This is the life story of Fr. Joe Hornick, the assistant pastor of Our Lady of the Snows Church in Clarks Summit, Pa. He is the most inspiring priest I have ever met and I would now like to share his story with you...
Widower-turned-priest celebrates his calling
“I hope people perceive me as a joyful priest.”-Fr. Joe Hornick
By: Stephanie Longo
ABINGTON SUBURBAN WRITER
Originally Printed: June 20, 2007
This past Father’s Day was special for Rev. Joseph Hornick and his three adult children. This Monday, June 25, he will celebrate a different kind of “Father’s Day.” Fr. Joe, assistant pastor of Our Lady of the Snows/ Church of St. Benedict Parish in Clarks Summit, will celebrate the second anniversary of his ordination.
After his wife Mary Ann died, he found himself draw to the priesthood. But not before going through what he calls “a deep dive in my life.”
Fr. Joe, as he is affectionately called by the congregation, grew up in Levittown, Bucks County, with his brother Dennis. He originally wanted to “stroll down litigation lane like Perry Mason” as an attorney.
He attended Villanova University for two years and then transferred to Dickinson College in Carlisle, receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree in political science in 1967. Vietnam was at its peak. He took part in an accelerated R.O.T.C. program and upon graduation, was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army infantry.
Following a personal debate whether he should defer his Army entry or go to law school, he enrolled for a year at Chicago’s John Marshall Law School.The Army then sent him to Alaska and to other U.S. locations until 1971. He returned to law school at the University of Chicago and then at Harvard University, where he discovered that while he still liked the law, he didn’t love it anymore.
He left law school and made his way to the Pacific Northwest. While living in Seattle, Wash., he met Mary Ann Von Boecklin. She was a teacher at Sacred Heart Girls’ School and had been a Dominican nun for two years.“She was an absolute jewel,” Fr. Joe remembered. He and Mary Ann were married on April 5, 1975.
The Hornicks had three children, Robert (1976), Paul (1978) and Theresa (1981). They lived a happy life, including a year in Berwick-Upon-Tweed, England, following Paul’s birth. Fr. Joe worked in a food processing plant in Eyemouth, Scotland.
In 1985 when Mary Ann was diagnosed with cancer. At the time, he was working as a commoditybroker, a position he left in 1987.“Our children were 9, 7 and 4. I realized that I could not be in two places at once. I was making serious money at the time, which was nice. But when your loved one is dying or very sick, the children need to be taken care of. They didn’t need a nanny. They needed their dad,” he said. To ensure his being there for their children, he started a vending business, named M.A. Hornick after Mary Ann.
Mary Ann died on Dec. 5, 1991. A dark period followed in his life. “At that time, I wasn’t a good man,” he said. “I was an angry man. I was very angry with God. How could he mess with the best and leave some people who harm children and adults? How he could do that was beyond me. I went into a deep dive in my life and the only thing that brought me out of it was my children and the people who prayed for me.”
Little by little, his faith helped him recover from his loss.“When you focus on what you’ve lost without the eyes of faith, it jades you. I didn’t realize that Mary Ann was in my heart from the last moment of her breath — that’s where our loved ones dwell, interceding for us. Once I saw that when I looked into the eyes of our children or our friends and that’s where my wife was, it became a whole different ballgame for me,” he said.
Perhaps it was his promise to Mary Ann that he would make sure their children attended Sunday Mass that opened his door to the priesthood. In the mid-1990s, an article in the Archdiocese of Seattle’s newspaper, The Progress, caught his eye. The story was about two widowed men, an anesthesiologist in his late 60s and a businessman in his early 50s, who had been ordained priests. “God touched my heart at that moment,” he said. “There was an interest there that had to come only from the spirit. From that point on, when I went to Mass, I could actually see myself as a priest,” he said.
Robert, Paul, and Theresa were happy with their father’s new vocation. “My kids saw how miserable I was when my wife died. I was the angriest man in the world, I really was. I went internally and cursed God and everything every day. Once I realized that this was a call from God, there was no doubt in my mind. I started to have humor and smiles again. The glass was no longer half empty but half full. It had always been that way, but I had lost it for a while. I started to be not just happy, but joyful, and my children saw this.”
He confided his thoughts about a possible priestly vocation in his mentor, the late Sulpician Father William Morris.“ He was the closest thing to God the Father you’ll ever see on earth,” Fr. Joe remembered. At 55, he knew that most dioceses were focusing on young men for the priesthood.
It was a chance trip through Northeastern Pennsylvania, en route to watch Theresa pitch softball in Syracuse, N.Y., that brought him to this area.“The area reminded me of Seattle. Plus my family, including my mother and brother, was nearby. This was the only diocese I applied to,” he said.
He began his studies at Blessed John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass., in 2001 after settling his personal and professional affairs. Fr. Joe credits the seminary’s top-notch preparation for second-vocation priests. “Once I realized that studying at the seminary wasn’t like studying science or math but the sacred scriptures, it was a whole different ballgame. I knew I would be there to stay,” he said.
Following his ordination as a deacon in May 2004, Fr. Joe was able to perform his U.S. Marine son Robert’s wedding on June 12 before he was sent to Iraq for 10 months.The new deacon was stationed for two summers at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Pittston with Monsignor John Bendik, former pastor of Our Lady of the Snows. Following ordination, his first assignment was at St. Mary’s Parish in Blossburg, Tioga County. He arrived at Our Lady of the Snows/ Church of St. Benedict last summer and also serves as chaplain for St. Michael’s School in Tunkhannock.
Fr. Joe wants to be known for his joy. “I hope people perceive me as a joyful priest. I am not a happy priest but a joyful one,” he said. “I can slip you $100 and you’ll be happy — it is a temporal thing. Joy comes from God. You are a special miracle of God and if you were the only person on earth, he would have still gone to the cross. You give back to God by being a good person. If you make a mistake, you make a mistake. ‘Saints have pasts and sinners have futures.’ That’s what will be on my tombstone. There would be nobody in heaven if we were all perfect.”