According to experts, individuals change careers, on average, seven times during their lifetime. While Larry Adams has matched that job statistic, there is nothing ordinary about his latest occupation. At age 46, he joined the priesthood.
Ordained June 29, 2013, at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Oakland, Father Adams celebrated his first official Mass the following day at St. Germaine Church in Bethel Park. He delivered his first Homily there on Monday. Recently, he wrapped up his first full week as parochial vicar at St. Louise de Marillac Church in Upper St. Clair.
“It’s been an amazing and exciting few weeks,” Father Adams said enthusiastically. “After all the joy and excitement in the Catholic community, people are saying ‘Hi, Father.’ It takes some getting used to after being called Larry for so long. That’s been a pleasant surprise.”
The real surprise though, may be his path to priesthood. For the journey has had as many thrilling twists as an amusement ride at Kennywood Park, located not too far from where Father Adams grew up. As a youth, he attended St. Hedwig in Duquesne. Named after a queen of Poland, not Harry Potter’s pet owl, the church now serves as a worship site for Christ the Light of the World Parish.
“When you’re in a Catholic school and serving mass, you can’t help but think about the notion of a vocation and about becoming a priest, especially when you are up there on the altar,” said Father Adams.
However, as a normal 14-year-old kid, living in the 1980s, Adams wanted to date girls. At Serra Catholic, he went to the prom with his high school sweetheart his senior year. Next, he moved on to the University of Pittsburgh and experienced all aspects of college life. He attended athletic events, joined a fraternity, studied computer sciences and encountered “the great love of his life.” Alas as he says, “sometimes college relationships just don’t work out sometimes.”
However, his professional endeavors did. Starting locally, Adams worked for Mellon Bank “briefly” and RPS, which became FedEx ground. Next, he taught at Penn Technical Institute.
While Adams “loved” laboring at RPS because he solved problems and had fun, he enjoyed working with 18-19-20 years olds, who did not want to go to a four-year institution but earned associate’s degrees.
“For some people, computer science is all about the machines. But, for me, it was all about solving problems. And there were a lot of opportunities to identify business challenges and to overcome them. And that was a lot of fun. That was right up my alley,” explained Adams of his position at RPS.
While PTI didn’t pay very well, it was the most fun Adams says he ever had working. PTI also put him on a circuitous path towards priesthood. Because he enjoyed the environment at PTI, Adams started teaching CCD at St. Germaine Church in Bethel Park, located approximately a mile from the home he had just purchased.
“After I had graduated college and had done my time saving money and living in apartments, I ended up over that way.”
Adams admitted it took awhile to become fully involved in the parish. “Sometimes, as Catholics, we don’t do a good job welcoming new people in. So, I hid in the corner for a couple of years.”
Encouraged by fellow instructor Diane Weiss, Adams also joined the traditional choir, directed by Melanie Spagnolo. Though shy regarding singing separately, the training helps him now. “I loved singing in a choir, but a solo petrifies me. And of course, I pick up the ministry that requires me to chant, on my own. So, go figure,” Adams said with a laugh.
Singing did not solve Adams’ professional ponderings. Consulting, however, did.
After his stint with PTI, Adams worked in the energy industry, travelling to Houston and California.
“We’re talking Road Warriors stuff,” Adams said of the lifestyle. “Fly out Sunday night, fly back Friday night. Challenging but really lucrative,” he added of the occupation.
Though travel wearied him, problem-solving energized him.
“I had a lot of technology knowledge, and not a lot of energy industry knowledge. So coming up to speed, and being able to apply what I had to the business, to the industry at hand, was a lot of fun because I was being challenged intellectually and solving problems.”
Cracking life’s crisis
Not until he set the consulting aside did Adams begin to crack the real crisis in his life. Now that he had reached one of his goals in his professional life, which was financial, naturally, Adams began thinking to himself. “OK, what now? What direction am I going to head now with my career?”
Enron and the energy crash occurred. Then the 9/11 attack happened.
“So, quite naturally, I was thinking to myself, ‘What is it that I want to do?’ Because, for me, professionally, it was all about challenges. So, how do I want to challenge, direct, the rest of my career?
“I was also thinking about my personal life. And things were coming together in a way that suggested that, maybe a vocation was something that God had in mind for me. It was something that I had considered.”
Once he stopped consulting and took a job with EQT, he started talking to the vocation department of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. He even summoned up the courage to attend a cookout with the bishop. Yet, he spent another year reflecting.
