Ironton native answers his life calling

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 14, 2003

Becoming a priest is not just a title or lavish ceremony to Mark Moore -- it is a total commitment.

Deacon Mark Moore became Father Mark Moore during his ordination Friday at St. Joseph Catholic Church, the first Ironton native to be ordained in his hometown. And he said

becoming a priest is not like someone hired into their dream job.

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"I'm called to be a priest. It's a life decision. It's not a career decision," Moore said. "It's not for everyone. God doesn't call everyone to the priesthood. He doesn't call everyone to be married. I'm not called to be married to anyone. I'm called to be a priest."

The call began early in Moore's life. He recalls thinking about becoming a priest as early as the fifth grade, but didn't get serious about the thought until his senior year at St. Joseph Central Catholic High School.

"I didn't pursue it until I was a senior. I always knew other things I could do, and my friends had other things they were going to do. I heard what they were thinking about, but I always knew (becoming a priest) was what I was going to do," Moore said.

Moore visited the seminary the second half of his senior year. He went to college at the seminary, earned a degree in history, then continued his journey with four years studying theology.

The long, eight-year journey finally ended Friday as Moore became the 10th Ironton native to enter the priesthood and the first since 1967. He said it was a difficult but enjoyable period that helped make him a better person.

"From 1995 when I entered the seminary and to where I am now, my understanding of God has grown and my understanding of what I have to do has grown," Moore said.

"You're put under a microscope. They challenge you to grow as a human being intellectually and spiritually. You get to know each other. You get to know each other's strengths and weaknesses. They challenge you to become good, holy and to become a good priest."

The Roman Catholic Church has been experiencing a shortage of priests during the past several decades. The Steubenville Diocese had 125 priests when Father Thomas Nau, current pastor of St. Joseph and St. Lawrence O'Toole, became a priest 25 years ago. The diocese has only 50 active priests and about a dozen priests who are semi-retired.

Although Moore was one of 22 candidates to enter the seminary, he is one of only three who are at the stage of becoming a priest.

"You don't just get through the seminary. The seminary makes you really think about what you're doing and to see if this is your call. It's a challenge to have your weaknesses thrown in your face. But it makes you grow, it makes you change, and makes you a better human being."

Actually, there has been an increase in vocations to the priesthood in recent years. The medium age has gone from 35 to 22. David McGoron, a 2003 graduate of St. Joseph High School, is one a nine young men from the diocese entering the seminary.

Even in the wake of the sexual abuse scandals that plagued the Church recently, younger Catholics are becoming more rooted in traditional church values and teachings.

"There have been scandals since Christ founded the Church 2000 years ago, but there are more young men becoming priests, and they are very strong and preaching the truth and faith. That's refreshing," Moore said.

And Moore sees the scandals as making the priests live up to a higher standard.

"The Church does not call me to be mediocre. God calls me to be strong and know the faith and live the faith with my whole life. I expect to be held to a higher standard," Moore said.

"Some priests don't live up to that. That's the human aspect of it. I'm not superhuman, but you can't be self-centered. You have to serve your brothers and sisters. When a priest stops doing that and centers on himself, then there's a problem. The same thing happens in everything else. Marriages fall apart because someone gets selfish."

Moore's ordination at his home parish was to enable the people of the Catholic community to see the ceremony instead of having to travel five hours to Steubenville. The Most Rev. R. Daniel Conlon, Bishop of Steubenville, conducted the ordination along with more than 20 priests.

"We're just so far away from Steubenville, I asked the Bishop if we could do it here and he said 'yes,'" Moore said.

Moore's first appointment will be at St. Mary's in Marietta. Although he is apprehensive about his first assignment, he is equally excited.

"To be 26 years old and be sent places I don't want to go and have the responsibilities to be a priest is hard, but God gives us all the grace to get through these things," Moore said. "God will give me the grace to be his instrument. It's not about me. It's about doing God's work."

Mark is the son of Dee Moore of Coal Grove. He credits his mother, brother Steve, and others for helping him complete his journey to the priesthood.

"My whole family has helped me. My aunt and uncle Sue and Kevin (Keeney) were very helpful. And I know so many good priests who have helped me along the way, those in my town and at school, and the people in the church. Their support and prayers have been great. I owe them a debt of gratitude," Moore said.