James Ebert said he has felt a calling to the priesthood since he was about 10 years old.
“I was in fifth grade at St. Helen’s in Niskayuna and it just came into my mind,” Ebert said Thursday.
At a ceremony held at the Church of the Immaculate Conception on June 13, Ebert, 29, of Glenville, became one of the few young men to be ordained a priest. Ebert began his service to God as an altar server at the Route 50 church when he was in second grade.
Religion was always a part of Ebert’s life growing up in Charlton. He attended Catholic school until, “well, May 14,” he joked, first at St. Helen’s and then at Saratoga Central Catholic High School, Siena College and then St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore.
Ebert spent last summer at Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Watervliet. He has been assigned to St. Mary’s Church in Ballston Spa effective July 6.
Ebert said he notices a shift in how his peers experience religion. He said his parents and grandparents felt a strong connection to the physical church, while his generation feels God is everywhere.
“They don’t believe you have to be in a physical location to talk and pray to God,” he said.
But Ebert says there is more to being a Catholic than talking and praying to God. “It’s the reality of the Eucharist, God becoming a man to become more intimate with us,” he said.
The shortage of priests is one obvious struggle facing the Catholic church today, Ebert said.
“We joke and say that in 20 years I may have a whole county to myself, let alone a parish,” he said.
The Albany Roman Catholic Diocese, short on money and facing a severe shortage of priests, has been forced to close 33 churches in its 14-county region. But Ebert said he remains optimistic that more young men will say “yes” to the call.
Ebert admits that he tried to push what he calls God’s voice out of his head for many years. He received a bachelor’s degree in history from Siena and intended to become a high school teacher.
He spent four years in college attending monthly discernment meetings for the Albany Diocese headed by The Rev. Jim Walsh.
“Eventually I said, ‘I have to give God the first option,’ ” Ebert said.
Ebert said he thinks many men who may be called to the church are pushing it off as well.
“I don’t think God has stopped calling, but sometimes we either don’t realize it or, especially for myself, I knew there was a call but, being an only child, I feared that I’d be alone,” he said.
Ebert said he hopes to bring his optimism to the parishioners of St. Mary’s.
“People need to have someone who is hopeful and optimistic,” he said. “I do have those qualities.”