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April 10, 2019

By Darcy Fargo

PLATTSBURGH – While he said his mother claims she knew he was called to at least consider the priesthood, Aaron AkeyAaron Akey, 26, of Plattsburgh said it took him a fair amount of time to reach that realization.

“Mom is really excited,” said Akey, who has applied to Pontifical College Josephinum to begin his seminary studies this fall. “She kind of feels like she was right all along, and she has no qualms telling me about that. My sister has also been very supportive. She came to her conversion point before me. She was really an anchor for me. I could bounce ideas off her as I was coming back.”

Akey said he took his initial faith from his father, who died when he was 9.

“He had really shaped my faith journey,” Akey said. “Mom was critical, too, but dad taught me to pray and taught me to trust the Lord. It was my faith that got me through his death and that difficult time. People said I handled it better than most people would and better than anyone would’ve expected, but it was because I had strong faith.”

Through his teenage years, Akey continued to attend Mass, usually as an altar server, though he said he had “zero interest” in developing a relationship with the Lord.

“I fell away from my faith and fell into a dark place toward the end of high school,” he said. “After I graduated, God showed me the current state of my life was not the path He wanted for me. It started to feel like God wanted something for me. I thought maybe I was called to be a priest.”

Akey said he contacted Father Bryan D. Stitt, then vocations coordinator for the diocese and attended a few discernment events.

“I hadn’t been confirmed,” Akey said. “Just as we were setting up the process to get me confirmed, I started working at Swarovski (a lighting manufacturer). I started working second shift at my job, and that made it so I couldn’t do the confirmation class. I was also making better money, so getting confirmed and my faith in general took a back seat for a while. Then it got a bit further into the back seat, then a bit further into the back seat. I talked to Father Stitt again, and I told him I wasn’t interested.”

As before, Akey spent some time away from actively working on his relationship with God and the church. Again, God brought him back.

“I pushed (faith) out of my mind. I and ran away from it, in fact,” he said. “I got pretty far away. Then, one night, God gave me an understanding that I had pushed Him out of my life and put another in his place. I knew I had to be on one side or the other. After that, I parted ways – over a long period of time – with the things I struggled with. I went back to sacraments, especially confession.”

While he wasn’t typically overly observant of Holy Days of Obligation, Akey said he then felt particularly compelled to attend Mass at his home parish, St. Peter’s in Plattsburgh, on Feast of the Immaculate Conception in 2016.

“Monsignor (Dennis J.) Duprey was giving a homily, and he was talking about the line, ‘rejoice, Mary, for you have found favor with God.’ But it was like I didn’t hear the ‘Mary’ part. I felt like there was something God wanted of me. He wanted – no, he wants – a relationship with me. It was a moment of peace. It was incredible!”

Akey said he knew he had to take the steps needed to get confirmed and to discern his vocation.

“I kept watching the bulletin for adult confirmation classes,” he said. “When the announcement came out, I still thought priesthood was the ultimate call for me. That bulletin announcement said, ‘come, I’ll make you fishers of men.’ I knew it was right.”

Akey said the class was taught by Deacon John Drollette, who helped him further develop his understanding of the faith. In June 2017, Akey was confirmed.

“After that, I went through an intense period of trial and testing,” he said. “By fall, I was questioning whether or not I’d hold to a faith I claimed I wanted in June. By God’s grace alone, I made it through that.”
He still kept coming back to the idea of being a priest.

“At that point, I wasn’t sure how to go about starting this journey, and I prayed about it,” he said. “A week later, Msgr. Duprey stopped me and said, ‘What happened to your desire to be a priest?’ He invited me to meet with him.”

Msgr. Duprey put Akey in contact with Father Howard J. Venette, who heads the Fishers Club in the eastern portion of the diocese. Akey started participating in that group, which gathers together men discerning a vocation to the priesthood.

“Fishers Club has been critical to me,” he said. “It was a place to get fraternity with other men that were following the same path I was on.”

Akey said Father Venette arranged a group retreat to Star Lake, where discerners spent nearly three days together discerning. Seminarian Leagon Carlin also attended the event. The event included a Mass, and Akey was invited to join the altar servers for it.

“I was allowed to borrow a cassock and surplice,” he said. “It just felt so right on. During the ‘Our Father’ one of the other servers, a very small child, reached up to take my hand. I never felt that unworthy in my life. He was looking at the Christ in me. While I felt unworthy of it, it felt like I was where I belonged, too. It was really powerful.”

Akey said he has visited the seminary and is looking forward to the academics, the fraternity and the spiritual components of it.

“I’ve never seen a more pleasant place,” he said. “And it seemed like they have a lot of fun there. Everyone thinks of the prayer and study parts, and it sounds stuffy, they have a complete bar and recreation area. They were having pizza and bonfires off the back porch when I was there.”

Though he’s received great support from family, friends and his employer, Akey said he knows there will be challenges as he discerns and pursues God’s path for his life.

“It really is nervewracking, but God’s grace is a really powerful thing,” he said. “Whatever He wants from me, He’s going to give me exactly what I need to do it.”


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