“The saying still waters run deep applies to me. I spent a lot of time in thought. Prayer and thinking and trying to get my arms around what God wants me to do and where was He sending me.”
With the help of vocation director Father Tom Sparacino, who had been at St. Valentine Church in Bethel Park before being stationed at St. Richard, as well as Sister Cindy-Ann Kimbler from pastoral formation, he unraveled those mysteries regarding his life.
He recalled sharing a serious conversation and a cup of coffee at Starbucks with Father Sparacino. “My life story has had to do with thinking, ‘I guess what God wants me to do be is a husband and a father.’ Originally, that was what I thought.”
Admittedly, old by seminary standards, Adams brings something different to his vocation. He possesses a little more of that lived experience and he understands the value of that as he relates to his parishioners. “Hopefully, people will say, well, you’ve been through it, you know,” he said.
“Because I spent all those years, literally, as a technology problem solver. And, in a way, you know, that gets under your skin. And that’s how that’s the mode of operation that you are used to,” he continued, “but I also am still learning that I am not in the business world anymore. In seminary, Sister Cindy always reminded me by saying, ‘Larry, you know, you are not going there, setting an agenda and solving a problem, you are just being present. And you are letting the Holy Spirit work.’”
After six years spent in the seminary and entering and exiting ‘different decision gates,’ the Holy Spirit worked wonders at his ordination as well as at his first Masses at St. Germaine.
A moving part of the ordination is when the candidate for priesthood is prostrate in the center aisle in front of the altar and all the saints are invoked to add their prayers to God. Last year, Adams experienced this with 25 of his fellow deacons. This year, he was alone.
“That’s a powerful moment, and when the ordination is happening and right at the moment when you aware of it,” Adams enthused. “That is pretty awesome.” But, he added being the only priest ordained this year made him melancholy rather than proud. “There was a certain sadness to it,” he said. “I’m not a spotlight guy. It’s another reason I look at this and go, “God, is this what you had in mind for me?’ I like being the guy behind the spotlight. And maybe that’s the reason why Mass works so well. Because I’m the guy behind Christ at the altar.”
However, Father Adams was center stage when he celebrated his first Mass at St. Germaine in front of family and friends, including his two former fraternity brothers, Tom Kubilius of Mt. Lebanon and Tim Malhalik from Washington County .
Father Adams wore a vestment, purchased for him from the church at JMJ, a religious store in Bethel Park. The garment, made in Poland, featured the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa embroidered on it. In addition, the choir, of which he had been a part, sang two favorite Polish hymns “Czarna Madonno” and “Serceczna Matko”
Adams said the Mass made him feel “nostalgic,” as it reminded him of growing up and his Slavic background. “I especially remember the Polish carols we sung on Christmas Eve,” he said.
His second and ensuing Masses are different now. “Like anything else, you gain more of a sense of confidence the more you go. So, it’s nice because, the more often I celebrate Mass and am becoming more accustomed to doing it, that gives more time for reflection and prayer. Which is really the whole goal,” he said.
“For me, the best part of being a priest is saying Mass, because a priest gets to experience in a profound way when bread and wine change in the body and blood of Christ.
The new job
After just one week of employment at St. Louise de Marillac, Adams is observing what the needs are of the community and “how he can pitch in.” His past experiences will help him relate to his parishioners. “It gives me one more opportunity to have a perspective that might be helpful in ministry. Sometimes you ask yourself, ‘How in the world can I possibly do this? This is just such a big responsibility, such a huge undertaking, how can I do it?’ And the answer, I think, that comes back is, you aren’t doing so much as God is doing it through you.
“If there are life experiences that I have had that I see reflected in parish life, maybe they resonate with me a little more strongly because I have experienced something like them in my professional life in the past. But I think that it is something that every priest, at least, in certain ways, tries to do. Where does his flock find itself in that Scripture reading? What do they mean to hear that day? The church needs all kinds of pastors. Those who have a pastoral heart. Those who can counsel, those who can, in a particular tender and pastoral way, celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation. Right? So, the church needs a whole range of pastors and a range of talents.
“I hope be among God’s people. Stand with them. Be there with them. While, I think at heart, I am a problem solver, that doesn’t always work well in ministry, interesting enough. So I’m not necessarily here to solve problems but represent God to his people. A priest’s life needs to be the people and his role is to witness to them God’s love in their lives.”