With the same hands that pounded nails into shingles under a blazing sun — hands once pocked with blisters and calluses, the marks of the roofing trade — Father David Nicgorski now presents the Body of Christ at the altar with the greatest gentleness.
Recently, Father Nicgorski, a priest in the congregation known as the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, paused in the midst of leading directed retreats for eight Carmelite Sisters of the Sacred Heart in Los Angeles and spoke with the Register about his pilgrim journey of faith.
Father Nicgorski hails from the Philadelphia area, the oldest in a family of six boys and a girl. Just as he himself once did, his father and several of his brothers have labored as roofers.
“I worked on roofs in Philadelphia, New Jersey, the Carolinas and even on a building at Duke University,” he says.
He comes from a devout Catholic family led by a faith-filled “man's man” — namely, his dad, Wallace.
“When I was 25, my father and I made a retreat together,” Father Nicgorski explains. “It was a retreat for Catholic laymen. I came away from the experience with a sense of freedom, having realized that the possibilities were open for me to serve the Lord as a single man, as a married man or in religious life as a priest or brother. Three different paths, but each offering an opportunity to achieve sanctity.”
At about the same time, he found a spiritual director, Dominican Father Michael Novacki, with whom he met at least once every month. (Father Novacki has since died.)
“If you truly want to grow in the spiritual life, spiritual direction is a huge help, a must,” Father Nicgorski says.
The combination of multiple retreats and ongoing spiritual direction keened his ear toward a possible call to the priesthood. It was while discerning God's will along that path that he eventually found himself being led to the Oblates, Our Lady of Grace Seminary and St. Clement Eucharistic Shrine in the Fenway section of Boston. He was ordained a priest at the shrine on May 25, 1991.
Eucharistic adoration, so much a part of daily life at St. Clement Shrine, has been instrumental in Father Nicgorski's spiritual development.
“After a hard day of roofing, all smelly and stinky, I would stop into a parish that offered perpetual Eucharistic adoration and spend time in prayer,” he recalls.
Since ordination, Father Nicgorski has observed changes in his relationship with the Lord. He uses the analogy of a wedding to illustrate his point.
“It is deeper, fuller,” he explains. “Today, the Lord is the bridegroom and I am the best man. When I listen to the Lord, he whispers to me, ‘Isn't she beautiful?’ That is his way of speaking to me about his bride, the Church.”
Mary Morrell, a Catholic journalist and educator from Metuchen, N.J., has known Father Nicgorski since the mid-1990s.
“He is so genuine, he has such deep faith and he has such a marvelous understanding of the human condition,” she says. “He is a true friend and he has been a bright spot in the lives of so many people.”
Like Mary, Sister of Christian Charity Helene Foley of South Orange, N.J., has known Father Nicgorski for years. She, too, is grateful he has been in her life.
“He is a wonderful priest of God,” she says, “so generous, so affable, so encouraging, so happy and always willing to help.”
‘Frightening and Awesome’
The Oblates of the Virgin Mary was founded in 1826 in Cuneo, Italy, part of the Piedmont region. The founder is Father Bruno Lanteri, whose cause for sainthood is open. The postulator is Oblate Father Pierre Paul.
On Sept. 12, 2002, the order celebrated the 25th anniversary of its arrival in the United States to begin a new foundation. Today, including priests, brothers and clerics, the Oblates number 50 in this country. Their charism, or spiritual thrust, is spiritual direction plus leading parish missions and retreats.
The Oblates also assist bishops with parish work wherever they are needed. Today, they minister in New Jersey, Colorado, California, Illinois, the Philippines and Boston, where they have a shrine, a chapel, a seminary and a house of studies and residence. Since 1982, the Oblates have staffed St. Francis Chapel in the Prudential Center Complex in Boston. At both St. Clement Eucharistic Shrine and St. Francis Chapel, where the faithful of all ages find a spiritual oasis, the numbers who regularly go to confession have risen dramatically through the years.
In their daily lives, the Oblates of the Virgin Mary hold Jesus and the Blessed Mother as their inspirations and spiritual companions. With inspired — and inspiring — young priests such as Father Nicgorski, is it any wonder the order is growing strong?
Asked to describe his greatest priestly joy, Father Nicgorski responds, “Participating in the priesthood of Christ. It is frightening and awesome to think that we priests do the work of Christ.”
Wally Carew, author of A Farewell to Glory, writes from Medford, Massachusetts.