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Got To Serve Somebody

Life-altering realizations are not always manifested in blaring sirens from the mountaintop—sometimes they are heralded in hushed whispers over a period of years.

Massapequa Park native Peter Folan’s decision to fully embrace a life in the priesthood was one such realization. There was no lightning bolt through window, no bright light in a tunnel; instead, he merely reflected on his years immersed in religious studies asking one simple question.

“I looked back and asked myself if I was happy,” Folan, 34, says. “I looked back at the big picture and found that I was happy. That was a really good hint.”

That insight led Folan to a great honor last month at Fordham University, as he was one of 16 new priests ordained into the Society of Jesus, a religious order in the Catholic church known as the Jesuits.

And starting this summer, the newly ordained priest will serve as an associate pastor at Holy Trinity Church in Washington, D.C.

“My job is to live a life about the gospel,” he says. “Preaching the gospel, but only using words when necessary. I’m not going around knocking on doors selling bibles. It’s about knowing the poor, the marginalized, the voiceless, and acting on behalf of people who can’t act for themselves.”

That message first resonated with the affable Folan at a young age. He remembers being in church, specifically Our Lady of Lourdes in Massapequa Park, with his mother and thinking seriously about a life in the priesthood—between daydreams of becoming a police officer.

“Faith has always been a significant part of my life, really any position that involves helping people,” he says.

Prior to entering the Society of Jesus, Folan served in education and public policy for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and taught at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Md.

A 1996 graduate of Chaminade High School in Mineola, Fr. Folan attended the University of Notre Dame and earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies and German in 2000.

Then, in 2003, Folan entered the Jesuits for two years as a novice,  to learn the history of the order and to figure out whether or not he wanted to be a priest for the rest of his life.

“The longer I stayed there and the more I invested myself in the Jesuits, the more I knew I wanted this life,” he says, adding that many older priests guided him with their counsel.

Reverend Thomas H. Smolich, president of the Jesuit Conference, says Folan and the 15 other new priests bring a range of experience into the fold. “Their call to priestly ministry is as varied as their hometowns and former occupations,” he says. “But they have one thing in common:  a desire to dedicate themselves to the Jesuit mission of serving the Church where the need is greatest.”

Growing up on Lakeshore Drive in Massapequa Park, Folan recalls spending his time playing baseball and soccer as a youngster. But his favorite memories involve eating ice cream with his family at a Carvel on Park Boulevard.

“I remember sitting there with my family on summer nights,” he says. “I’d trade every cent I have to go back and spend five minutes there in that time.”

His mother Peggy still lives in his childhood home, while his brother moved to Maine and his sister shipped off to Boston. He recently returned to the neighborhood to lead mass at Our Lady of Lourdes and it reminded him of just how important the old neighborhood was in his development.

“Some of them knew me as a little kid. They remember the stupid things I did, and they let me be myself and grow up and become myself,” he says. “The people here have long memories and many told me that my dad would be so proud of me.”

Folan’s father died in 1994 and Folan’s thoughts routinely return to him and the sacrifices he made for the family. Folan believes that the accomplishments of one’s life cannot be fully realized until sacrifices are made—and he knows a thing or two about sacrifice, having given up a chance at marriage and a family of his own in order to devote his life to faith.

That aspect of the priesthood did breed doubts as he was going through his schooling, but rather than simply disposing of or ignoring those doubts, Folan faced them head-on.

And in that process, Folan came to realize that the possibilities were greater than the sacrifice.

“If there is no real sacrifice, then there is no real love,” he says. “Not being married is a sort of sacrifice, but it makes sense to me. It is one that I find bears great fruit.”