New priest fills 'desperate need' for clergy in Alle-Kiski Valley
As one of the first priests ordained in the Catholic Diocese of Greensburg in nearly a decade, the Rev. Daniel Ulishney is living the challenges brought on by a shortage of clergy.
Ulishney, 27, a Hempfield native, was one of three priests Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt ordained in June in Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Greensburg.
He now resides at St. Margaret Mary in Lower Burrell, where he serves as an assistant priest known as a parochial vicar.
In addition to St. Margaret Mary, Ulishney holds that position at Mount St. Peter, St. Joseph and St. Mary of Czestochowa, all in New Kensington. He assists at Christ the King Parish in Leechburg.
Ulishney sees the challenge as a learning opportunity.
“I have the great joy of celebrating Mass each day in a different community,” he said. “They are all very beautiful worship spaces.
“It's really an immersion in the history and culture of this area. Each of my parishes has their own identity and history and culture which makes them unique.
“It's a great place to be a sponge to learn as a first assignment for a priest.”
Ulishney's posting to multiple parishes is something new brought on by the church's “desperate need” for personnel, said Monsignor James Gaston of St. Margaret Mary.
Ulishney and two other priests ordained last year were the first since 2004, Gaston said. The next are not expected until 2015.
“In no way are the numbers coming in going to replenish the numbers leaving at the upper end,” said Gaston, 68, a priest for 43 years who is nearing the retirement age range of 70 to 75.
Gaston, who lives with Ulishney and evaluates his work, described him as a dedicated young man with a true calling to the ministry.
“I think he's entered into this rather complex assignment very well,” Gaston said. “There really is no preparation for being newly ordained, and not being assigned to just one church but four with three pastors.
“That makes this a unique assignment for him. Each parish has its own history and culture and priorities.”
The multiple assignments could make it harder for Ulishney to build deep relationships with parishioners, Gaston said.
“That's the challenge of the assignment,” Gaston said. “He's negotiating that very well. He's very focused for his age.”
A 2005 graduate of Greensburg Central Catholic, Ulishney said it was during a youth conference early in high school that he first considered the priesthood. It would be six years before he entered a pre-theology program at Franciscan University of Steubenville, and another six until he was ordained.
His studies included three years in Rome at the Pontifical North American College and the Pontifical Gregorian University. He studied last year at the Catholic University of America in Washington, through which he is continuing his studies online for a degree in canon law.
Before the priesthood, Ulishney considered becoming a teacher. He said his journey to the priesthood was a gradual one.
“I would say God has a plan for everyone in our lives. We are called to ask him, ‘What's your plan for me?' ” he said. “I love my faith, and I want to share that with people.”
Ulishney is the oldest of five siblings, having three brothers and a sister, in a Catholic, church-going family.
He said his parents, Mark and Joan Ulishney, were supportive of his decision and the journey that followed. He is the first priest in his family.
Joan Ulishney said attending Masses conducted by their son has been “very moving.”
“I think it's wonderful,” she said of her son becoming a priest. “He's been called to it. He really enjoys people, and he's able to use his gifts and talents.”
Ulishney said he understands priestly celibacy. While forgoing the opportunity to be a biological father, he sees its as a chance to be “a spiritual father to thousands of spiritual children over a lifetime.
“When you think about it like that, it's wonderful, beautiful,” he said.
As a parochial vicar, Ulishney performs various tasks in the parishes as needed. He has officiated at baptisms, weddings and funerals and has performed the anointing of the sick, also known as last rites, for those near death.
“You never are more a priest than when hearing confessions,” he said. “What an incredible gift and grace it is to be an instrument of God's mercy. It's just a tremendous work of the Holy Spirit as people bare their hearts before the Lord.”
Ulishney said his first six months as a priest have been rewarding and rich.
“I'm looking forward to a lifetime of service to God and his church,” he said. “It's a wonderful life.”
Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 or firstname.lastname@example.org.