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Stephen Vaccaro’s family has produced an abundance of vocations to the priesthood

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Stephen Vaccaro will be ordained a priest of the Arlington Diocese June 10 — but already he’s witnessed the joys and struggles of his vocation in a way few people ever do.  

Born Sept. 28, 1989, to a Catholic family with seven kids, Vaccaro is one of three sons who have discerned a vocation to the priesthood. His oldest brother, Brian, is a seminarian with the Redemptorists, and another brother, Christopher, was ordained a priest of the Arlington Diocese in 2009. 

"It’s true that if you go out and work for a few years you’ll have some life experiences. But you need to give God the first shot." Father Christopher Vaccaro

“Before I entered seminary, I was able to see the full spectrum of the priesthood in all its reality,” Vaccaro said. 

But he had the benefit of close contact with many men and women in the religious life long before his brother became a priest. He attended St. Michael School in Annandale for kindergarten through eighth grade, where the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary taught students “a love for Our Lord, for Our Lady (and) what it is to be in the religious life.” He trained as an altar server in the fourth grade and in high school, began working at St. Michael, helping groups who met in the church after hours. 

“You got to see the humanity of the priest,” Vaccaro said. “You got to sit and see what a priest does day to day. That was really helpful.”

After graduating from Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria, Vaccaro enrolled in the University of Virginia. It was during his undergraduate years that he discerned a call to the priesthood. But he still had doubts whether he should apply to seminary right away. 

“There were a number of people who said, ‘You know, Stephen, people really want a priest who has some sort of life experience. You should go out and work for a few years,’ ” Vaccaro said. “I was really torn.”

Unsure of what direction to take, he turned to someone who would fully understand his dilemma: Father Christopher. 

“My brother sat me down and said, ‘It’s true that if you go out and work for a few years you’ll have some life experiences. But you need to give God the first shot. If you go now, you’ll give God two more years of your life. If he wants you to have experiences, he’ll give them to you,’ ” Vaccaro recalled. 

Father Christopher remained supportive after his brother joined the seminary in 2011. The two talked every week or two, chatting about things such as seminary life.  

“He’s given me a great context to see what the priesthood is like,” Vaccaro said. 

The key to his discernment, though, was a devotion to the Eucharist and frequent confession. 

“That is your way to heaven,” Vaccaro said. “Everything is rooted in those two things.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017