Head in the Clouds
Pope Francis & Me
Q: Who are you?
A: I'm a child of God. So are you.
Q: OK, smart guy, what else?
A: I'm a priest of the Diocese of Gary, Ind, and a former news reporter. Kind of a big shift, right? Funny thing is, there are a lot of others with even bigger shifts. Ask your local priest about his story. There are good odds he did "people stuff" at one time. Did I mention that all ideas and opinions expressed herein are soloely those of the author and do not in any way reflect those of any organization, institution, animal or mineral?
Q: Wait. Gary, Ind.? Is that still a thing?
A: Yep - and it's a beautiful thing. It's home. It always will be, and nothing will ever change that. My family's called Northwest Indiana home since my great grandparents got off the boat from Poland after fleeing during World War I. The thing about the Gary Diocese is, you give me a half hour, I'll take you from an ultra urban area that at times looks like East Berlin after the bombs dropped, to a gated subdivision with million dollar homes, then to a rural mint farm. In each of those places, you'll find a unique, yet similar people, all trying to live this life the best they can. Each of them has a story, and if you're willing to listen to it, you'll fall in love with them.
The greatest asset in Northwest Indiana isn't steel or the beaches. The Region's greatest assest is its people. They are the salt of the earth and the light on the hill. There's no other group with whom I'd rather journey through this life hand-in-hand and I feel blessed to have the opportunity to do just that.
Q: What drew you toward the possibility of priesthood?
A: Right now in our world, I think the greatest role of the priest is to bring hope to God’s people.
People are unemployed and underemployed. This country is embroiled in conflicts around the world. People feel devalued and marginalized.
There are so many reasons why we’re facing a crisis of hope, but through the sacraments, the priest has a unique ability and really a responsibility to bring hope to God’s people. There is strength and hope flowing from the waters of Baptism, in which the old is washed away and a new life in Christ is begun. There is strength in redemption, mercy and forgiveness that come from reconciliation. There is strength and hope to be found in receiving the sacrifice that is Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. There is peace and strength that come from the bonds of matrimony and the reception of holy orders. There is hope and healing in being anointed, and at each of those moments, the priest is there to help with the infusion of hope, to show that through the sacrifice of Christ and the power of God, we are a hopeful, peaceful and merciful people.
I can think of no better way than to spend the rest of this life in service to God and his people, there through the joys and sorrows of this life, always making known His presence and His light, in good times and bad.
Q: Who are some of your role models?
A: Certainly the pastors I grew up with.
My childhood pastor, the priest from whom I received the Sacraments of Baptism, Reconcilliation and Eucharist, was a warm and wonderful community-building presence who spent the first 20 years of his ministry in the city of Gary and marched in the South with Dr. Martin Luther King.
I fell in love with Scripture through the dynamic preaching of my pastor throught middle school and high school and really began to see that maybe God was calling me to the priesthood through the servant-leadership of a young priest who came to shepherd my parish at the tail end of my high school days and throughout college.
My first summer assignment brought me to a very spirit-filled community and the pastor I shadowed really had a profound effect on me and how I view the priesthood. I remember one of my first days there, we had a Confirmation Mass with the bishop, then he got a call from a family wanting their elderly father anointed at a hospital some 30 minutes away. That it was 10 p.m. and the man wasn’t a parishioner didn’t matter. We drove up to the hospital and Father anointed him. He really taught me what it means to be a spiritual father.
In reading, I’ve also developed an appreciation for the lives and ministries of folks like Bishop Ken Untener, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, Henri Nouwen. Thomas Merton, Walter Cardinal Kasper, Dorothy Day, Ralph Martin, Andy Greeley, Fr. James Martin, SJ, and Sr. Thea Bowman. I tend to gravitate toward those who I believe truly know the sheep of the flock and whose writings have taught me the importance of compassion and really what it means to be the ‘Church of Mercy’ Pope Francis speaks of.
Q: You look familiar. Where have you been?
Well, for about 10 years I was one of the liturgy coordinators at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church in Hobart, Ind. Most visibly, I was playing brass at ever weekend Mass.
One of the amazing things about being a seminarian for the Gary Diocese is that seminarians always have a home in our communities, and once you're accepted, you'll have a different assignment every year. In the Summer of 2013, I was assigned to an internship at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Winfield. During the Summer of 2014, I spent six weeks as a camp counselor and spiritual coordinator at Sharing Meadows, a phenomenal residential community for the other-abled founded by one of our priests in rural Rolling Prairie. After that, I spent five weeks at St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church in Merrillville and also shadowed the Judicial Vicar at the Tribunal at the Diocese of Gary Pastoral Center. That Christmas, I was in residence at St. Mary of the Lake Catholic Church in the Miller Beach neighborhood of Gary, where the rectory quickly became a hangout of the seminarians. The SML family was so welcoming to us, that three of us took residence there the following Christmas, seeing firsthand the renaissance of a parish once on the brink of closure. During the Spring of 2015, I was assigned to St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Schererville before heading to Ecuador to study Spanish for the rest of the summer. From February through May of 2016, I was at St. Mary Catholic Church in Griffith and St. Ann Catholic Church in Gary for my pastoral internship. It was an amazing experience! Part of my assignment was teaching four periods of middle school religion five days a week. The students there opened my heart in ways I didn't think possible and really helped me discover spiritual fatherhood. The pastor and I became good friends, so much that I kept coming back and didn't actually move out until diaconate ordination! From June through August, I completed my Clinical Pastoral Education with the St. Joseph Mercy Health System in Ann Arbor, Mich., serving largely at the St. Mary Mercy campus in Livonia. After all that came ordination and new challenges.
For my diaconal year I was assigned to the Saint Mary Catholic Community in Crown Point, Ind. It's a wonderful community, with a welcoming people and dynamic spirit.
Q: So where are you now?
I'm currently the Associate Pastor of St. Paul Catholic Church in Valparaiso, Ind.
Q: What is your favorite Scripture passage?
A: Micah 6:8 - “Act justly, love gently and walk humbly with God.” It's plastered all over this website.