Macomb TownshipJune 19, 2012
Macomb man finds himself called to the priesthood
By Robert Guttersohn
C & G Staff Writer
MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Like many people in their 20s, six years ago Salvatore Palazzolo was questioning what he was supposed to do with his life after getting his degree in engineering.
“I just didn’t care about what I was doing,” he said recently. “It was just, ‘Great, another day.’ That’s never been me.”
One day, Palazzolo was sitting in a St. Isidore Parish pew by himself, asking God for direction.
Then an answer came.
“Why don’t you become a priest?” a voice said. It was a suggestive, internal voice, says Palazzolo, now 31.
His initial reaction was to laugh, but Palazzolo wound up following the advice of the voice — which he believes was God — and he was ordained a priest in May.
The decision to take the vow of celibacy and to enter the seminary was not easy, particularly because he always saw himself as a family man. The Macomb Township home in which he grew up has always been filled with extended family visiting, and he had girlfriends while in college at both Kettering University in Flint and Oakland University.
Father Mike Hrydziuszko, who has known the Palazzolo family for as long as they’ve been attending St. Isidore Parish and who often met with Palazzolo when visiting from seminary, said priesthood is not a 9-to-5 job. It’s not a profession for which you can hang up your hat and relax for the day.
“If you’re at a hospital with your own family and you’re wearing your (priest) uniform, you may be called to administer last rites for someone,” Hrydziuszko said.
As a priest for 17 years, Hrydziuszko knows the priesthood is not for everyone. But he saw in Palazzolo the temperament necessary for the position. “First, I saw in Sal a very spiritual person,” Hrydziusko said. “Then I saw in Sal a very dedicated people person. I saw a person willing to volunteer and a very studious person.”
Palazzolo graduated from Dakota High School in 1999 and enrolled in Kettering University in Flint. Living in the dorms, it was the first time he was in the religious minority. “I think I was only one of two Catholics on my floor,” he said.
Being away from Catholics and experiencing life as a freshman in college, religion took a backseat. It wasn’t until transferring to Oakland University in 2003 to finish his undergraduate degree in engineering and moving back home that he realized how much he missed Catholicism.
So he began actively practicing the religion, not content to just go through the motions, but to understand the meaning behind them. “If I am going to be Catholic or practice Catholicism, I really want to own it,” he said of his mindset at that time.
To do so, he went to the library and read from front to back the thick Catechism of the Catholic Church in two weeks. “For my engineering mind, it was concise and organized,” he said. “There were short, broken-up sections.”
He found himself excited to share with family and friends what he had learned and why Catholics do what they do.
“That wasn’t what directly led me to priesthood, but that was a major tipping point,” he said.
Simultaneously, he was finishing his degree, but he already knew that engineering was not his passion.
“Before I even graduated, just from having all the different (job) experiences, I knew that engineering wasn’t what I was supposed to do with my life,” Palazzolo said “I found myself not content and just didn’t feel like myself.”
He found himself watching Catholic TV, listening to Catholic radio and Googling Catholic apologetics. He started to go to daily Mass and praying more. “And this all just kind of, like, snowballed,” he said.
He graduated from Oakland University in 2006 and laid out three ways in which to escape working as an engineer: graduate school, law school or teaching in high school.
Every day he’d go to St. Isidore Parish and pray, asking God which path he should take, but each morning he heard nothing.
Then the voice came.
“It wasn’t mine, but it was very familiar,” he said of the voice that suggested priesthood. “I kept recalling what I heard, and the thought kept coming back to me.”
Still, he avoided taking the first step: contacting the vocations office of the Detroit Archdiocese.
“I pictured what most people stereotypically think of an Army recruiter’s office: Once they have your name, they’re going to get you,” Palazzolo said. “So I kind of had that image in my mind.”
He attended a Sacred Heart Major Seminary discernment weekend, an experience equivalent to a college campus visit, during which he sat in on a couple of classes, and prayed and talked with priests.
“Once I did that, I knew that I had to give at least a year to the seminary.”
The one year of seminary school in Detroit confirmed for him that he was in the right place, pursuing the right vocation.
“One of (the confirmations) was just finding myself very happy, feeling like myself again, happy about what I was doing,” Palazzolo said.
Still, he found being unable to marry was difficult, a desire that he said never goes away. Even now, as he prepares to become the associate pastor of St. Lawrence Parish in Utica starting in July, Palazzolo said giving up marriage and having a family is his sacrifice.
“You kind of direct those feelings in a different way,” he said. “I’ve really begun to think of parish as a family.”
Priests see all dynamics of life: marriage, birth, death. With those dynamics, there is pressure, but it’s a pressure that brings joy to Palazzolo after years of unhappiness.
“Whether I am with my family or friends, or whether it’s 2 in the morning and I am sleeping and there’s a phone call, my children — my spiritual children —need me,” he said.
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