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Year after transplant surgery, Father Mack returns to ministry

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In this 2019 photo, Father John Mack was waiting for word of a live liver donor. A year after his transplant, he is ready to teach again. Photo by Dan Cappellazzo

It’s been a hard year for everyone, but especially hard for Father John Mack who had to undergo a liver transplant in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Today, he is on the mend and on the road.  He spoke to the Western New York Catholic en route to Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology in Franklin, Wisconsin where he is taking on the role of vice president of Formation for the 89-year-old school.

He sounded a lot stronger and cheerier than he did last year at this time.

“I celebrated my liver-versary, my one-year anniversary with my donor, Nancy Kaszynski, on the 30th of June,” he said. “Basically, I’m on a maintenance plan now, still having blood work regularly. By the blood work they can tell the condition of the liver. So, I’m doing pretty well.”

Father Mack is returning to active ministry following his medical leave. He will engage in a year-to-year contract at Sacred Heart Seminary for the next three years. He will also maintain a ministry within the Diocese of Buffalo by working part time, remotely, with the Office of Pastoral Ministries. When Father Mack is back in Western New York on breaks and leave, he will be available for ministry in Batavia at Resurrection Parish.

He describes his current health saying, “I’m as healed as I can be.” The healing process depends on the overall health of the transplant patient, age and the depth of their illness. It can take as little as three months for someone to be back on their feet. “Some people are able to recover more quickly. I think we had a sense that we were going to be mostly up to a year before I was going to go back (to work). That was my goal,” the 67-year-old said.

After being vaccinated, he began exercising to build up his stamina and strength.

“I know I’ve gotten stronger every week. I’m pretty much as good as I’m going to get.”

After the June 30, 2020, operation, Father Mack was susceptible to infection, so he had to be isolated in his Rochester home to avoid coming in contact with the Coronavirus.

“Recovering in the midst of the pandemic was hard, especially in the winter until I was fully vaccinated. I was living alone. I was living in unprotected isolation. It was hard,” he said. “There is a physical part of recovery, but oftentimes what isn’t thought of or talked about is the mental and emotional and spiritual part of recovery. I was very fortunate. I found a spiritual home while I was in Rochester at the University of Rochester Newman Center. I would attend Mass there on a regular basis. It was a challenging year. Recovering is difficult as it is, but recovery in the midst of a pandemic where I had to be isolated was hard.”

In his new role of vice president of formation at Sacred Heart, he will be in charge of three of the four dimensions of priestly formation for the residential seminarians, overseeing the human, spiritual and pastoral formation programs.

“I’ll be working with executive leadership. I will be in charge of formation advisors, the spiritual directors, pastoral ministry supervisors. I will, of course, be working collaboratively with the vice president of intellectual formation, which is also the academic dean,” he said, adding that he is grateful for Bishop Michael Fisher for allowing him to take the position. “I’m very excited for the opportunity. Sacred Heart Seminary is very much like Christ the King in terms of its character, it’s culture.”

Father Mack had taught theology and directed the Pre-theology at the Diocese of Buffalo’s Christ the King Seminary for 12 years.

“I’ve always enjoyed the classroom,” he said, noting he had taught at St. Mary’s High School in Lancaster and Notre Dame High School in Batavia. “I see the classroom as a faith community. I’ve always saw myself as a facilitator of learning and that all of us were learners. I absolutely enjoyed my 12 years at Christ the King Seminary. I enjoyed the faith community that was there. I enjoyed the diversity of students.”

He will continue to serve in an ad hoc capacity helping the Office of Pastoral Ministries however he can via phone calls and Zoom meetings.

“I can continue to be a resource for the Diocese of Buffalo,” he said. “So, I’m using my talents. Thirty-six years as a priest of the Diocese of Buffalo, also learning a lot from the last year of what I experienced.”

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