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Archives Following the Good Shepherd
Called by God and the bishop

May 11, 2022

By Deacon Kevin Mastellon
Contributing Writer

OGDENSBURG – Like many vocation stories, Deacon James Crowley’s started early in his life. Even as a kid Crowley knew there was a calling, something different about his interests. Now he is a husband, father and deacon, all bona fide vocations, and he is chancellor of the Diocese of Ogdensburg.

There is an adult education assumption that says “as people grow older, they gain experience through the choices they make. These experiences accumulate, becoming a reservoir that adults can draw on as a personal resource for continued learning.”

Deacon Crowley’s life personifies that axiom.

He grew up in the Buffalo area, and he attended public schools, and weekly religious education classes through his local church.

“St. Catherine of Siena was a very active ‘70’s parish. It is now closed by the way. It wasn’t the greatest religious ed program, but I had a lot of great teachers and good priests to watch,” Deacon Crowley said.

One teacher in particular, Deacon Crowley said, was his Confirmation teacher.

“Ray, I don’t remember his last name, kind of got through to us that it was our responsibility to pay back, that I owed something,” Deacon Crowley said.

But the future deacon still could not put his finger on the “something.”

Deacon Crowley found that he did not have to work especially hard to succeed in grammar and high school. He was not prepared to study in college and so, by his own admission, did not do well at the start. He worked for a while and “had a good time, but there was a lack of peace.”

Enter Father Bob Fink, associate pastor at Deacon Crowley’s parish church. Father Fink was a Wadhams Hall graduate. After long talks, Father Fink convinced Deacon Crowley, then in his 20s to enter the school, which was then a seminary college. Deacon Crowley was on a path to the priesthood.

At Wadhams he found what he called a disconnect.

“I did not feel I was a strong enough man to do that, live as a priest,” he said. “That was confirmed after my sophomore year at Wadhams when I met Rita at Guggenheim.”

Guggenheim Center is 150 acres in the Adirondack Mountains near Saranac Lake. The diocese operates a summer camp for youth 12 to 18 years during July and August. The camp is in operation from mid-May through mid-October and is available for diocesan individuals, groups, or non-profit organizations. Reservations are made through the diocesan office. It is ironic that many aspects of the Guggenheim operation now fall under the chancellor’s watchful eye.

Deacon Crowley and Rita Seymour, his future wife, were both on staff that summer at camp. Deacon Crowley finished his bachelor’s degree work at Wadhams and graduated but gave up any thoughts of the priesthood. He and Rita, an Ogdensburg native, were married.

Rita, a nurse practitioner specializing in pediatric care, and Deacon Crowley were married in 1991. They have three daughters, Allison, Bethany and Margaret. Bethany is a medical student in Syracuse. Margaret is in the veterinary program at Long Island University. She, too, hopes to become a doctor, specializing in veterinary medicine. Allison is involved in consultant work, mostly on federal government projects.

Early in their marriage, Deacon Crowley says, he and Rita talked about the diaconate.

“We had discussions that someday I would probably enter the deacon formation program,” he said. “But the business, (Deacon Crowley operated a successful computer consulting company in Ogdensburg) and raising children had a priority over going back to school. When the kids were older, two were in college, that’s when the bug really bit.”

A deacon class had already been formed. Crowley mentioned his interest to Father Joseph Morgan, rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral parish.

Father Morgan advised the future deacon, “I better talk to my brother-in-law.”

Deacon Crowley’s brother-in-law is Father James W. Seymour. At the time, Father Seymour was vicar of Clergy for the diocese.

He spoke with Father Seymour and with Monsignor Robert H. Aucoin, director of the Deacon Formation program, about joining. They gave their blessing.

“My business was stable. I had a good group of employees, so I knew I could cut back my hours a little to devote time to study,” Deacon Crowley said. “At home there was less stress because two of the girls were already in college, so I only had one to chase around instead of three. So, I started formation. I think I was the only guy who walked in not already knowing everybody.”

Sometime during the second year, “I remember it was a Thursday,” Bishop Terry R. LaValley sent Crowley an email inviting the then aspiring deacon to his office the following Monday. Bishop was the formation program instructor for Canon Law at the time, and Deacon Crowley was one of his students.

Bishop also knew Deacon Crowley before formation. He had been on the parish council and involved at the school when bishop was Father LaValley at the Cathedral Parish. Deacon Crowley had been on staff at Guggenheim and ran the sports camp. He was fairly well known around the diocese.

Rita wanted to know what might have prompted the meeting. Were his Canon Law assignments up to date? Was he not meeting bishop’s expectations in class? The deacon aspirant told his wife all was well in class.

“I assured her everything was OK,” Deacon Crowley said. “He (Bishop) probably has a committee he wants me to be on or a job he wants me to take.”

Rita asked, “what job would that be?”

“I don’t know,” Deacon Crowley quipped, “something between chancellor and janitor.”

He says he was kidding about chancellor but was aware the chancellor at the time, Sister Jennifer Votraw, a Sister of St. Joseph, had just announced her retirement.

Bishop offered Deacon Crowley the position of chancellor. It is an appointed position with Canonical responsibility and other duties as directed by the bishop.

He accepted the position. He sold his company and continued his formation to become a deacon. He was ordained in October 2017.

One task that fell to the Chancellor (or was it to a deacon at the Cathedral?) was live streaming.“I had a skill set I brought to the job that had nothing to do with the job,” Deacon Crowley said.

At the start of the pandemic restrictions, Deacon Crowley also became, with the diocesan IT department, the go-to guy for video/audio live streaming information and introduced the practice at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Ogdensburg. Many parishes in the diocese also introduced live streaming for weekend Mass and turned to Deacon Crowley for advice. Most of that work has been handed-off to others now, “but every once in a while a guy in an alb and stole leaves the sanctuary to fix a camera.”

“I love the Chancellor job,” he added. “There is a lot of work, and there is always more to do, but I still enjoy doing it. Rita talks about retiring but I think my head would explode if I retired.”

Though he’s not done working yet, Deacon Crowley has thought about his future.

“I’m sure somebody will find something they want me to take care of,” he said.

Spoken by a guy who has accumulated plenty of experience.

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