DIANE MAKAR MURPHY The persistence of the call brings man to priesthood
At 62, Joe Zamary will become a Catholic priest -- something he's been waiting to do his whole life.
"From the time I was in grade school, I thought about it," he said. "I dreamt of it."
Zamary is the fourth-oldest of 11 siblings -- three girls, eight boys. The 11th died as an infant of a heart-valve problem. The oldest is now 70; the youngest, 53.
As a kid growing up on Youngstown's East Side, Zamary and his brothers and sisters attended Sacred Heart School. They arrived early each day and helped out.
"I felt a closeness to the nuns and priests," Zamary said. Daily Mass led him to feel close to God as well.
As a teen, Zamary attended Ursuline High School. While on senior retreat, he decided to enter the seminary.
Language: He took a summer Latin course at John Carroll University. "It was a struggle," he said. But a necessary one, because Masses were said only in Latin at that time.
The diocese soon sent him to St. Mary's College in Kentucky. All the exams, written and oral, were in Latin. Zamary failed.
He tried again at St. John Vianney Seminary in Steubenville. Latin, again, stopped him.
"It was a challenge. It was something I wanted, but I had to accept the reality," he said.
Next move: Zamary and his brother, Chuck, bought the Isaly's Dairy store on the East Side, running it for two years until Chuck left for the Army. "I met a lot of wonderful people. Some of the people coming to my ordination, I met working at Isaly's," Zamary said.
Next, he worked at Automatic Sprinkler for two years until the company moved.
"[Then] my brother and I built a carwash, and I managed it for seven and a half years," Zamary recalled. "It was very successful, but I got colds all the time."
For the next 24 years, he worked for Hardee's restaurants in Austintown and Struthers.
He remained at home with his parents through the years, repaying a debt. "They married in '29, just before the Depression hit. They worked very hard with 10 of us," he said. "I felt I owed something."
And though he came close to marrying, he didn't. "I think I had always anticipated going to the priesthood," he said. "I think the Lord directed my hand."
And he directed it even as Zamary pursued his secular jobs.
Church work: In 1975, the bishop approved Zamary's request to become a deacon, and he began two years of training. Vatican II had reinstated the diaconate in the 1960s.
"A deacon is ordained for service," Zamary explained. "A deacon can perform baptisms, preside over weddings and funerals. But they can't say Mass, hear confessions or anoint the sick as a priest can." Vatican II also ended the requirement for Latin Masses -- a fact that proved pivotal in Zamary's life.
"I knew I could do this somehow," he said. In August 1977, he was ordained as a deacon.
He volunteered in that position for more than 20 years at Sacred Heart and was eventually asked to run the parish while its pastor was on sabbatical. He left Hardee's for the opportunity, staying on at the church a full year. "I felt the call [to become a priest] stronger now," Zamary said.
The final push: After years in Zamary's care, his mother, afflicted with dementia, died in 1997. His father died a few years earlier of a heart attack. "I really believe [my mother] went to heaven and interceded on my behalf," he said of his final push to the priesthood.
Zamary attended Sacred Heart School of Theology in Wisconsin for three years.
On Sunday, Zamary will become a priest. The next day, at St. Columba Cathedral in downtown Youngstown, he'll celebrate his first Mass as the Rev. Joe Zamary.
"I'm thankful I came this course," he said. "I feel there was a reason for it."