This is the ninth in a series of articles profiling each of the nine men who will be ordained to the priesthood by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on May 21. Earlier articles in the series are available at TheBostonPilot.com.
"Start by doing what is necessary, then do what is possible and soon you will be doing the impossible." This saying, attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, has carried Deacon Matthew Conley through his life.
As a young child growing up in Dorchester, Deacon Conley kept this close to his heart -- throughout his four years at North Cambridge Catholic High School, while he was at Our Lady of Providence Seminary College and even until today.
"This is a bit of a mantra to me," he said.
"My being ordained this May has become the impossible made possible by the grace of God," continued Deacon Conley. "It's still overwhelming for me to think that I will actually by celebrating the Masses that I used to pretend to celebrate in my parent's living room with bread and grape juice, making all my siblings and cousins 'attend Mass.'"
Deacon Conley grew up in Dorchester, the youngest of three boys. As early as kindergarten, he recalls telling his friends he would be a priest someday.
"I was always attracted to what 'those guys' on the altar did," he smiled. "I really didn't understand too much at the time, but I knew that's what I wanted to do."
Although Deacon Conley did not grow up in an active Catholic family -- he and his family did not attend Mass regularly -- he attended St. Mary's Elementary School at Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish in South Boston where his fascination with the Church began.
"Instead of buying me toys when I went to the store, my aunt would always take me to buy religious items," he said. "Don't get me wrong -- I was a normal kid who liked toys, but without fail I would always come home with some new religious item for my room!"
His enthusiasm for the priesthood waned a bit in his early teens, until one day he knocked on the door of Blessed Mother Teresa Parish at St. Margaret's Church. Father Paul Soper, pastor of the parish, opened the door "and the rest is history," Deacon Conley said.
"We had a long, transformative meeting where he answered all my questions and addressed all my concerns," he recalled. "I would not be here today if it weren't for him."
Armed with a renewed sense of God's call, Deacon Conley told his parents he wanted to pursue a vocation to the priesthood.
"They never said no," Deacon Conley said. "They told me, 'If that's what you want to do, then you should do it.' And they have been extremely supportive throughout these years."
After graduating from North Cambridge High School, Deacon Conley attended the seminary college in Providence where in 2012 he graduated with a philosophy degree. He entered St. John's Seminary the following fall, a place he is certain he will miss.
"I like the community aspect of life at St. John's," he mused. "We are all very different, but we all come together for the same goal: we all live by our one faith."
Deacon Conley praised the parish of his diaconal assignment: St. Mary Parish in Holliston.
"At first I was a little bit nervous going out there," he admitted. "But it has turned out to be a great assignment. There's a phenomenal community of people (at St. Mary's). It has a small-town mentality where everyone knows each other. You really get to know the community outside of the Church."
Deacon Conley is looking forward to his ordination. At 26, he noted that he will be the youngest priest in the Archdiocese of Boston, probably for the next two years.
"I look forward to the varieties of experiences that I will be given as a parish priest. I have no doubt that each of them will bring their own challenges and blessings," he said, adding that his ability to "adapt to new people and situations easily" will be a grace for him.
Looking ahead to his ordination, Deacon Conley is prepared.
"This is the fulfillment of a life-long dream," he said.