Meet Seminarian Mario Porreca
Tell us about your family.
I am very close with my mother and father, and I also have a sister who is 9 ½ years younger than I am. My father is a chiropractor and has been practicing chiropractic for 37 years while my mother is a registered nurse and is the office manager at my father’s clinic. My sister attended IUP for college where she majored in hospitality management and now currently runs my former business which I left to her when I entered seminary. She worked with me for a couple of years prior to my entering, so it made for a smooth transition. I also have a 5-year-old Yorkipoo named Waldo who is my best buddy and who is always happy to see me when I get a free weekend or make a visit home. My parents are currently taking care of (spoiling) him while I study for the priesthood.
Where did you get your undergraduate degree?
I studied Culinary Arts at Westmoreland County Community College and worked as a professional chef for about 6 years before becoming an entrepreneur for the next 12 years. When I began my serious discernment for the priesthood, I took some classes at both Holy Apostles College & Seminary and Franciscan University of Steubenville. I am currently finishing my BA in Philosophy at St. Vincent College as I complete my Pre-Theology study and formation.
Did you have a job prior to entering the seminary? Tell us about it.
Yes, I owned and operated a digital media company. I had a team of eight people from all over the world and we created digital products and assets for small to medium businesses which they would use to market and sell their products and services. We specialized in podcast creation and production but also did various media projects from website design to advertising. Prior to that I was a professional chef, author, and heavily involved in food media and marketing.
Tell us about some of your hobbies.
I love to cook, watch and participate in sports—I’m a huge Pirates and Steelers fan, and I also enjoy going to the gym and staying active.
Tell us your vocation story?
Ever since I can remember I have always felt an intimate calling from the Lord to follow him and stay close to him. As a very young child I would spend hours reading Children’s Bibles (which I collected), watching children’s shows about Christ, collecting crucifixes, and making crosses with my grandfather (who was a retired carpenter) that we would erect to display to his neighborhood.
When I was eight years old, I received a child’s Roman Missal for my First Holy Communion as a gift from my parents. I thought it was the greatest thing that I had all the prayers from the Mass in a book of my own. This led to me playing priest and saying Mass for my family—complete with vestments made by my grandmother and full family participation.
I eventually became an altar server at St. Anne’s. As an altar server, remember being drawn to the Blessed Sacrament and just being in awe of being that close to the altar during the celebration of the Liturgy—especially during the Stations of the Cross and Adoration.
Later in life, when I was around 25 years old, my father and I attended a weekend Catholic men’s retreat. After the retreat was over, I poured myself into my faith and over the next few weeks God made it clear to me that the priesthood was something he was calling me to. However, at 25 years old I still wasn’t ready to let go of what I thought I wanted my life to be—I believed I wanted to get married, have kids, make a lot of money, buy a big house, drive nice cars, go on vacations, etc. At this point I actually got a bit frustrated and even a bit angry that God revealed to me this extreme peace and joy I could experience as a priest and that it was so different than what I thought I wanted in life. I continued to practice my faith but pushed the priesthood to the side and continued pursuing the life I thought I wanted to create and experience.
Over the next 10 years God gave me a taste of all the different things I thought I wanted. He gave me serious romantic relationships, he gave me career success, recognition, a small level of fame, and the ability to travel and go on extremely fun and exciting adventures—and even after all of this, I realized I still was not fully at peace. I noticed at this time that a lot of my work conversations started revolving around faith. I didn’t have to purposely bring it up, but the conversation would just seem to go there. I also found myself spending all my free time studying philosophy and the faith to be able to articulate it better in these conversations and mainly to strengthen my own personal relationship with Christ by getting to know him better in both an intellectual and personal way. As I would consume this content it began to burn deep within me that God was calling me to go deeper, so I began taking formal classes in philosophy and theology at Holy Apostles College & Seminary and then at Franciscan University of Steubenville. This further fanned the flames of my faith and at this time, during the Sacrament of Confession specifically, I had my first formal conversation with a priest about the priesthood. For the next year after that conversation, I made discernment and my relationship with Christ the number one priority of my life and God brought me to the place where I knew I had to apply for Seminary to discern in a more formal setting with the full help and guidance of the Church.
What is a typical day like for you?
I wake up around 6 AM, pray, get ready for the day, and then head to the chapel for morning Mass. After Mass I work on classwork and/or attend morning classes and then I typically head to the Basilica around noon for my Holy Hour. Classes range at different times between 8:30 AM and 4 PM depending on the day of the week. After my Holy Hour I usually grab a snack and head to afternoon classes before going back to the chapel for evening prayer with my brother seminarians at 5:15 PM. After evening prayer, we have dinner together and then it’s back to classwork mixed with some social/free time before praying and heading to bed to start a new day the following morning.
What do you look forward to in becoming a priest?
Serving God’s people and extending his love and mercy to the community and the world. There is nothing more important than Jesus and the best way to honor him is to get to get to know him and we do this through spending time with him in prayer, in reading and contemplating his word in the Gospel, and through the Sacraments. Having the unique opportunity to facilitate this experience for others is a humbling and awe-filled experience. Actively serving God by doing what he made you to do is what we are all called to do, and I truly believe that God is calling me personally to do this through serving his people through participation in his ministerial priesthood.
Who would you say has been your biggest mentor throughout this process and why?
Father Tony Gargotta has had a huge impact on me, from discernment through where I sit today. Father Tony helped guide my discernment and helped me make some very difficult decisions when it came time to let go of certain things and to move forward with faith in what God is calling me to do. Since entering seminary he has regularly kept in touch with advice, guidance, and offering Masses and prayers for me—even when I am not aware he is doing it. I am aware that he is going through his own challenges and is even ministering to a different diocese (Pittsburgh), but he always includes me because of our friendship and shows by example what it looks like to minister from love and live a pastoral life.