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North Neighborhoods
Shaler man is only new Catholic priest

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

By Alisha Hipwell

In the Christian tradition, God had to knock the apostle Paul off his horse with a dazzling light to get his attention.

With Shaler native, Jeffrey Molnar, God only had to whisper.

But he had to keep whispering for years.

Molnar, 36, who was raised a Lutheran and spent several years in the advertising industry, was ordained as a Catholic priest June 28 in St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Hampton.

He was the only priest ordained by the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh this year.

"For me, my calling didn't happen overnight. It was a slow developing process. I don't think we can stress enough that God's calling doesn't happen overnight," Molnar said.

Like many young people, Molnar drifted away from religious involvement during college. After graduation he felt a need to reconnect with a church. He began attending St. Ferdinand Catholic Church in Cranberry, and felt at home.

Molnar said he was drawn to what he calls "the mystical, spiritual aspects" of the Catholic sacraments and traditions. He converted to Roman Catholicism in 1994.

Converting is one thing. Deciding to become a priest is another. Molnar still had several years of soul-searching ahead of him to reach that point.

At the time he converted, he was working as a production manager for the Pittsburgh advertising agency Blattner Brunner. But he was already hearing the whispers.

"I enjoyed my job," he said, "but there was something different calling me, obviously."

The call was consistent, and Molnar entered the seminary in 1997. About 3 1/2 years ago, he was assigned to St. Mary of the Assumption Parish and served two summer internships there. He was ordained a deacon in 2002, and continued his theological studies at North American College in Rome.

The Rev. John Marcucci, pastor of St. Mary, praised Molnar for his ability to connect with parishioners.

"He was sort of the darling of the parish. People really loved him," Marcucci said.

And he looks at Molnar's journey from Lutheran childhood to Catholic priesthood as a sign that "you can't put parameters on God."

Molnar's family was pleased with his decision to enter the ministry, even though he chose to do it in a different denomination.

"My family was really supportive, and my friends were, too," he said. Two of Molnar's former colleagues from the agency attended his ordination.

The priest sex-abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church in the United States broke while Molnar was working toward ordination. He tries to keep them in perspective.

"These abuse cases are a very, very small percentage of the priestly population," he said.

And he said the scandals didn't engender any negative reaction to his decision to enter the priesthood.

"Just the opposite -- people have been very supportive, saying 'stick with it, Jeff, we need you out there,' " he said.

Molnar summed up the life of a priest rather simply.

"What it comes down to is service," he said. And serving the people of the church and the larger community is what Molnar is most eager to do.

This week, he began a temporary assignment as parochial vicar at St. Charles Lwanga parish in Pittsburgh's Brushton neighborhood. He will stay through mid-September, then return to Rome to complete a graduate degree.

Alisha Hipwell is a freelance writer.

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