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AUGUST 2018 PRIEST OF THE MONTH - REV. JEROME KOPEC 

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Even though he felt called to the priesthood at a very young age, Fr. Jerry Kopec noted, “I always say my priesthood is a surprise because where God sends me so many unexpected things happen!” He gives a priest at his childhood parish of St. Andrew in Kenmore credit for inspiring his desire for that vocation. “He was such a kind, gentle, soft spoken man.” This led him to think he would like to consider priesthood for himself.

He attended St. Andrew Elementary School but when the time came for high school, he decided to go to Canisius instead of the Diocesan Preparatory High School. Priests, whose opinions he valued, advised him to broaden his horizons. They knew he was interested in the priesthood and wanted him to explore other learning experiences before entering the seminary. He went on to graduate from Canisius College and then pursued a Master’s Degree in Sociology at Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.  Never having lost his desire to become a priest, he thereafter entered Christ the King Seminary and was ordained in 1979 by Bishop Edward Head.

Father Jerry’s first assignment was to St. John Kanty Parish on Broadway in Buffalo. He stayed there for two and a half years and then moved on to St. Gregory the Great Parish in Williamsville for another two and a half years. After that Bishop Head asked Fr. Kopec to return to Catholic University to study for a degree in Canon Law. Two years and one Canon Law Degree later, Fr. Jerry returned to Western New York and worked in the Tribunal at the Catholic Center in Buffalo. He spent four and a half years there full time when the bishop unexpectedly assigned him to St. John Kanty as pastor.

While at St. John Kanty he was asked to chair the Commission for Pastoral Reorganization of the East Side. Due to the diminishing number of priests and declining population, there was a need to restructure the church’s presence in East Buffalo.  Although it was not an easy task, Fr. Jerry saw the positive side of his work. He felt he learned a lot working with Sr. Regina Murphy, Bishop Grosz and Bishop Head in this experience. He discovered that if you have a process where the people are really engaged, they will come to a decision that they can embrace as their own.  Although the engaged parishes were sad to leave their church building behind, they understood the need to change so the Church could move forward.

Father Kopec then returned to the Catholic Center as Priests’ Personnel Coordinator. Along with this responsibility he was asked to co-chair the New Visions Program which was a diocesan-wide process of pastoral re-organization. Once again he embraced the challenge and saw the positive side of the mission. He enjoyed working again with Sr. Regina as well as with Kathy Heffern.   Father Jerry recalled, “We traveled to all different parts of the diocese and it was amazing how parishioners would work and be so dedicated to the process. They would come up with great recommendations.  I treasure that experience. If you trust in people and give them the opportunity to study and learn, they develop wonderful creative ideas that you might not otherwise discover.”

After three years in that position, Fr. Jerry was assigned as pastor of St. John de LaSalle in Niagara Falls. While he was there he really enjoyed the close knit community in the LaSalle area.  In 2005 he was assigned to SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Williamsville where he currently resides.

In the winter Fr. Jerry likes to ski and in the summer he likes to hike. He loves to travel. After his first few years at SS. Peter and Paul, Fr. Kopec took a three month sabbatical to Rome. He traveled every weekend and visited many places including Austria and France. One of the highlights of his European experience was going to Poland where he was able to connect with some of his relatives. He learned that one of his cousins was a close confidant of Lech Walesa. His cousin was at the docks when the strikes occurred and was even imprisoned. When Mr. Walesa became president, Fr. Jerry’s cousin was named chief of staff. Father Jerry recalled, “My cousin had magnificent stories to tell yet he was such a humble man. He had never before told us about the heroic work he was doing.” When they walked through town, people would come up to his cousin, kiss his hands and thank him for all he did for them.

When asked about his favorite part of priesthood, Fr. Kopec replied, “It’s the surprises! You have an image of the priesthood in the seminary and you think that’s the way it’s going to go…boy was I wrong!” He never imagined he would study Canon Law and he added, “Everywhere I’ve been God has really directed me to the unexpected. I so appreciate how I have been opened to experiences I would never have predicted.”

Like many other pastors, Fr. Jerry finds the administrative side of parish work to be challenging.  Even with such challenges, Fr. Jerry looks at the bright side exclaiming, “God provides! I have learned so much since ordination from the lay people that I work with.” He added that he feels blessed to be surrounded by dedicated people who work in the school because they believe in the mission of Catholic education. The same goes for pastoral associates and other staff who assist him. He believes, “They are passionate people and I learn so much from them.”

In advising those interested in the priesthood, Fr. Jerry commented, “learn as much as you can. Get a good education. If you have an interest in another field besides religion, you should develop that skill because that’s God’s gift to you and that’s going to be part of your priesthood. Keep an open mind. Don’t be afraid of those experiences that say – ‘That’s not me.’ You’ll be surprised where the Lord leads you.”

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