If Vince Fiore had any doubts that he was being called to the priesthood, they ended when he saw Pope John Paul at World Youth Day in 2002.
The Sault Ste. Marie man attended a papal mass at Downsview Park, in Toronto’s north end. An estimated 800,000 people were there, but the St. Mary’s College graduate felt the Holy Father directed his homily straight at his heart.
“Do not be afraid to follow Christ on the royal road of the cross,” he said.
That’s all Fiore needed to hear.
“I thought, ‘All right, no more hesitating. I’m going to go for it,’” he said.
“Now here I am.”
Jean-Louis Plouffe, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie, will ordain Fiore on Friday at St. Gregory’s Catholic church.
Fiore, 35, is the first Sault man to be ordained in more than a decade.
“It is my way of saying, ‘I love you, Jesus. I am totally yours,’” said Fiore.
“Becoming a priest is an expression of my love for the one who spared nothing by laying down his own life for love of me.”
His interest in religious life is long-standing. The oldest child of Agostino and Linda Fiore remembers ‘playing mass’ in his room as a youngster.
By the time he was a teenager, Fiore considered “the more popular expectation” of getting a job, marrying and starting a family.
He studied business at Lake Superior State University and University of Windsor for three years, thinking he’d become an entrepreneur and open his own business. But his choice of study wasn’t for him.
Fiore returned to Sault Ste. Marie and worked at Algoma Steel for about four years. By his mid-20s, he started to “ask the deeper questions in life.” Fiore returned to University of Windsor and graduated with a philosophy degree.
He worked as a support services worker with the Children’s Aid Society in Windsor before deciding to enter St. Peter’s Seminary in London in 2003 to see if the priesthood was, in fact, for him.
“I needed to be with people who could help me understand if this call is a genuine or authentic call,” said Fiore.
His “strong inclination” that he would become a priest was confirmed after a pastoral internship at Our Lady of Hope parish in Sudbury, starting in 2005.
“I wanted to really get my feet wet, immerse myself in the experience with the people of God,” said Fiore.
His responsibilities included starting a parish youth group, preaching and giving communion to the sick in hospital.
The practical experience was rewarding for Fiore. Feedback from parishioners encouraged him that he finally had found his right vocation.
“I was affirmed in that by the people . . . that I would do well as a priest,” he said. “I felt comfortable in that context. It was something that fit.”
He expects 200 family and friends and as many as 60 priests from the diocese to attend his ordination at his home parish. Fiore will celebrate his first mass Saturday at 5 p.m.
Plouffe has yet to decide where Fiore will be posted, but it’s likely he will assist another pastor who has a parish.
“It’s good to be ordained, but then the priesthood has to grow on you,” said Plouffe.
Fiore is ready to go wherever he’s needed. He’s fluent in Italian and knows enough French “to get by.”
“I’m looking forward to being that expression of God’s love to his people, being that friend, that warm embrace,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to growing and maturing into the vocation.
“I’m looking forward ultimately to be a shepherd of God’s people and to ultimately lead souls to God the father — with his help, of course.”
His ordinaton comes at a challenging time for the Catholic church.
Parishes throughout the country are being closed because of a lack of priests, slumping attendance and tightened finances.
When the Pope made his first visit to the United States earlier this month, he apologized to victims of sexual abuse by priests.
Fiore isn’t deterred.
“To me, to be a priest in these days is actually an exciting concept,” he said.
Fiore wants to use his role as a priest to encourage other men to seriously consider a religious vocation.
“If it’s a call, we have to think of the one who is calling,” he said. “There’s an inherent dignity in this call. That merits some degree of attention on our part.”
With his ordination just days away, Fiore acknowledges he’s “in a very good space,” nearly 30 years after he first used a towel as a vestment as he pretended to act out a priest’s actions during mass.
“I feel like I’m going to be ordained into what I was born to do,” he said.
“Nothing in the world I found could be more fulfilling than that.”
Fiore is one of five men from St. Peter’s Seminary who will be ordained. He is the only one from Northern Ontario.
Jack Goldie was the last Sault man to be ordained. The retired Algoma Steel electrician became a priest in 1995. He has since retired.
Trevor Scarfone, ordained in 1994, is serving in Sturgeon Falls and Garden Village.