Father Jeffrey Donovan hopes to be a service to God’s people
Service. He keeps coming back to that word. It has motivated him as a student, as a career path, and now as a ministry. Buffalo’s newest priest, Father Jeffery Donovan has used service to others, his country and God as his own life’s mission.
“From day one, when I came in for the entrance interview (with the diocesan Vocations office), they said what are you about, what are you looking for, what are you hoping for? I said, I’m just looking to serve God, His people, and His Church. That remains the same today. However, I can do that, I’ll be happy to do that,” he said, just days before his June 3 ordination.
Born in South Buffalo into a Marine Corps family, Father Donovan, now 28, did some moving around in his early years with his parents Joseph and Tina and four siblings – Corey, Brandon, AJ and Ciara. The Donovans lived in Massachusetts, Hawaii and Florida before coming back to Buffalo in time for high school. “It’s always the home base,” he said.
His earliest dreams were to join the Navy and be an engineer on submarines. He attended Western New York Maritime High School, where he took a Leadership in Sail Training course in Newport, Rhode Island. That developed a love for the water that he still holds.
“I would say the aspect of service was something that interested me,” he shared. “In high school, while I was at Maritime I started to become more involved with the Church. I was falling in love with it all over again. I think it was just a natural thought at some point of, ‘Why don’t you serve the Church?’ that wasn’t something that I took seriously at first. It wasn’t something that changed all of my plans. It was a seed that took hold.”
While attending Canisius College, he learned the Navy was not so generous with their scholarships. He instead spent two years in the Army ROTC free from any obligation of enlisting.
“Since the Army gives you that option of studying for two years without a scholarship or contract, it also gave me time to decide if I was going to enter seminary or not,” he said.
That’s when the tide began to drift him in a new direction.
“I was doing ROTC there, but I was discerning as well,” Father Donovan said. “During that time, I was doing studies in philosophy, theology and classics, and hoping to get a commission from the Army. Things went a little differently. After about two years, I dedicated myself to prepping for seminary studies.”
He entered Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora in 2016, for his pre-theology courses.
His seven years of seminary life, both at Christ the King and later at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, gave him plenty of time for reflection. In class there is philosophy and theology studies, homiletics and Church history.
“You do a lot of different things and have a lot of different experiences,” he said.
The experiences with pastoral work included summer assignments at the Response to Love Center with Sister M. Johnice Rzadkiewicz, CSSF. He served his pastoral year at St. Amelia Parish in Tonawanda, where he received a sort of internship learning from a veteran pastor, Father Sebastian Pierro.
“Through all these experiences, you really see your skills, your strengths, your weaknesses, where you need to improve. But also, it gives you the tools to improve and gives you the tools to self reflect,” he said. “We have a great formation staff. We have great mentors. If you’re open with them and you say, ‘I want to work on this,’ They’ll work on it with you. We both have the same goal of forming good priests for the Church, for the people and for God.”
What did he learn about himself?
“So, I am a team player, but I like the team to be on the same page. Sometimes we have different ideas, and that’s OK, but communication’s key. Sometimes I get a little annoyed if things aren’t communicated or explained. I think that’s good to know, because there will be a lot of working with others in the parish life,” he said. “I like to see people come together, be on the same page, and relish in the victories together.”
While in Baltimore, Father Donovan served in parishes for three years. During his first theology year, he served as part of a team, with two other seminarians and a pastor, to learn the ropes. During his third year, he taught religious education classes. This past year, he has served as a deacon leading a team of seminarians. He noticed a difference as a deacon from his earlier experiences.
“Something that was really striking was visiting the sick as a deacon was very different from visiting the sick from before I was ordained. It took on a different element. I had a different role and a different presence. For me, moving closer to the call God is calling me to, and being able to see that difference, feel that difference, and be aware of it, is really striking. Having that sense of a difference as a deacon, I’m sure it will be even more so as a priest.”
Father Donovan is in a unique situation. He is the first newly ordained priest to be assigned to a Family of Parishes. He will be ministering in a fashion very different from the one in which he was raised.
“It’s something that definitely struck me because it is new, and I really didn’t know what to do with it because we haven’t had any exposure to it. But, the more I’m hearing about it, it sounds all right,” he said. “I must say, one of the big things that helped bring it into perspective was Bishop (Michael W.) Fisher’s comments that we need to remember that at the founding of the diocese there were 30 priests and the bishop who had to minister to all the people. I think that was really encouraging. Yes, there are different models that might seem challenging, but it is nothing ultimately new in the history of the Church. Of course, we hope we’re supported by the prayers of those who came before us and hopefully we can set the foundation for future flourishing.”
His prayer card for his first Mass reads a quote from St. John Vianney, patron of parish priests. “This priest is not a priest for himself. He does not give himself absolution. He does not administer the sacraments to himself. He is not for himself. He is for you.”
“I want that to be true of me, every priest who comes before me and every priest who comes after,” he said.
Listen to Father Donovan speak with Michael Mroziak.