My Name is Tom Piro and I’m a seminarian for the Diocese of Camden. I was born in 1998 in Cape May Court House to Anthony and Debra Piro, and I am the youngest of four. I have 2 sisters and 1 brother, and as my pastor would say, “I am the spoiled one of the family.”
Growing up I was part of Saint Ann’s Parish in Wildwood, but after the merge with Assumption in Wildwood Crest, I became a parishioner of Notre Dame De La Mer Parish in Wildwood. But my parents weren’t active in parish life, I usually attended Mass with my grand mom and my mom at Saint John of God Church in North Cape May.
I attended Saint Ann School in Wildwood, and in second grade, while I was preparing for my First Holy Communion, my teacher would tell us how the priest had super powers that turned just bread and wine into body and blood. And that really attracted all the boys in my class because name a second grader that doesn’t want super powers. So we all wanted to become priests but the next day everybody else forgot about it except me. For me, I went through grade school thinking about the priesthood.
But then in middle school it really went on the back burner because I had different interests, I was making new friends, and interacting with girls in a different way. Then in eighth grade as I was preparing for my Confirmation, I started learning more about the faith and how important it was to me. And as I grew deeper in the faith the thought of the priesthood came right back to me. And so it came time to pick a Confirmation Saint. And at the time I was thinking about becoming a priest again, and Saint John Vianney really spoke to me, but then I learned about Saint Paul. And Saint Paul was such a great evangelizer and I think that is very important for a man that is discerning the call of God to look up to. Somebody who went all around the world to profess Jesus Christ as Lord. So I decided to pick Saint Paul as my Confirmation name.
During that time of discernment, I kept it a secret. I didn’t tell my mom, my dad, my grandmom, my siblings, my friends I didn’t tell anybody. And I would discern privately, I didn’t even talk to a priest. I would look up videos on YouTube or I would use Google search to find out if the priesthood is a possible vocation for me. I kept it a secret because I was afraid everybody was going to judge me because the priesthood isn’t really a thing that teenagers think of today.
Then during the summer in between my freshman and sophomore year of High School, at Wildwood Catholic, my pastor, Father Joe Wallace, he stopped me and he asked me if he could speak to me privately and I said sure. And he asked me, “Have you ever thought about becoming a priest?” I was absolutely shocked because like I said earlier I didn’t attend the parish, I attended another church. And this priest that I don’t even know stops me and asks me if I ever thought about becoming a priest. I was shocked! He didn’t know who I was or my story. He just said, “You look like a good man who looks like God could be calling you to the priest.” He saw me at Mass sometimes during the school year and said, “You’re very prayful.” You know, so he just wanted to ask the question. And I was a little nervous to say yes or no, so I said sometimes.
And after hearing that he said, “The Bishop, the new Bishop, Bishop Sullivan would be coming down to Wildwood for the Wedding of the Sea on August 14th.” And he said, “He has a new secretary, Father Michael Romano who is also the vocations director for the Diocese.” And he really wanted me to meet them. So I said, “Ok, I’ll go.” but I was a little hesitant about going or not. So I decided to go in the end, but towards the end of the Mass, I got cold feet and I tried to sneak away in the back of the church. But Father Wallace stopped me and he pulled me over to introduce me to Bishop Sullivan and Father Michael Romano the Vocations Director.
After meeting with Father Michael Romano, Vocations Director, and Bishop Sullivan, I felt really calm, really relaxed. And I really felt relaxed with Father Wallace too. To the point where I didn’t have a problem talking to them about my possible vocation. And afterwards we kept in touch me, Father Wallace and Father Michael Romano. And we started to attend Diocesan events Father Wallace and I.
And Father Michael Romano, the Vocations Director, would invite us to Project Andrew Dinners, which is where we would have dinner with Bishop Sullivan. And after dinner we would sit around in a group and Bishop Sullivan would tell us his vocation story and the troubles that he had to go through. And then we would hear vocation stories of other priests that attended.
