A Circuitous Route
Fr. Aidan Rooney, CM, tells the Vincentian narrative to current and new audiences using modern-days tools and messaging.
On a cold, blustery day in March at Niagara University (a Vincentian institution) in Niagara Falls, New York, Fr. Aidan Rooney, CM, cannot help but poke fun at himself. “I was born in Staten Island a long time ago. I’m older than the Verrazano Bridge that gets you to Brooklyn.”
While he is technically older than that famed bridge, at only 63, he scoffs at the idea of retirement. “Vincentians don’t retire. We keep going in ministry, until we physically can’t anymore.” If Fr. Rooney’s youthful vigor is any indication (he is a proponent of physical fitness), he’s got many years of ministry left in him.
Serving as Vice President for Mission Integration at Niagara University, Fr. Rooney is tasked with ensuring that the university’s educational, Catholic, and Vincentian mission is seamlessly infused throughout the entirety of the institution—no small task. He collaborates with numerous departments and committees in this role, while also serving on the President’s Cabinet.
In addition, Fr. Rooney creates two weekly videos on VincentiansUSA.org: “The Vincentian Minute,” a quick reflection on living a Vincentian life, and “The Word: A Journey from Outside In,” a reflection on each Sunday’s scripture from the lectionary. As if video wasn’t enough, he is a frequent contributor to “The God Minute,” a daily Catholic podcast with a number of notable contributors. He also celebrates Sunday Mass at parishes in Niagara Falls and serves as the Superior of the Vincentian Community at Niagara University.
Fr. Rooney believes his many ministries give him strength, rather than take it. Yet, the fact that he is ministering at all, let alone serving for forty years as a Vincentian and thirty-five years as a Vincentian Priest, would be a big surprise to the young kid on Staten Island. “My vocation to the Vincentians and the priesthood took a circuitous route,” Fr. Rooney says. “I didn’t even meet a Vincentian until I was an adult.”
For his early education he attended parochial and Christian Brothers (C.F.C.) schools, and after high school, he enrolled in Cornell University. The Ivy League culture did not appeal to him, and he was back home in Staten Island without even completing his first semester. “I figured I’d go home, get a job to learn a trade, make good money,” Rooney recalls. “God had other plans.”
A friend , who was taking classes at St. John’s Staten Island campus, encouraged Fr. Rooney to join him there. Within months, he was enrolled and discovered the Vincentians for the first time.
The Vincentian calling wasn’t immediate, and his career plans were uncertain. He was active in the robust Catholic campus community and had a deep faith, but he envisioned a life in the theater. “To my own amazement,” he says, “after graduation and a summer internship at New York University’s (NYU) Educational Theater program, I became that theater’s technical director.”
It wasn’t until he attended NYU that he began to fully discern his call to become a priest, specifically a Vincentian Priest. Fr. Rooney says, “I was in grad school and still in touch with the Vincentians at St. John’s. My discernment had the encouragement of friends and Fr. Jim Smith, CM, who said, ‘You’ll never know unless you go and see if the life fits.’ Off I went. It fit!”
Instead of entering into a formal preparatory program as he would today, he began in the theology program at Mary Immaculate Seminary in September 1979. There, the curriculum was being redesigned and in flux, so Fr. Rooney took some upper-level theology courses during his first year. Fr. Peter Albano, CM, taught him a course that forever changed his life. “Fr. Albano’s course had me. I was sold,” Fr. Rooney recalls.
From there, his seminary formation began in earnest, and after Internal Seminary in 1980, followed by the completion of Major Seminary, he was ordained a priest. His first assignment was at the same campus he calls home today, Niagara University. He spent his first ten years there as a priest in campus ministry, teaching religious studies and eventually graduate-level research methods and statistical analysis.
His assignments over the decades have been varied: a young adult retreat center director in New Jersey, a parish pastor in Philadelphia, and the International Coordinator of FamVin (a multi-lingual network that unites branches of the Vincentian family), among other ministries.
In 2007, Fr. Rooney read a request by the Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission looking for priests and brothers to work in foreign missions. Two years later, he found himself in a rural sector of Bolivia, collaborating with two other Vincentians and local laity in the leadership of two parishes and eighty-three Catholic communities, while becoming fluent in Spanish and learning to live in the high altitude of Bolivia’s Andes Mountains. “I visited upward of fifty communities twice a year,” Fr. Aidan recalls, “to oversee the formation of catechists and to celebrate the sacraments.”
One of his most poignant memories of his service in Bolivia was also heartbreaking. “A woman had given birth to twins,” Fr. Rooney says, “and we knew one of them would probably die. So I administered the Anointing of the Sick to a two-week-old baby.”
However, most of his experiences in Bolivia were joyous. “I designed and supervised the building of three small village churches. To see the happiness of the people when we dedicated those churches was pretty awesome.”
By 2018, Fr. Rooney was back at Niagara University where his priestly ministry began. When asked if he is growing long-term roots at Niagara, he smiles and says, “I’m good for seven years in an assignment, and then I feel the need to move to another. That seems to be my way.” He pauses before adding, “I’ve only been back here for two years, so I’ve got plenty of time to accomplish what needs to be accomplished. And I’m a young guy—there is plenty more I plan to do.”
* Since this story was written, Fr. Rooney has left his ministry as Vice President for Mission Integration at Niagara University and is the current Executive Vice President for Mission at St. John’s University. We thank Fr. Rooney for his work Niagara University and wish Father well in his new ministry. Please continue to keep him in your prayers.