John E. Stanton Jr. has often bowed his head in prayer inside Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna.
He did so before passing the New York CPA exam, in advance of the state bar exam and before deciding to enter Christ the King Seminary, from where he graduated in May.
But the next time he speaks to God beneath the church’s mighty dome, surrounded by its hundreds of paintings, sculptures and mosaics, he will do so as the region’s newest priest.
On Saturday, the Buffalo Diocese welcomed Stanton as its 175th priest after being ordained by Bishop Richard J. Malone before about 1,000 parishioners in St. Joseph Cathedral.
Malone also announced, to rousing applause, that the former attorney and accountant – who earned degrees in each field at the University at Buffalo, and who at age 42 is now among the youngest priests serving Western New York – had been assigned to the Lackawanna landmark.
“It is such an amazing experience to me, because anytime I joined for Mass there, they closed each liturgy with the praying for the intercession of Father (Nelson) Baker and for his canonization, and I know that prayer – it’s part of my life growing up where I’m from,” said Stanton, with a head of salt-and-pepper hair but still boyish-looking.
“So to go in there and see the grandeur of the dome, and the beauty of the aisle, and the legacy of Father Baker in caring for the poor and disadvantaged is such an amazing experience.”
By becoming a priest, Stanton carries on a family tradition. His uncle, Monsignor William G. Stanton, was a longtime priest at St. Ambrose Church in South Buffalo and was also ordained in St. Joseph Cathedral.
Stanton admitted it is strange seeing “Father” before his name.
“Father Stanton to me is my Uncle Bill. But I know he’s there with me in spirit, and will guide me, as well as the bishop here and all the wonderful priests of the diocese who have been such a blessing to us,” he said.
During one part of the ceremony, Stanton, dressed in white, stood before Malone with hands clasped. After bowing, he approached and kneeled as the bishop placed his hands on Stanton’s head. Moments later, Stanton kneeled in the center of the altar as a procession of priests – who filled the back of the altar and the first rows of two side aisles – also placed their hands, ever so briefly, on his head – one by one.
Stanton at another point lay prostrate on the marble altar as the choir and congregants sang the Litany of the Saints. During the anointing of hands, Malone poured oil from a chalice once used by Stanton’s uncle onto the new priest’s hands, which were then briefly bound together.
Later, after Stanton was elevated to the priesthood, the glowing priest embraced each member of his new fraternity with a heartfelt hug, radiating joy and humility.
“It was just the most amazing experience to be with the bishop here today at the celebration, and to celebrate the Lord together,” Stanton said. “... It was an experience beyond this world.”
Friends and loved ones shared the excitement.
“We’ve known John since he was 4 or 5 years old, and he’s always been a great kid, from a great family,” said Pat McParlane, who was a West Seneca neighbor of the Stanton family, with young John the only boy among five children.
“He is very sweet and caring, he takes care of his mother, and was always there for his Dad when he was ill. Just an all-around great guy,” McParlane said.
Steve Foley, who knows Stanton as a fellow attorney, said he was proud and happy for his friend.
“You could see something in John that was slightly different from other folks. It’s hard to explain, but there was a certain brightness to him, not just intellectually, but spiritually. ... I’ve never seen him happier.”
In Our Lady of Victory after the downtown ceremony, parishioner Fred Mosca recalled Stanton’s uncle as “the most humorous priest I ever met.”
“I’m happy that Father Stanton is coming here – very happy,” he added.
Gregory Jaworski, who was making his daily lunchtime stop to pray for family members and friends, also said he looked forward to Stanton’s arrival.
“I wish him luck, and I can’t wait to meet him,” Jaworski said.
During the ordination, Malone noted there were currently 20 seminary students and he’d like to see another 60 to meet expected needs.
“Even though we have consolidated some of our parishes, there is still a tremendous need. Nowadays, we’re even looking toward the possibility of having some parishes led by lay persons, with a priest, of course, coming for the sacraments. We need a lot more than we have,” Malone said.
Stanton’s ascension, he said, would make an important impact.
“To ordain a man to the priesthood is the high point of a bishop’s ministry. There is nothing as wonderful or evokes gratitude in the heart of a bishop – in my heart – as much as the day of ordination,” Malone said.
“God has given us a wonderful new priest.”