TORONTO – In a way, it’s like Fr. Peter Turrone is coming home. As a student at the University of Toronto, Turrone saw the Newman Centre Catholic Chaplaincy as a second home, a spiritual oasis. Now, as he takes up his new position as Newman’s executive director and pastor, he is excited for the opportunity to serve the community that gave him so much.
“Newman was like a second home for me because I used to go to daily Mass and I went for adoration on Fridays,” said Turrone. “To be asked to go there is a great honour... To be able to reach out, by the grace of God, to be able to share our Catholic faith with others.”
Before becoming a priest, Turrone was on a path to academia. Turrone earned an undergraduate degree in specialized psychology at York University in 1998. Then, he went on to earn his masters and doctorate degrees in medical science and neuroscience at U of T in 2004.
As part of his program, he also worked as a research scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, examining the side effects of antipsychotic drugs.
Turrone thrived in the academic environment, but he also found himself drawn to the spiritual community. Looking back at his faith journey, he feels as though he has been wrestling with God’s call since he was about eight years old.
“I felt a pull towards the Lord in a deeper way already at my First Communion,” he said. “Then, I had been on a (Confirmation) retreat at Mono Mills in Orangeville... I remember feeling a magnet drawing me to the altar and it was so overwhelming.”
Turrone said he had rarely experienced intense moments like these in his life, but he now believes these moments were an integral part in choosing his vocation.
“This is why when I work with schools these past two years, I spend a lot of time with all the grades, but especially the Grade 2s, 7s and 8s,” he said.
Before Turrone was asked to become Newman’s director, he was associate pastor at St. Clare of Assisi parish in Woodbridge, Ont. His main ministry was as chaplain and liaison to nine neighbouring schools in the area.
“This is the best part about being a priest and being able to go into the schools,” he said. “We get to share our faith and everybody benefits. And the teachers and students get really involved and we all grow together as a community.”
Turrone now hopes to approach his new ministry at Newman in this same way. Though Newman Centre primarily serves to promote the Catholic faith to students, it is also a parish that serves university staff, families and other members of the community.
“The questions are the same, but the answers get deeper as we get older,” said Turrone. “Regardless of degrees or whatever we have or what age it’s to be able to come to know Jesus and to love Him and to follow Him. It all comes down to that and there’s just a different way of doing that at the university level.”
For the past few months, Turrone had been shadowing past director Fr. Chris Cauchi, getting to know the Newman Centre community and staff. He said he is not really looking to change how Newman Centre works. Rather, he sees his position merely as a continuation of the legacy that his predecessors have already set before him.
“The Newman Centre has been around for a long time,” said Turrone. “I am thoroughly impressed with the work of my predecessors at Newman Centre and I go now as a priest and as a scientist... to be able to work in such a vibrant community and share my faith.”