By John Woods
The thought of becoming a priest first occurred to young Steven McClernon when he was a junior in high school. He was getting ready to take the SATs and ACTs and beginning to fill out college applications.
He was being asked to consider what he was going to do with the rest of his life. For the first time, the priesthood seemed like a possibility.
His family, led by parents Robert and Diane, attended weekly Mass at Good Shepherd parish in Holbrook, where Steven was involved in a sandwich-making ministry, assisted at the vacation Bible school and worked at the rectory along with his sister.
Still, he wasn’t ready to consider such a big step at the time and tried his best “to brush it off.”
The only problem was that the thought never left him. Not through the rest of high school at Sachem North, or at Suffolk Community College, or at St. Joseph’s College (now University), where he earned a child study degree in anticipation of a career in elementary education.
Nor did it go away as he began his teaching career, in the Connetquot district and at Eastern Suffolk BOCES. His older brother and younger sister are both teachers.
McClernon attended monthly Holy Hours at the Parish of St. Ignatius Loyola in Hicksville as well as discernment retreats. As he was wrestling with the decision, he came to rely on the counsel of his pastor at Good Shepherd, Rev. Msgr. Gerard Ringenback.
He now uses a piece of discernment advice Msgr. Ringenback gave him in his own vocations talks. It features the image of a tripod where one leg is the discerner’s own desire, another is God’s desire and the third is what the people of God see in you.
“When those three are balanced, that’s where your vocation is,” Msgr. Ringenback told him.
He also said, “There are indicators you would be a good priest. Why don’t you try it? The best thing you can do is try.
“If you don’t try, those questions will always be with you,” said Msgr. Ringenback, who vested McClernon during the Mass last November at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers in which he was ordained to the transitional diaconate.
Deacon McClernon soon took up Msgr. Ringenback’s advice and began his formation for the priesthood with philosophy studies at Cathedral Seminary House of Formation in Douglaston, Queens.
“I loved it. I had some of the best professors,” said Deacon McClernon, who persevered through academic challenges at the outset.
“I look back at those two years as a good, growing experience.”
One of the experiences he most enjoyed was the interaction at lunch with senior priests from the Diocese of Brooklyn who resided at the facility.
When he arrived at St. Joseph’s Seminary, he was prepared for the rigors of graduate-level work.
He is active in community life, playing the organ and serving in the schola (choir) and assisting with hospitality during events.
During his seminary years, Deacon McClernon has also gained pastoral experience in the parishes of the Diocese of Rockville Centre. A significant lesson came at St. Martha’s parish in Uniondale where he witnessed the pastor, Msgr. Frank Caldwell, extend “the ministry of presence” to parishioners during his visits to their homes, hospitals, nursing homes and parish events.
“He modeled the life of Jesus in the present day,” Deacon McClernon said. “When we look at the Gospels, Jesus was constantly visiting and talking with people and allowing them to experience that personal encounter with the Lord.”
“Msgr. Caldwell brought that personal connection to all he met, he brought Christ to them, and for me, that is how I would like to minister.”
Looking ahead to his own priesthood, Deacon McClernon, 31, said he plans to spend time meeting with parishioners and has a special interest in young people and hopes to build on his previous experiences as a teacher and religious education instructor.
“I love to interact with those students,” he said.
Deacon McClernon will offer his first Mass as a priest at his home parish church, Good Shepherd in Holbrook, on Sunday, June 11, at 12 noon.