Michael has been a really positive experience for me.
What is the biggest challenge or hardest part about being a pastor?
One of the biggest challenges is trying to be a good priest and trying to minister to everybody as best you can, yet in spite of that, from time to time, people can get angry or upset with you. Sometimes I know why and sometimes not. For the good of the parish I have to make a decision and perhaps it's one they don’t agree with.That’s the hardest part. But without a doubt the vast majority of St. Michael parishioners are very supportive of me as their pastor and as a person. They tell me that all the time and I really appreciate that. It’s good to hear and gives me the incentive to go on even further.
What do you hope your legacy will be at St. Michael? Any future dreams or goals you are striving for?
I hope that St. Michael continues to be a very vibrant parish. There are a lot of really good things going on without my direct supervision. People take ownership of a ministry and do it.They don’t require me to be there for their planning meetings; they just take charge. That is the church of the future. I hope one of my legacies here would be that I was a pastor who empowered people to do ministries. My predecessors did that too: Fr. O’Brien and Fr. McCarthy. This parish has a long history of good lay involvement and I hope that would be my greatest legacy.
On a secondary level, I’m also proud of improvements in the church: the air conditioning, stained glass windows, altar, ambo, extra pews. I also take great pride in the Family Life Center. But those are all building-related.
My primary thing would be that the parishioners of St. Michael would grow in love of God and love of the church and in their willingness to step up and and participate.
Has anything surprised you during your priestly career?
Two things shocked me, because I never saw either one of them coming. When I was ordained, there were nine of us. I never anticipated the priest shortage that would occur 30 years later. The second shocking thing was the whole child abuse scandal. I never knew that was happening until it finally broke, so those were two really big shocks.
Another issue: vocations to the sisterhood are declining. Catholic schools are going down one by one. We will not have Catholic schools like we used to. When I attended St. Christine it was free; there was no tuition. Now these schools are expensive to run and for parents to pay tuition. It’s still worth it—I am a big believer in Catholic education—but it’s an uphill battle.
The story of your priesthood has had several unique chapters of service: your work with high school age youth, your ministry with physically and developmentally challenged individuals, your role as a pastor, and your diocesan service. Would one chapter stand out more than the others?
I’ve enjoyed all of those chapters very much and all have been gratifying. I’ve enjoyed the variety. For some priests, if they start off in a parish assignment they may continue in parish work doing the same thing for their entire career.
When I went from secondary education to St. Michael it was a dramatic mid-life career change. You did not have to live by bells ringing all day long telling you where to go. It was good and refreshing. I loved the high school years and I loved being a teacher and a principal but it was hard when the kids you saw every day for four years graduated, and you knew that you would probably never see 80% of them again. In a parish you watch people grow: a child growing into an adult and an adult growing in grace, knowledge and faith. You are with people for a longer period of their lives.
I was drawn to work with children with developmental disabilities because of my brother. On a recent Saturday I was getting ready for Mass and the mail came with a letter from the mother of young woman with Down syndrome. The daughter was my student in a special religion class at JFK in the early to mid-1980s. (During the week I would work with high school seniors, then on Saturdays they would tutor children with disabilities one on one. It was a wonderful program.) This woman saw my name in the Exponent for my 40th anniversary. She wrote that if not for me her daughter would never have received First Communion and Confirmation. Then that very day before Mass a woman stopped me to ask if I remembered her brother who attended that same program. He had recently died but she wanted to stop and thank me for what I had done for him. Because of me he was able to receive the sacraments. It felt so good that in one day I had two encounters regarding people I had not seen for decades.That was rewarding. I was on cloud nine at the end of that day.
Do you have any special interests or hobbies that you enjoy?
I play the organ a bit, not publicly, but just for my own relaxation and fun. I used to golf but I gave that up because I was never very good at it. I enjoy music, both playing and listening. And I enjoy live stage plays. I took several vacations to New York City with priest friends to see mostly off-Broadway shows.
And I even enjoy local high school and middle school plays.
What are some of your favorite books or authors?
I do like to read. People are always giving me spiritual books. Right now I have five or six stacked on the credenza in my office. If you give me an article to read I’ll get it back to you in a couple of days, but a book will take a while. I thoroughly enjoyed Mitch Albom’s “Tuesdays with Morrie” and “The Five People You Meet in Heaven”. The latter was interesting because they were not the five people you would expect to meet. I enjoy a book with a spiritual background that’s not too heavily theological. I prefer reading material that is more practical and applicable to daily living, especially books where I can find an example or story to use in a homily.
Do you enjoy traveling and do you have a favorite destination?
