Joseph Tokasz ordained transitional deacon
Bishop Michael Fisher blesses Deacon Joseph Tokasz during an ordination Mass that saw Tokasz elevated to the role of transitional deacon. Deacon Daniel Ulmer (left) and Father Sean Paul Flemming assist the bishop. Photo by Nicole Dzimira.
Joseph Tokasz made a very public vow to conform his life to that of Jesus Christ. That promise, along with an agreement to remain celibate, maintain a spirit of prayer, and celebrate liturgy of the hours were professed openly in front of family, friends and clergy as he became a transitional deacon, the next step to him becoming a priest. The May 15 ceremony took place at St. Gregory the Great Parish in Williamsville.
Traditionally, transitional deacon ordinations take place at St. Joseph Cathedral, but Bishop Michael Fisher wanted to bring them into the parishes of the ordinate’s choosing. Deacon Tokasz chose to have his ordination at the site of his pastoral year.
The Church was always an important part of the Tokasz family. They joined St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Springbrook, while Joseph attended Iroquois Central Schools. He also got involved in the Boy Scouts and 4H Club, as well as parish functions. Both his parents had worked in parishes, so young Joseph always felt welcomed when he helped out.
It was while attending SUNY Potsdam for music education and music business that he began seriously discerning the priesthood. The previous summer during a camping trip, he found the beauty in God’s creation of nature. It stirred something in him, making the freshman ground himself while away from home by attending Mass regularly and being active in his faith.
“I leaned on my faith and the Catholic Church as something that was familiar, but also a community to be a part of,” Deacon Tokasz said, adding that leaning on his faith directly led him to his vocational epiphany.
“I became a junior catechist and a senior peer to the confirmation students,” he recalled. “I was helping out with a retreat in November of 2013. The priest who was helping out with the retreat happened to be the vocations director for the Diocese of Ogdensburg. Off the cuff, he decided he wanted to talk about vocations. He gave this great presentation. I walked away from that talk starting to think about the priesthood.”
In the spring of 2015, after talking to some priests near his campus, he contacted Father Walter Szczesny, vocations director for the Diocese of Buffalo at the time. Once he made the decision to enter the seminary, the application process went quickly. His first two years were spent St. Mark’s Seminary in Erie, Pennsylvania, taking philosophy classes at Gannon University. He then spent two years at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, followed by a pastoral year at St. Gregory the Great, where he put his school lessons into practice. He has one more year of study at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore before his priestly ordination.
Looking forward to serving in a parish, Deacon Tokasz has also had summer assignments at Sacred Heart in Bowmansville and St. John’s in Olean.
“I’ve been able do a lot in the parishes. I’ve used my experience with music at the parish,” he said. “It’s wonderful because I can bring that into the liturgies. I can sing and be a part of the Masses that way.”
He also had a lot of hands-on experience with the many mechanics in his family. He has found that jack-of-all-trades persona comes in handy with many aspects of parish life. He has helped parishioners with car issues. He’s helped with the hiring process of maintenance personnel. He’s even cut the lawn in Bowmansville.
“I come to the parishes and I’m helping out with the ministries, but I can also help out with all those different aspects as well,” he said.
His former pastor at St. Greg’s, Father Leon Biernat speaks highly of the man. “I think he is the real deal,” Father Biernat said. “He is very devout in his prayer life, no question. His ability to give a homily – during their pastoral year, they’re allowed to speak in place of the homily – theologically spot on as well as able to connect with what is going on in the real world and bringing the Gospel alive. Tremendous talent there. He is constantly giving of his time. I don’t know where he gets all the energy, but he never says no and is constantly there to serve.”