As a young man growing up in Granville, Peter N. Pagones listened to his parish priest -- Rev. John Casey.
"You know how you admire people and say, 'Gee, I want to be like him?'" Pagones asked. "I think that's what rubbed off on me."
Casey became one of the main reasons Pagones decided to study for the Roman Catholic priesthood.
"He passed away my first year in the seminary," Pagones said. "He never got to see the fruits of his labor."
Thousands of others have. Pagones will celebrate his 50th anniversary as a priest Sunday during a Mass of Thanksgiving at his longtime church, St. Paul the Apostle in Schenectady.
A reception for Pagones, also pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Schenectady's Mont Pleasant section, will follow Mass inside St. Paul's G.W. Brucker Parish Center.
He will retire in early July.
The 75-year-old Pagones was born in Schenectady and raised in Granville, where he played football and baseball in high school. "Too short and too fat for basketball," he said, laughing.
Pagones' top sport was baseball, as a pitcher and first baseman. He was on the mound during his junior and senior years at Siena College, but knew he would never make the pros. "I had no delusions about that," he said.
By the time Pagones was a junior at Siena, he had decided to make the church his career. He graduated with degrees in history and education in 1964.
Pagones continued his studies at Our Lady of Angels Seminary in Glenmont and was ordained May 18, 1968 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany. He then began a career that would take him to nine churches in the greater Capital Region.
"When I was first ordained," Pagones said, "one of the pieces of advice my spiritual director at the seminary gave me was, 'Go into the parish, you're going to be the assistant. Keep your mouth shut, watch what's going on and do what you're told. After you've been there for a year, a year and a half, so then you've gained the trust of your pastor, then you can maybe start making some suggestions.'"
All priests must become accustomed to speaking before large groups of people on Sunday mornings. Pagones learned early in his career he could not use notes during his sermons.
"I get tied to the notes and forget who's out here," he said.
During Pagones' time at St. Peter's in Saratoga Springs, different lighting schemes were used when speakers were on the altar. He finally turned all the lights on and told parishioners he had to see their faces.
He also wanted to see reactions.
"If what I want to say isn't hitting home, I can see it in those faces," Pagones said. "And maybe at the next Mass, if you came back, you would hear a slightly different or even greatly different sermon."
Pagones said 75 is the mandatory age for retirement for priests in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany. Priests have been asked to stay on another year, Pagones added, while diocese officials decide how to fill vacancies.
Pagones, who is skipping the extra year to address health concerns, said the shortage of priests has been a church issue for years. All priests in Schenectady County, he said, pastor two churches.
Pagones has prayed for others to consider the vocation during his services.
"If there is any great disappointment, it's that there aren't more who have responded to the call," he said. "The call is out there, it's alive and active, but people are not responding the way they used to. This year, we're going to ordain one new priest and the next year two from our whole diocese."
In 1968, the graduating class at Our Lady of Angels was 13.
"In my recollection, that was our last large class," Pagones said.
Pagones has enjoyed working with young people during his career. He said a Sunday night Mass at St. Paul's, a service designed for teenagers, used to attract 200 for each program. The pastor found that talking to young people came with both challenges and rewards.
"You can't get a thing by them," Pagones said. "Kids can spot a phony, if you're not genuine and real and they know a hypocrite if they see one. If you stick with a bunch of kids for a while, over a period of time you see their growth.
"They're always challenging you," Pagones added. "And that keeps you young."
Priests have other challenges -- like talking to people who no longer attend services on a regular basis.
"Where are these people who used to come and are no longer coming?" Pagones asked. "Have they moved, have they died, are they here and just don't bother any more? What is it? Did they get turned off by something, is it something we did that chased them away? Or is it just in the culture and times in which we live where church just isn't that high on their list of priorities."
Pagones will meet with people who are planning to marry in the church. A question on the questionnaire asks, "Do you go to church?"
Pagones said people will answer, "Occasionally," which he said means Easter and Christmas.
"You don't go to Mass on Sunday, that's what we do," Pagones said. "That's what identifies us, and if you don't do that, how can you call yourself a Catholic?"
Another challenge has been the addition of the second parish. Pagones officially started at Mount Carmel in 2016, but made a summer visit during 2015.
"I spent three days at the festa," Pagones said, of Mount Carmel's elaborate annual church party. "Just walking around talking to people, letting them see me, that kind of stuff."
He wanted to make sure the Mount Carmel parishioners did not feel left out.
"They've been very good in understanding that, and people at St. Paul's have also, that I can't be in two places at once," Pagones said. "Sometimes, I have to pick and choose, but they've been very supportive of that, for which I am very grateful."
Pagones has invited people from his nine churches to Sunday's 3:30 p.m. reception. He's doing the party his way -- a buffet in a church hall, no formal program, no speeches.
"I want people to come and enjoy themselves and enjoy each other for maybe the last time for a while," he said.
Rev. Peter N. Pagones' church assignments:
* St. Michael's, Amsterdam, 1968-71
* St. Patrick's, Albany, 1971-76
* Our Lady of Mercy, Colonie, 1976-82
* St. Peter's, Saratoga Springs, 1982-84
* St. Henry's, Averill Park, 1984-85
* St. James, Fort Plain, 1985-88
* St. Henry's, Averill Park, 1988-1999
* St. Paul's, Schenectady, 1999-2002
* Holy Trinity, Schaghticoke, 2002-2006
* St. Paul's, Schenectady, 2006-present
* Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Schenectady, 2016-present
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]