I’m not a big fan of traveling. I’m more of a home body. I have taken some short trips with a group of my first cousins to Chicago. We called them “cousins' vacations” and these were always fun. I enjoy going to Geneva on the Lake and staying at a lodge there, not for long, just for a couple of days to get away. Lake Erie fascinates me and I also enjoy the Lake Erie Islands, Kelley’s Island, Put-in-Bay. Other places I’ve visited: Toronto, New York, San Francisco, Oakland, Orlando, Dallas, Houston and Galveston. I’ve been to Ireland, but never to mainland Europe. What I like to do is get away for a couple days and wake up in a different place.
Who is a hero to you?
I’d definitely say Pope John XXIII because he had the guts to call the Council. Certainly another modern day hero is Pope Francis. I never thought I would live to see a pope like Francis.
Is there something people might be surprised to learn about you—some little known or unexpected fact?
I doubt it. I’m kind of what you see is what you get. I’m not aware of any surprising characteristics good or bad that someone would not know about. Well, one thing might be that I’m one of two priests in the Diocese who knows sign language.
As you reflect on your 40 years as a priest, what advice would you give to a young man who is contemplating a vocation to the priesthood?
Do it! Absolutely do it! First of all I have never had any regrets. It’s a very rewarding life. I’ve loved every minute of being a priest.
If they are worried about the celibacy issue, they shouldn’t worry. Marriage is a very beautiful sacrament and if not for marriage none of us would exist because marriage produces life. But don’t think that marriage guarantees happiness. Just look at the divorce rate. Marriage is wonderful if you are fortunate enough to connect with the right person. I know more unhappy married people than unhappy priests. At times when counseling couples whose marriages are in trouble and on the verge of divorce, I’ve seen the anguish they go through and I think to myself: I’m glad I’m not married. The priests I know all lead very happy lives.
As far as living alone, there’s a big difference between loneliness and solitude. I've never been lonely as a priest, not one day. You are very busy as a priest. Sometimes when I go home at the end of the day I really enjoy the peace and solitude
On a lighter note the priesthood has to be one of the most secure jobs in the world. You really have to mess up to be fired. You are guaranteed a job from the day you are ordained until the day you die.
It’s a misconception that priests don’t make any money.That’s really not true. I think we are paid fairly well. Diocesan priests do get a paycheck, but our fringe benefits are probably equal to the paycheck. For example I have a house (rectory) to live in with all utilities and taxes paid. I only have to worry about my income tax. Keeping up a home is a big expense and all that’s taken care of for a priest. So with the money I get, my biggest expense is my car.
The priesthood is a very good way to journey through this world.
What are some ways that we can promote and support vocations?
I wish I knew the answer to that. I think there are multiple reasons for the priest shortage. Parents today are having fewer children. If they have two children, let’s say a boy and girl, people have told me: don’t talk to my son about being a priest, because I want grandchildren. I was one of five. Families were much bigger then. If one son decided to be a priest, the parents were thrilled. My mother was in her glory. A mother is not sacrificing or giving up her son. My dad died when I was in college. From the day I was ordained, I took my mother and my brother Ronnie to dinner every Sunday.
A lot of young people feel they can’t be fulfilled without a wife and family. That’s not true. You can be fulfilled without that. Those are great and I’m not knocking it at all. I miss that, but there’s enough other stuff to fill that gap. Another thing about being a priest, you spend your whole life being nice to people and nobody thinks you’re crazy!
Is there anything else that you would like to share on this special occasion?
I’m very glad to be having my special anniversary here at St. Michael in Canfield. This is a wonderful parish for all the reasons I’ve mentioned. When I came here I never expected to stay 18 years. At that time the Diocese had term limits of 12 years, so I expected to move on after that. But Bishop Tobin changed that policy. And I’m very glad he did; I love it here. A big part of it for me is that the parishioners have been very supportive of me and that has been very helpful. It’s just a great parish overall and it’s doing well. Everybody thinks this is a big rich parish, but we are not. We’re not poor either. We are paying our bills and keeping up with everything, and we are paying off the Family Life Center. But we don’t have a big savings account. Last year we operated in the red and a large part of that was the expense of replacing the piazza, but that had to be done.
And I’m especially glad to be having my reception in the Family Life Center. That was a dream of mine and of many of our parishioners. We had outgrown our meeting spaces and ministry areas. That was a real accomplishment for the whole parish.
Now that you mention the Family Life Center, it’s interesting that your fascination with watching the building of St. Christine’s sparked your interest in the priesthood and now at St. Michael you were able to be involved with building such a great facility here. It’s like you came full circle.
You know, that’s very true.
Thank you, Father, for taking the time for this interview. I know that the St. Michael parish community joins me in congratulating you on your 40th anniversary. We are grateful for your 18 years of service to our parish and ask our Heavenly Father to bless you as you celebrate this milestone.
--Mary Pullin, Website Manager
Father Terry Hazel
40th Anniversary of Ordination