Each year when May 10 comes around I call my good friend and classmate Bishop Carl Kemme — and/or we email one another — to extend our “Happy Anniversary” message to each other. We walked into the Diocesan Seminary of the Immaculate Conception on Lake Springfield the same day, and have been and will remain “classmates” and friends for the rest of our lives and ministries.
This week I spent three days at what we now call the Villa Maria Catholic Life Conference and Retreat Center. As always, I experienced a rush of both memories and emotions when I entered this beautiful place of rest and spiritual refreshment. For three days I helped Shaun Riedell, director of the Diocesan Office of Development, host the Region Vll (Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin) directors of Stewardship and Development for the 16 dioceses of this region. I also celebrated Mass and shared time with Chris Malmevik, our outstanding and gifted director of the Diocesan Office for Catechesis, along with 14 of our “best” and gifted directors of religious education who were on a day of recollection.
The time spent at the Villa Maria gave me ample time to pray and reflect on my own journey which began in this holy space 39 years ago. It really began years before that, but I formally was accepted by Bishop Joseph McNicholas to study and discern a call to the priesthood back in 1978.
Now being ordained 31 years I ask, like many, “How did the time go by so fast?” Believe me, it didn’t seem that “fast” while in those first days, weeks, months and beginning years of our eight-year journey. Yet now as I look back I remember a few tough times, but with a smile I can remember hundreds of “graced” and “blessed” moments. I never was known during my seminary years to be one of the “sharpest” pencils in the box, but I know for sure that many of my greatest lessons and learning moments have come from the “real” moments of encountering God, and his infinite love and mercy, along the way.
My journey toward priesthood included some great priests who took time to encourage me, pray for me, and most of all give me a good example to follow. Msgr. Paul Heinen above all was my “hero” if you will. He taught me hospitality, and how to live priesthood “joyfully.” Father Richard Chiola inspired me as a phenomenal homilist who could always reach you where you were with the right message. Father Martin “Mitz” Mangan was a great example of what it means to be a “compassionate” shepherd who truly cared for his flock. Father Tony Tamulis showed me how important “youth ministry” was and to always stay connected with the youth. Father Ken Venvertloh taught me the importance of “justice and peace.” Msgr. James O’Shea taught/gave me the great example of how a priest must be humble, “Christ-centered,” and rock solid as a man of prayer. And Pope John Paul ll — well, the list is so long — he will forever be in my heart.
All of these priests in their own way have blessed me and now continue to challenge me to strive to do my best. What priest has blessed your life? What priest has brought the “joy of the Gospel” to your journey? Do you know your priest? Have you taken time to come to know him as he serves you, your family and your parish?
On May 10, 1986 I had pancakes for breakfast and then processed with my two classmates down the main aisle of our Cathedral. I had asked Msgr. Heinen, who was in his 80s and a priest for 57 years, to vest me as a newly-ordained priest. He vested me and then whispered, “You will always be one of my boys.” That was moment I will never forget. The priesthood journey began for me that day 31 years ago.
This weekend we will host, at our mother church, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, our ordination of our four “soon to be” diocesan priests. From that a moment on they will, I pray “affectionately” be called Father Michael Friedel, Father Ronnie Lorilla, Father Rafal Pyrchla and Father Wayne Stock.
Our diocese is blessed, and our presbyterate as well, to welcome these four men into diocesan priesthood for priestly service in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. They are fine men who are so ready, and so joyfully willing to be “disciples” — servants of God.
I feel privileged to have been asked to vest Father Pyrchla during this ordination Mass. Five years ago I picked him up at the Cathedral to bring him to live at St. Paul’s Church in Highland. We are so proud of him and have great hope for him as he begins his journey of priesthood. He has traveled over 4,900 miles to say “yes” to priesthood for our diocese. Father Lorilla has come 8,200 miles. They are truly living as “missionary disciples” as they each become one of our priests. In this year of our synod, we are all being called to be “intentional disciples.” As Bishop Paprocki often says, “May God give us this grace.”
Congratulations to Father Friedel, Father Lorilla, Father Stock and Father Pyrchla. Thanks to your parents and families, and your parish families who have prayed for you and fostered your vocation to the priesthood. What a great journey you have traveled, and we pray blessings to you on the journey ahead. Welcome!