James Buttner

Home Parish: Holy Family, Syracuse
Year in Formation: Pre-Theology II
Place: Theological College

Favorite color: Green
Favorite book:
Ooh, that’s a hard one. Three-way tie between Tolkien’s The Hobbit, C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra, and Jacques Phillipe’s Interior Freedom
Favorite Dessert: Fr. Peter Tassini’s mom makes the most amazing Tiramisu
Favorite Song: Oh man! It changes, but I’d have to say “Hello My Old Heart” by The Oh Hellos. Also been on a NeedToBreathe kick recently though, so it’s a tough decision…
Favorite Gospel story:
Blind Bartimaeus? The Call of Andrew? The Call of James and John?
Favorite Saint:
St. John Paul II
If you could go one place in the world, and money were not an option, where would it be? I’d love to hop in the car with some of my younger brothers and roadtrip out west. I’d stop in Denver, CO to visit some friends from college, and then continue to the west coast and surprise my older brother and his wife by showing up at their door!
What is your favorite church in the Diocese of Syracuse? This is probably not a common answer, but the chapel at the Good News Center in Utica holds a special place in my heart just because of all the retreats I’ve been on there. I was on retreat there in college when I learned about Totus Tuus and I was also there on a discernment retreat after college when I finally decided to apply to seminary. Plus seriously at least 6 other retreats there. Probably more.
What surprised you most about your first day at seminary? It was really HOT. I’m down in Washington, D.C. and it’s pretty darn warm here in late August.
What do you look forward to most about priesthood? I think hearing confessions and saying Mass are the two big things that come to mind first. But I also like how priests are a real part of the greater community, and I’ve enjoyed my own experience of that so far at my summer assignment – being welcomed into a new community and getting to know lots of very interesting, cool people.
What advice would you give to someone discerning priesthood? One of the best parts about seminary is that you’ve invited other people to “discern with you”: your spiritual director, the faculty, and even your brother seminarians. It’s much less of a “burden” when you are engaging in conversations about how things are going, sharing your experiences with other guys, and talking to someone you trust like a spiritual director. I’d suggest trying to do that in whatever capacity you can – find other guys that are discerning through things like Fr. Jason’s Fisherman’s Club or discernment retreats, and talk to a priest that you know. Things are a lot less disorienting and there’s less inner turmoil when you don’t just keep it all in your head.


How did you get to this point?

My process was a very gradual one, albeit with a few distinctive moments. There was no particular moment that I can identify as the call with a strict before and after. A few highlights might suffice to paint the picture:

When I was in 8th grade (I think) I went to a parish mission given by a visiting priest at my home parish. He told his vocation story and it was one of those pretty radical ones, with a very different former life and then a real “come to Jesus” moment! I remember sitting in the pew and thinking, “Darn! I can never become a priest, because I haven’t done anything terrible!” It’s a funny memory, but it shows that I must have at least been thinking about priesthood.

In high school I was involved with my youth group, and that exposed me to the possibility of the priesthood more. It was talked about on different occasions, and I remember going to the March for Life and standing up when they asked if any guys were considering the priesthood.

As a freshman in college at Colgate University I joined a guys discernment group where we’d meet once a week to eat lunch and talk about a chapter in the book we were all reading: To Save A Thousand Souls. This was a pivotal moment, because it really opened up my eyes to the priesthood and the discernment process. I really enjoyed reading the book and enjoyed reading certain stories of guys and saying, “hey, that sounds a lot like my experience!”

After my sophomore year I spent the summer in Denver, CO doing a program called Totus Tuus. I was on one of a number of teams of four college students that coordinated and ran week-long programs at parishes across the diocese. This involved working with kids in grades 1-12, teaching catechesis, praying the liturgy of the hours and the rosary, daily Mass, and a lot of time spent at the parish and with the priest. It was incredibly fun and also incredibly fulfilling and I left at the end of the summer thinking very seriously about the priesthood. I also got to meet a lot of seminarians and the other guy on my team was a seminarian, so that was really helpful.

Ultimately I graduated from college and started working with my Physics degree, and although I honestly really enjoyed the work, I still wasn’t at peace. I was looking at graduate schools based purely on their campus ministry programs and what diocese they were in. I remember visiting BU in Boston and skipping a Physics seminar that I had originally planned to attend in order to hang out with their Focus missionaries I had just met and do ministry with them in the student union, talking to random students and inviting people to Bible studies! In retrospect, it’s pretty clear where my heart was.

Eventually I found myself on a discernment retreat back in Syracuse over a weekend in January and left the retreat realizing it was time to just go ahead and apply to the diocese. So I gave Fr. Joe a call and met with him and things just kind of went along from there. It’s been a great experience so far, certainly with some difficult days and unanswered questions, but I am confident that I’m in the right place right now and that’s pretty cool. I don’t think anyone is really totally confident even as they’re applying, but again, that’s the beauty of having people to talk to and walk with you in your discernment.

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