CHARLESTON – Two seminarians will be ordained as new priests for the Diocese of Charleston June 3. They are of widely different ages and backgrounds, but both men have in common a deep commitment to serving God and fulfilling whatever roles they are asked to take on in the life of the diocese.
Deacon David Runnion, 58, is a native of Spartanburg who has been studying at Blessed John XXIII Seminary in Weston, Mass. Prior to enrolling in the seminary, he served in the U.S. Army Reserve and worked for many years as an attorney in the Georgia state attorney general’s office in Atlanta.
Deacon Runnion said that he was raised in the Catholic Church and returned to being active in the faith while working as an attorney. He said he sometimes “sensed a possibility” that he could be called to be a priest, but never gave the calling his full attention because of his busy law career.
Deacon Runnion said he felt the call to the priesthood becoming stronger about five years ago. He was going through a time of reflection after a spiritual retreat and while in recovery from knee surgery.
“I sensed the Lord wanted me to be a priest,” he said.
Deacon Runnion said he first checked with the Diocese of Atlanta and discovered that he was too old to fulfill the diocese’s age requirement. He then learned the age requirement was different for the Diocese of Charleston, and got in touch with Deacon Joseph Cahill, director of the Vocations Office. Deacon Cahill helped him become a seminarian.
Deacon Runnion was ordained as a transitional deacon in 2005 and finished his studies at Blessed John XXIII Seminary early in May. He said he’s excited about being ordained, and has loved the process of studying to be a priest.
“It’s been a blessing to study sacred Scriptures and theology,” he said. “Now I’m just excited about following Bishop Baker’s lead and seeing where he discerns I should go from here.”
Deacon Marcin Zahuta, 28, is studying at Sts. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Mich. He is a native of the city of Nowy Sacz in southern Poland, close to the border with Slovakia. Deacon Zahuta said he first felt the call to the priesthood at the age of 10, when he was training to be an altar boy in his home church.
“When I was up on the altar, I felt like I wanted to stay close to the altar for the rest of my life,” he said. “Becoming a priest would let me do that.”
The youngest of five children, Deacon Zahuta is the first member of his family to study for the priesthood. He said from the beginning of his studies, he has wanted to become a “missionary” priest, leaving Poland to serve in other areas of the world that needed Catholic priests. He said the shortage of priests in the U.S. is very different from the circumstances in his native country. His home diocese, for instance, ordained 40 new priests in the past year and 500 priests in the past 12 years.
“In Poland, there are priests to do almost everything in the church, from offering Mass to teaching RCIA and other classes,” he said. “There is not as much need to rely on lay ministers as there is in the United States.”
Deacon Zahuta has been in the U.S. for five years, and said when he first arrived in 2001, he could speak only two words of English: “Hi” and “OK.” Since then, he has mastered the language and has also learned much about American culture and the role of the church in American life. He spent one year serving at St. Philip Benizi in Moncks Corner and hopes to say his first Mass after his ordination at that church.
He said he applied to work for the Diocese of Charleston after doing research into different dioceses around the U.S., and felt he could be of use in a diocese that is growing rapidly. He said one thing he would like to do after becoming a priest is to minister to Polish immigrants and Polish-Americans.
“I would like to find a way to help the Polish community to get together to worship,” he said. “For many people from Poland, even if they’ve been in the U.S. for many years, they still find it easier to pray and communicate with God in Polish.”