By Cathy Harasta
The Texas Catholic
As usual, Father Alfonse Nazzaro captivated the students at All Saints Catholic School during a recent lunch hour.
The school cafeteria grew lively with good cheer and banter about Father Nazzaro’s request to eat his dessert before the rest of his lunch.
The second-graders gleefully swarmed Father Nazzaro while insisting that he had to eat his ham and vegetables before his cookie.
But the more nonchalant sixth-graders urged him to go ahead and eat his food in whatever order pleased him.
For Father Nazzaro, L.C., the parochial vicar at All Saints Catholic Church, the cookie never was the point of the spirited exchanges over lunch.
“I think it’s important that they see a happy side of a priest,” said Father Nazzaro, who visits All Saints often and also spends significant time in the Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Dallas. “These kids are very open to the Gospel message of unconditional love. I want them to remember that a priest is a father and a friend. I spend a lot of time with the eighth-graders as they get ready to move on to high school.
“I want them to remember that they are loved.”
His good humor, love of prayer and affinity for music have reinforced Catholic identity, All Saints students and staff members said.
“He’s awesome,” All Saints principal Kelly Blake said. “He has a clear impact on the students. We’ve had situations when I’ve called him when we’ve needed reminders about values and what it means to be Catholic. He’s a true asset to our school.”
Eighth-grader Matt Simion said that he and his classmates find Father Nazzaro’s presence comforting.
“I think it makes the kids feel a lot better,” Simion said. “They’re more upbeat. He’ll come to our religion classes and answer questions. We ask him a lot of questions about what he likes to do in his spare time.”
All Saints religion teacher Liz Hawkins said that she appreciates the way Father Nazzaro serves as a resource for teachers and students.
“It’s great for me because sometimes the students will ask me something very challenging,” she said. “Father Nazzaro leads faith formation for the teachers. My students had questions about topics such as Robin Williams’ suicide and artificial insemination.”
She said that her students love to see Father Nazzaro in the building.
“They adore him,” she said. “He walks in, and he’s like a magnet.”
Father Nazzaro, 49, said that students seem fascinated with his career shift from his job as a quality engineer at Eastman-Kodak in Rochester, N.Y., to the priesthood.
“They’re shocked that someone who was an engineer would become a priest, and I’m glad because it helps them appreciate the calling to follow Jesus Christ,” said Father Nazzaro, who was ordained to the priesthood in 2003. “They always ask the most intriguing questions. It’s always surprising, like the Good News.”
High school students face many temptations and pressures, said Father Nazzaro, who often speaks to classes at John Paul II High School in Plano.
“Kids today are under pressure to perform academically, athletically and even sexually,” said Father Nazzaro, a former Director of Formation of the Boys School at The Highlands School in Irving. “I want to help them to just calm down, to relax. My mission is to help them remind themselves that they can slow down.”
JPII President Thomas W. Poore said that the students enjoy having Father Nazzaro share his spiritual journey with them.
“Father Alfonse Nazzaro is one of the many priests who give of their time to assist our faculty and staff with formation of our students,” Poore said. “Smiles broaden when the word goes out: ‘Father Alfonse is here for Mass!’
“Father Alfonse has both a gift for laughter and a propensity for asking the deep questions that challenge the students to think beyond the present, as well as focusing beyond self.”