By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published July 22, 2010
As the Mass of ordination ended at the Cathedral of Christ the King, hundreds of family members and friends rushed into Kenny Hall and began lining up to be blessed by the six new priests.
For Father Thomas Zahuta, 49, it was an emotional moment, especially since the first person the priest blessed was his mother, Pauline, who had offered countless prayers for her son leading up to this significant day.
The people continued to pour in and the opportunity to bless so many loved ones was a memory in the making for the priest, a feeling that continued the following day as he spent three hours blessing the faithful after celebrating his first Mass.
That Mass, celebrated at St. Catherine of Siena Church, Kennesaw, also took place on the anniversary of the death of his father, Andrew, making the entire weekend of June 26 and 27 a special and emotional entrance into the priesthood.
“I was amazed at the outpouring of the people. It was beautiful,” said Father Zahuta. “For me, the ordination was very moving. … The whole weekend was really special, and having family from out of town and friends from neighboring parishes was such a blessing.”
Born March 10, 1961, he grew up in South Plainfield, N.J., where he attended school until leaving for college in Florida. He eventually returned to New Jersey to finish with a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Ramapo College in Mahwah.
Shortly after college, Father Zahuta had a conversion experience in which he spiritually surrendered to God and began to seek out ways to become involved with the church. It began in simple, devotional ways, with reading Scripture and attending daily Mass.
He was asked by both priests and laity to help with various ministries. Eventually he found himself leading discussions in classes for adults considering joining the Catholic Church.
It was here that someone first suggested that he consider the priesthood. But Father Zahuta said at the time he had his own plans for how to serve the church and had just began to feel comfortable with his growing involvement in the parish.
“(God) had directed my steps and blessed my work and I just felt that was the way it was going to go,” said the priest. “I was active in the parish and I had a nice balance.”
But these suggestions about the priesthood became more and more frequent. So frequent that it really started to bother the young man and became something he could no longer ignore.
During the next several years as Father Zahuta lived and traveled throughout the country, working initially in sales and then as an auditor and analyst for InterContinental Hotels Group, he could not escape other people encouraging him to consider the clerical state.
Whether it was a priest suggesting the permanent diaconate or a relative stranger encouraging the priestly life, Father Zahuta began to question what God really wanted of him. Were his prayers for a wife and family truly God’s will or his own?
“Then I reached a point where I just said, ‘OK, I have to lay this prayer down,’” said Father Zahuta about his desire for a family. “I told God, ‘I will lay this prayer down and seek your will.’”
Father Zahuta then began attending seminary to continue his discernment and felt the time to pray and study gave him a stronger sense of where God was calling him, which became clear during his ordination in 2009 to the diaconate prior to priesthood.
“I did realize at my diaconate ordination that I did receive my bride—the wife I was thinking of—and that bride was the church,” he said.
Over the last year, Father Zahuta has served the archdiocese in various ways as a deacon and while in seminary has assisted in parishes, including St. Vincent de Paul, Dallas, St. Joseph, Marietta, Prince of Peace, Flowery Branch, and St. Luke the Evangelist, Dahlonega.
His first assignment as a priest is as a parochial vicar at St. Monica Church, Duluth, where Father Jack Durkin is pastor.
“To say my first Mass was such a blessing. I can’t explain how moving it was to celebrate Mass and to experience God’s power through his Holy Spirit,” he said.