PALM BEACH GARDENS | When Father Marc Gustinelli was younger, he thought his life would follow the path walked by his father and grandfather: get married, start a family and build a business to support the family. That was before he asked God to help guide his choices.
On a retreat with his uncle, who is also his godfather, Father Gustinelli began to articulate the question that changed his life: God, what do you want me to do in life? “That was really the question that opened up vocation for me,” he said.
A deacon on the retreat asked the 20-something Marc, “Are you sure you want to ask God that question? If you ask that question, you have to be open to anything, because God can tell you anything.”
“I said, ‘Well, you know, I am open to anything.’ Later on, that’s when it became more evident on my heart and I started thinking about priesthood,” Father Gustinelli said.
“It was something that frightened me in the beginning, and it was something that I didn’t want to speak to my family about because I wasn’t sure how they were going to react — my brothers and sisters, my parents,” he said. The first person he told was his godfather, who has “always been very dear to me as a spiritual father, someone who has strong faith and prays with me.”
After deciding to enter seminary to pursue the priesthood, he needed to figure out whether to become part of a diocese or a religious order. He liked the idea of serving as a missionary priest in a far-off land, but what about serving his home Diocese of Palm Beach? Again, he went to God: “Reveal to me where you want me to go.”
Attending a young adult retreat at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary, he spoke with two priests and doors started opening.
“The reason I chose the Diocese of Palm Beach is not only because I’m from here, which is a good reason, but I thought of the process of what we call discernment, deciding on priesthood. All of it happened in this diocese,” Father Gustinelli said. “My parish, the people who have prayed for me, the experiences I have in ministry, they all happened here in Palm Beach. So, I was faithful to paying attention to that. God is making something happen here, so this is the place where I have to pay attention.”
He found seminary life to his liking, and one year turned into two and so on. “I really enjoyed my studies, my ministry, and it became more and more evident that the Lord was drawing me closer to him through this path. I became happier and it became obvious that this is the way for me in life,” Father Gustinelli said.
During his year as a deacon, he served the community of St. Philip Benizi in Belle Glade and helped the pastor, Father Nobert Jean-Pierre, in a variety of ways. Then-Deacon Gustinelli helped with a summer youth camp, building relationships with local children and adults. He also assisted at liturgies, blessed parishioners’ homes and brought Communion to the sick, among other duties. He said knowing how to speak French helped him connect with Haitian immigrants who speak Creole, which is similar to French.
“I feel the experience in Belle Glade has been beneficial to me in many ways,” Father Gustinelli said. It helped him expand his understanding of the diocese and experience the region’s diversity of cultures, he said.
“I really have loved assignments where I’ve gotten a chance to work with the poor and work in social ministry and see how that’s changed the area, the parish and what God is doing there,” Father Gustinelli said.
He expressed gratitude for the many people who have supported him on this journey to the priesthood, especially his family members and friends, along with others whom he has never met but prayed for his fidelity to the call of ministry.
“One of the things I love the most in the Catholic Church and ministry is meeting different people and seeing what God is doing in their life, and I’m a part of that,” Father Gustinelli said. “At the same time, God is doing something in my life.
“I really love the fact that I’ve been called by God in the Diocese of Palm Beach, which is my home, the place where I grew up, the place where I was raised,” he said. “I really feel called to serve people here. I pay attention to the fact that God is moving in me and the Spirit is doing something for this diocese, and I’m really just very moved to be part of that.”
After seven years in seminary formation, Father Gustinelli is looking ahead to what God has in store. “The Lord has been doing the work all this time and I’ve just been open to his grace and what he’s doing. It’s really something beautiful to see,” he said.
Those who are open to pursuing a similar path are invited to contact Father Daniel Daza-Jaller, diocesan director of vocations and seminarians, at 561-775-9552 or firstname.lastname@example.org, visiting www.palmbeachvocations.org or following the office on Facebook and Instagram.