St. Mary’s in Middlebury welcomes a new pastor
MIDDLEBURY — Luke Austin arrived at a crossroads around 15 years ago.
Should he use his new law degree to pursue a career in federal government, or take the spiritual route into the priesthood.
Father Luke, as he is now known, chose the latter path, and he has no regrets. He is now settling into his brand new role as leader of the Middlebury area’s Catholic congregation, which attends services at St. Mary’s Church in Middlebury, St. Bernadette in Bridport, and St. Genevieve in Shoreham.
He officially began his duties as the new St. Mary’s pastor on July 9. Austin succeeds Father William Beaudin, who recently concluded a nine-year stint as leader of St. Mary’s. Beaudin is now pastor of Holy Cross Church in Malletts Bay and Our Lady of Grace Church in Colchester.
Austin is quickly settling in to an anticipated six-year assignment in Middlebury, at the request of Catholic Bishop Christopher Coyne of the Burlington Diocese.
“I’m a native of Rutland, so Middlebury is not unfamiliar territory for me,” Austin said during a recent interview. “But as I joke with parishioners, I’m discovering there’s a lot going on on Washington Street, rather than just taking the left onto Route 7 (south). I’m getting to know the back streets, the byways, — and above all, the people.”
Austin’s devotion to the Catholic Church began at an early age. He attended Christ the King School and Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland, graduating in 1994.
In an interview with the Vermont Catholic publication last year, Austin recounted that as a kindergartner he would sometimes “play priest,” and his grandmother’s housekeeper sewed him some “vestments.”
He graduated from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., in 1998, majoring in government. Austin earned his law degree from George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C., in 2002. He briefly worked as a legislative correspondent for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and had various summer clerkships at prosecutor’s offices in the Washington area. He also worked as an attorney on contract basis for the Department of the Interior, according to Vermont Catholic.
It was around this time that he felt a calling to the church and a new education path charted, in part, by Bishop Coyne.
He spent six years, as a young seminarian, studying theology and Canon Law at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
“It was real gift to be able to study in Rome,” Austin recalled. “It was a chance to see both the unity and universality of the church.”
During his initial classes, Austin marveled at the international reach of the university.
“I was sitting next to guys from Ireland, Rwanda and Vietnam,” he said. “It was a great experience. It was a great place to discern the call to priesthood.”
Austin acknowledged having to take a “crash course” in Italian in order to better comprehend course material and function in Rome.
“Fortunately, you could take your exam in English, because the professors — even if they were not confident in speaking it — could understand it,” Austin said. “That was a huge help.”
He emerged from the university with a Bachelor’s in Sacred Theology and license in Canon Law.
Prior to his arrival at St. Mary’s, Austin served as a pastor for the Swanton and Highgate Catholic congregations. Before that, he served as a parochial vicar for the St. Johnsbury and Manchester Catholic congregations.
Austin will be a busy man at St. Mary’s. Along with leading regular services at the three area Catholic Churches, he will also preside over Sunday evening Mass at Middlebury College (during the academic year). The college has the “Newman Club,” an association of Catholic students who will interact with Austin. He will also tend to the individual spiritual needs of parishioners and make regular visits to patients at such locations as Helen Porter Healthcare & Rehabilitation.
“I want to be mindful about being present where I can,” he said.
Austin is an avid skier, and expects to check out the Middlebury College Snow Bowl this winter.
Having been at St. Mary’s for just over a month, he hasn’t yet mapped out a long-term agenda for the church.
“I will listen to people’s names, see who people are, see what the needs of the parish and the greater community may be,” he said of his current priorities.
He believes his effort to develop a road map for the St. Mary’s parish will benefit from a diocesan synod that Bishop Coyne will convene in Burlington next spring. This synod — the first in Vermont since 1962 — will establish a pastoral plan for the immediate future of the Catholic Church in Vermont. It is a process that will include feedback from parishioners at Catholic Churches throughout the state, according to Austin.
Asked to describe his leadership style, Austin responded: “Listen first, and try to build consensus.”
Reporter John Flowers is at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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