John Adams (left) converses with Tom McGoo in Sign Language at Resurrection Parish, Depew. Adams has been ordained a Transitional Deacon and will still working with the Deaf Apostolate while studying at the Seminary. (Patrick McPartland/ Western New York Catholic Staff Photographer)
At first glance, it appears Deacon John Adams gave up a lucrative career as a psychologist to join the priesthood, but a deeper look reveals that his studies and work have just been steps that led to the front doors of Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora.
The 56-year-old grew up in the small steel mill town of Duquesne, Pa., 12 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, with his parents William and Mary Adams, and his siblings Mary Ann, Bill and Mark. It was an upbringing of God, family and sports. His father served and protected as a police officer, while his mother would be helping the neighbors.
Adams grew up with the cultural influence of his Slovak parents. This means a large, close family. During holidays they would have to rent a hall to accommodate their nearly 100-member clan.
Family has always been an important part of our life,” Adams said. “Church was a huge part of our life. As part of the Slovak tradition there’s quite a bit of connection to the Church. That’s a very central part of our lives. So, I grew up not only going to Mass, but devotions and novenas. That’s all part of the Eastern European tradition, very similar to what the Polish Church is in Buffalo.”
Adams attended Catholic elementary school and a public high school, then went on to Penn State to earn a degree in special education and elementary education.
“I always had an interest in working with those who were more vulnerable and those with disabilities, primarily those with developmental disabilities. At that time, I also was working with kids with emotional problems too,” he said.
His father set an example to serve in the community. John’s sister is a nurse, while his brothers took the fields of education and counseling. John grew into a love of teaching and was drawn into helping children with special needs.
“I felt like I wanted to go further and help out, because I knew how much support the family needed. So I started turning towards psychology, which seemed to be a natural kind of connection,” he said of his decision to move across the country and attend graduate school at UCLA. “It was difficult leaving the family, but I trusted in the Lord and prayed if this was the right path for me.”
While waiting to join the counseling/psychology program, Deacon Adams took a sign language course that changed the direction of his life. From then on, all his work for six years at UCLA was directed toward the deaf and hard of hearing. He took his Ph.D. in counseling psychology to professorships at California State University San Bernardino and the Rochester Institute of Technology. At RIT he developed a program to train people with deafness to be school counselors, which he in turn brought to St. Mary’s School for the Deaf in Buffalo. He liked St. Mary’s so much that he moved to Buffalo full time and stayed with the school for nine years.
With encouragement he received his New York state license in psychology and opened the Family Center of Western New York, a clinic for deaf and hard of hearing, where he counseled families.
Another turning point in Deacon Adams’ life came in April 2005 when Pope John Paul II passed away. In his eulogy, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, said, “Follow Me.”
“Every time he described part of John Paul II’s life he mentioned about how he followed the Lord,” Deacon Adams recalled. “While he was speaking, it just spoke to me personally. I just felt the Lord was telling me to really consider this as part of my future. It was powerful to feel God’s presence, but also the words ‘follow Me,’ that that was something I should pay attention to. After everything I had been through trusting the Lord, I thought I need to really examine this.”
Two years later, April 8, 2007, Easter Sunday, he thought, “What better day to make a commitment to the Lord?”
After discerning monastic life with the Benedictines, he came to Christ the King Seminary in the fall of 2008. The 132 acres of scenic green beauty in East Aurora was one of the attractions. “I love nature. We, as a family, used to always go hiking and camping and just finding God in nature was always so important to our family,” Deacon Adams said. “Father Walt Szczesny is fantastic. He really introduces you to a community, into a family atmosphere out at the seminary. That community really made me feel I was part of something.”
Deacon Adams had already been living in Western New York for 20 years and felt CKS and the Diocese of Buffalo was the place for him. His parents, still in Duquesne, are getting on in years. His mother has moderate dementia. John would like to be home for his family more, but his sister told him they need him at the seminary for prayer.
“That’s the kind of support I have from my family,” he said.
Along with nature, Deacon Adams enjoys the rich diversity of his fellow seminarians. His 27 classmates range in age from their 20s to 50s and come with experience in computer software engineering, homeland security and accounting. One seminarian even wore the uniform and oversized head of Buster Bison. “When you have that eclectic group, for spirituality, it provides a rich source to encounter God,” Deacon Adams said.
Now wrapping up one journey and preparing for the next, Deacon Adams calls his seminary stay as “incredible.”
“We have an excellent faculty and good role models as priests for us,” he said. “What’s also nice, we have the religious involved too. Sister Marion (Moeser, OSF) teaches our Scripture course, and is an excellent ancient Scripture scholar and Gospel scholar. We also have the Franciscan influence with (teachers) Father Gabe Scarfia and Father Xavier Seubert. All of that together has been a rich, comprehensive experience. They’ve shown us a wide perspective of Church, but really giving us a strong foundation in liturgy and for Scripture.”
Deacon Adams and Deacon Bryan Zielenieski will be ordained to the priesthood on June 7, 2014, at St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown Buffalo.