It was his marriage that led him to priesthood
Father Joseph Franz can point to two life-changing moments for leading him to the priesthood – his father’s death and his divorce.
“It was difficult,” he says of his father’s death 25 years ago. Gerald Franz died after a six-month battle with cancer. Father Joseph, the fifth of six kids born and raised in East Eden, saw his father every day during his illness and could tell how his body was deteriorating.
“I remember at his funeral, seeing one of the great icons of our community and a very good friend of my dad’s right before they were going to lower the casket to the ground. I happened to look over and my Dad’s friend was leaning on the casket crying. It was really the first time I had an understanding of what friendship was. There was this grown man, who a lot of people looked up to and respected, that was crying on my Dad’s casket. I understood what my Dad meant to him.”
The scene showed him how the rites of the Catholic faith bring people together. He still gets emotional thinking of it.
Now 50, Father Franz had lived a pretty full life, which included a career and a wife, before starting over at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora. After graduating from Eden Senior High School, he earned an associate’s degree in drafting and design from Alfred State College. Then worked for 25 years in the commercial heating and plumbing industry, taking concept drawings from engineers and making them fit in the buildings. “I drew pipes,” he said succinctly.
He got married in October 2005. After 12 years, he realized the marriage wasn’t working and began the annulment process. Part of the process involved writing an honest biography of himself.
“I looked in the mirror and asked myself who I wanted to be, who I was, and how I was going to get to the place I wanted to be – where God was calling me to be. I got serious about my faith for the first time,” he explained. “I’m a cradle Catholic, but I really tried to go deeper into my faith and what that meant and why I believed what I believed.”
He started looking at religious media and listening to encouragement from family and friends, then began to discern the priesthood.
“I kind of had a mystical experience – what I would call a mystical experience – at Mass on Palm Sunday of 2013. I think that solidified; I was kind of kicking and screaming and the priesthood kept coming up. I went through the annulment process so I could get married in the Catholic Church again. So, I had it in my head, and society tells us that we’re supposed to have kids. That was my plan. This experience at least gave me that push to give it a try, open myself up a little bit and hopefully let God lead me instead of me going where I wanted to go.”
He thanks Father Walter Szczesny, former Vocations director for the diocese, for helping him through the process. He credits Father Joseph Gatto and Father John Mack for making Christ the King a welcoming place.
Father Franz will spend the summer serving at OLV National Shrine & Basilica in Lackawanna, then return to St. Mary’s Seminary & University for one year to get his licentiate in spirituality. He feels a pull towards spiritual direction.
“In a selfish way, for my own spiritual life. Hopefully, that will translate into being a better priest, being a better confessor, being a better spiritual director if that is where God is truly calling me,” he said.
“Joe is a very humble, kind and compassionate man who cares deeply about people and his relationship with them,” said classmate Father Joseph Tokasz, who was ordained alongside Father Franz on June 4. “He’s inquisitive, always seeking, questioning just because he wants to know and learn. He’s not afraid to ask those questions.
“He also, in that kind and caring way, is so giving of himself. He’s always the guy at the end of dinner who takes your plates and bring them up. He’s always willing to help people and build that relationship with them as well. He’s been a wonderful companion to have on the journey.”