Take 5 with Father Steve Neff: All in the family

Ordained in 2005, Father Steve Neff has served as a parochial vicar and pastor, and currently is the spiritual director to the seminarians at Saint Paul Seminary.

  1. How did God call you to the priesthood?

I feel that God called me in two ways. The first way was by giving me a family that loves the Church and the priesthood. My Grandpa Neff had been a seminarian but discerned that God was calling him to marriage. Because he had been a seminarian for many years, several of his friends were priests and came to family gatherings.

The second way that God called me to the priesthood was by showing me the examples of happy, healthy and holy priests who joyfully lived their vocations. Our pastor at Saint Joseph Church in Chicora, Father DePaul Ripko, celebrated many Masses at my Grandma Neff’s house (she always said that I would become a priest).  After I graduated from high school, I worked at an architectural/ engineering firm where I did computer-aided drafting. On my lunch hour I would go to Mass celebrated by Father Harry Bielewicz at Saint Paul Church in Butler. Father Bielewicz was such a young, joyful priest and I remember thinking, Wow, this guy is happy! These priests showed me that a life anchored in the Lord is a joyful life.

2. What is the most meaningful aspect of your ministry?

It is celebrating the Sacraments, most especially the Mass. Our dear Lord is always present to touch the lives of His people and I am filled with awe and joy. I tell the faithful to buckle their seat belts and get ready for something exciting every time they come to Mass. It’s incredible to watch the miracle of the consecration, and then to see from the look on the faces of the faithful when they receive the Eucharist. They, too, know a miracle took place. They are so hungry to be fed and Lord does exactly that every time the Sacraments are celebrated.

3. What is the most challenging part of your ministry?

The most challenging part is helping the faithful believe that they are special and are loved by the Lord! The devil works overtime to trick people and convince them that this is not true. If we all firmly believed that God loves us completely and unconditionally, we would understand the Sacraments and we would never underestimate the power of God’s unconditional love for each of us. My hope is that Christ’s love can pour out through me to the people I serve.

4.  What do you wish people knew about the priesthood?

I wish people knew that priesthood is a joyful way of life.  It is very rich and fulfilling because every day I get to invite people into a relationship with Christ. No two days are the same. I am honored and humbled to be invited into people’s lives and to walk with them in good times and in bad. As a priest, I have seen the words of the Gospel of Matthew 19:29 come to life, when Jesus says, “And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life.” The people in the parishes that I have been assigned to live this Gospel. They have always opened their homes to me and included me as part of their families.

For men who may think that Christ is calling them to the priesthood, they owe it to themselves and to Him to find out. It is my honor to serve as the spiritual director to the seminarians at St. Paul Seminary.

Father Neff (far right) and the St. Paul Seminarians, who live and quarantine together, during Christmas 2020

5. What do you do in your free time?

I love spending time with family—my parents, who have been married for 57 years; my sister Rebecca and her husband Jerry; and my nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles and many cousins. I love to be home, sitting on the porch and enjoying the beauty of God’s creation around us at our old farmhouse, pond and the 50 acres that we live on.  I love nature, especially being there during a good snowstorm or throughout the various seasons.

Father Neff with his parents and Bishop Zubik at the diocesan Golden Wedding Anniversary Mass.
In a recent homily, Father Neff offered insights on how God the Father cares for us