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Ryan Stoddard has always enjoyed helping people. He has also always enjoyed the time he has spent in church. Now, he is getting ready to embark on the next chapter of his life journey, in which he plans to become a priest.
Ryan, an East Haven resident, graduated from Albertus Magnus College last month with a degree in biology. Being a priest just seems like the natural next step, he says.
"You have to have a calling from God," says Ryan, 22. "I like to help people, and bringing them to God is a way to do that."
Ryan was an altar server for five years at St. Vincent de Paul Church. About a year ago, he became a Eucharistic minister. He became a first degree knight with the Knights of Columbus at Our Lady of Pompeii Church last fall.
Before that, Ryan was very involved in the church and in helping others. While a student at Notre Dame High School in West Haven, Ryan was a member of the Christian Student Mission Club and a group called Changing Attitudes About People, which Ryan explains helps students understand and reject stereotypes and prejudices.
Ryan was also involved in campus ministry when he was in college, which is when he started thinking about becoming a priest. As he became closer to earning his degree, Ryan began to think even more about it.
Last October, he took the first step into entering a seminary by visiting Father Michael Dolan of the Archdiocese of Hartford and undergoing a full physical and psychiatric evaluation.
For Ryan, the next step will be going to the St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield in August for one year. At the same time, Ryan will take classes in pre-theology at the University of Hartford. After that, Ryan's goal is continue his training at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia.
Ryan says he will be assigned to a location once his studies are completed, but he would like to eventually return to this area. It was his local church that helped inspire him to pursue his goals.
"Father Thomas Sievel, the pastor at [St. Vincent de Paul] helped prepare me for the seminary," says Ryan. "He's a role model to me. The way he does things is a good model to follow. He stands up for people. That's what priests are supposed to do."
Ryan's mother, Jackie DeLucia, says she wasn't surprised when Ryan said he wanted to be a priest. DeLucia says Ryan, even at a young age, wanted to help people and even notes that her mother had once predicted that the priesthood was in Ryan's future.
"If there was a small child who needed help, he would help," DeLucia recalls.
When Ryan was growing up, he volunteered at the East Haven Food Pantry and, since he was 14 years old, he has volunteered at a St. Raphael/Yale-New Haven Hospital nursing facility in New Haven.
"I treat volunteering like a job," says Ryan. "When you do that, you're not sitting around."
Ryan says he enjoys volunteering at the nursing facility and spending time with the patients.
"You go in to visit for a couple of minutes and it turns into hours," he says.
Ryan doesn't mind spending hours there. While a college student, Ryan divided his time between his studies, his volunteer work, and a part-time job.
Ryan has worked in the produce department at Stop & Shop since he was 16.
While he will likely miss all of those responsibilities and experiences once he becomes a priest, Ryan is ready for this next part of his life.
"It's a lifetime commitment," he says.