And in Senior Year, Father Michael Romano, the Vocations Director, invited me to these discernment groups for juniors and seniors in high school at Our Lady of Peace parish in Williamstown. And there I got to meet a lot of great guys. One thing that really shocked me was that they were my age, they were normal people, they did sports, they were part of clubs, they were student council. And I really felt open talking to them and talking about the priesthood with them. And we got to share with each other our own discernment stories and struggles.
In November 2016, I decided to apply to the Diocese of Camden. And during the application process it was tough and it was a little stressful. I had three interviews, two of them with a priest and one was with a lay woman. And during those interviews they talked about my prayer life, my academics, my sexual life, and my family, and my relationships with other people. And then after that I had to get a psychological test done. And a psychological test was very needed, because it just is trying to make sure, like this man is actually willing to discern God’s call for him. He’s not just going in there for the title or for anything else, just for the look or the name.
And then after that after doing all the interviews and a psychological exam I had a meeting with the Vocation Director, Father Michael Romano. And during that interview I was very calm, very relaxed. Father Romano reminded me saying, “Just because you’re applying to the seminary does not mean you’ll be ordained a priest. All it means is that you’re searching for God’s call for you. You just want to make sure that the priesthood could be a possibility or could not be a possibility.” And that really took a lot off my shoulders. I felt very calm after that I felt like people wouldn’t be saying, “Oh, you’re gonna be a priest, you’re gonna be a priest.” They’re like in a sense preordained me. But I’m just a regular college guy with this discernment going on with me at Seton Hall.
And then after the application process, I learned that I need to improve on a lot of things. I need to be formed into a Christian gentleman, which is what the seminary is. Which is why it takes such a long time. It takes eight years of formation. And formation, whenever I hear the word formation I always think of Ryan Meehan, another seminarian of our diocese. One day Father Romano, who was driving me up to Seton Hall with Ryan to show me around campus and Saint Andrews. And whenever Ryan would talk he would always talk about the formation advisors, the formation, and formation classes, and the conferences of formation. And all I was thinking was like, oh my gosh, this guy needs a dictionary. All he kept saying is formation, formation, formation. It wasn’t until after the application process that I realized seminary is formation. It is going to form me into a Christian gentleman at the college seminary and then if I make it through the college I will be going to the major seminary where I’ll be trained to become a priest to Jesus Christ.
This past August, August of 2017, the seminarians and Father Michael Romano, the Vocation Director, went on retreat at Saint Alfonso in Long Branch, New Jersey. While there, the new seminarians, me and Nick DiNunzio, really got to know the seminarians of the diocese. And while there, we got great fraternity experiences. We would play wiffle ball, we would pray together, play games and eat dinner together. And it was great. We would talk together and during that retreat, we had conferences, two times a day with Monsignor James Tracy, a retired priest of our diocese. And Monsignor Tracy was just so energetic about the priesthood. His smile and love for the priesthood is as if he was newly ordained last year.
And Monsignor, in one of his conferences, he mentioned how the Diocese of Camden is like a sequoia tree. The roots are very small but the tree itself is ginormous. And that’s what the diocese is. The diocese might not have big roots like in the Archdiocese of Philly or the Archdiocese of New York, but the impact is great among the people of God and through the community.
This year I will be beginning my first year at the College seminary of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Andrews Hall at Seton Hall University. And I’m really looking forward to it because for once in my life I’ll be living with guys who are going through the same struggles that I am. Trying to do discern God’s call and to see whether we are called to be priests or not.
And another thing I’m really looking forward to is the fraternity among the seminarians. I’m looking forward to praying together and eating together with them, studying together. And getting to know them just as we are going through this journey in this discernment that’s very difficult.
And for any young man out there who’s thinking about becoming a priest, you need to pray. Without prayer you’re never going to get anywhere whatsoever with your discernment. And even talk to your parish priest. Maybe you’ll feel nervous, but try to get in contact with him somehow. If you don’t want him to know who you are, then just email him and just sign your name anonymous or something. As long as he knows there’s a parishioner out there who is thinking about becoming a priest. And I’m sure he will be always available to talk to you. And when you’re ready to talk to him in person, he’ll be very excited to talk to you.
Thank you so much for listening to me please pray for vocations for the Diocese of Camden.