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Following his vocation around the U.S. and the world

Apriul 21, 2021

By Darcy Fargo

WATERTOWN – From serving his parish as a youth in Ohio, Father Frank T. Natale, a Missionary of the Sacred Heart (MSC), has followed God’s call, and it has led him all over the United States and the world before leading him to Watertown.

Father Natale, 41, grew up with a deep connection to his faith and his parish.

“Every Sunday, I attended Mass and (religious education),” he said. “I was an altar server. My older brother was an altar server. Later, my younger brother became a server. I became a Eucharistic Minister. In my late teens and early 20s, I was on the parish council.”

As a young child, he would pretend to be a priest.

“I was recently remembering that as a kid, maybe around age 5, I would sometimes stay with my dad’s mom for a Friday and Saturday,” he said. “She was Methodist. We’d squash down a piece of bread, and carve it out with a cup, and she’d even put it in the oven for me to warm it up. I’d be under the table playing and saying, ‘this is the Body of Christ.’ She went along with it. I’d love to know what she was thinking.”

While his parish was initially served by a diocesan priest, Father Natale said “divine providence” led to a Missionary of the Sacred Heart priest being assigned to his parish.

“(The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart) had a retreat center in Shelby, Ohio,” he said. “They had a forming ground for postulancy and community formation. They had a farm and a seminary, but they never had a parish. It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that they took on a parish in Ohio. It happened to be the parish I attended. I would’ve never known the MSCs had that not happened.”

It was around his senior year of high school when he first told his family he was considering dedicating his life to Christ.

“I felt called to be in a religious community,” Father Natale said. “I knew what it was like to have a close family feeling, and I wanted a family feeling. I confided in my mom about that feeling of being called to religious life around my last year of high school. My mom started saying, ‘Frank wants to be a priest.’”

While his mom told others to pray for his vocation, Father Natale pursued his education at a technical school, taking introductory college courses. After accumulating enough credit hours of college level courses, he spoke to the Missionary of the Sacred Heart priest serving his parish, telling him he felt called to the community. That priest introduced him to the community’s vocation director.

“Little by little, I got to know the community and the guys of the community,” Father Natale said, noting he visited the community’s provincial headquarters in Aurora, Illinois. “About a year later, in the fall of 2002, I decided ‘let’s try this out.’ I was sent to San Antonio, Texas. There, I became a minority. There were more Hispanics than Caucasians. I experienced liturgy in a different way.”

In San Antonio, Father Natale also experienced community.

“We had Mass in the morning and breakfast together, and I’d be off to school. We’d have evening meditation and prayer together,” he said. “Other than that, we had free reign. We could invite people over. We could go out. I was going to university and living in the house getting to know the community and the charism of the community. For the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, it’s about the compassionate heart of Christ.”

After two months with the community, Father Natale hit “a bit of turmoil and a bit of a break.”

“I had all these things going through my head,” he said. “It was, ‘what am I doing here?’ I was worried about my grades and ‘how am I going to enter into this?’ and ‘what about having a family?’ I had always told my mom I felt I needed to belong to and serve the Church in some capacity, and I thought I could still work in the Church in another capacity.”

His mother and brother then visited him for Thanksgiving, and he traveled home to visit for Christmas.

“I have no idea why, but I went back to San Antonio,” Father Natale said. “I took it one day at a time instead of thinking about the future. I equated it to being on a fence. I could put my toe on the ground, but the fence was still there to return to. I allowed myself some time, and it felt right.”

After completing a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and his novitiate year, Father Natale spent 14 months in Australia. While working with the novice master there, he said he further developed his prayer life and completed a 30-day Ignatian retreat before being sent into an aboriginal settlement.

With the aboriginal people and the pastor with whom he worked, Father Natale said he experienced community in a different way.

“We’d play this card game, spoons, with the kids,” he explained. “In some ways, it’s like musical chairs. You have a group of people, and you have one less spoon than you have people, and one person gets left without a spoon. We realized quickly that they were playing against us. In our culture, we’re individualistic. For them, it was all about taking care of the community and making sure no one was left out.”

After his novitiate, Father Frank returned to the United States and the MSC community in Illinois. He continued his studies in Chicago until 2012, when he was ordained a deacon. He served for nine months as a deacon in Ottsville, Pennsylvania before being ordained on June 29, 2013.

“It’s the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul,” he said. “It’s poetic that those dates seem to choose themselves. I looked at the dates that were available for the bishop, and that was just an available date. Another priest I knew pointed out the feast day.”

Father Natale’s first assignment was in Palm Springs, California. After four years, he was transferred to Nazareth, Pennsylvania. In both places, he served as an associate pastor.

He became pastor of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church in Watertown in June of 2020, his first assignment as pastor.

“It’s been very good,” Father Natale said of the experience thus far. “I have a very, very helpful Parish Council and Finance Council, and I have two very helpful trustees. They help make the decisions that have to be made, and that frees me up to do what I studied for – the sacramental dealings within the parish.”

While he noted taking over a parish in the midst of a pandemic has been challenging, Father Natale is looking forward to “doing more in the parish.”

“There’s a program I did in Pennsylvania, ‘Christ Life,’ that builds community,” he said. “It’s three parts. The first is ‘Discovering Christ,’ the second is ‘Following Christ, and the third is ‘Sharing Christ.’ I’d like to start with that first program. How do you do outreach to other people if you don’t have something to bring them? It’s a reinforcer for those in the faith, so they can help bring the faith to others.”

Sessions of the seven-week program involve a meal, a video presentation, discussion, music and dessert, and it’s intended to create a team of participants who repeat the program for others in the parish and community.

Father Natale says he also envisions creating a ministry series for married couples, and he hopes to make aesthetic improvements to the church building. His goal is to build a community centered in Christ.

“People are coming back and supporting the parish very much,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time until everything is safe again. Hopefully, we’ll do a lot of good things then.”


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