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Posted June 17, 2005

Newly ordained priests come from varied backgrounds

By Christina Capecchi
Catholic News Service

In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, 15 men were ordained to the priesthood May 28, the largest number of ordinations there in more than 40 years.

The group was the second largest in the country, after Chicago's 16 ordinands.

The St. Paul-Minneapolis ordinands said their desire to enter the priesthood stemmed from a variety of factors including the example of Pope John Paul II, personal pilgrimages and participation in World Youth Days.

Others also attributed their vocation to Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of St. Paul-Minneapolis, who conducts annual retreats and frequent vocation dinners for men considering a vocation to the priesthood.

"That interaction is invaluable," said Father Kevin McDonough, vicar general. "It's impossible to overestimate the importance of the personal engagement of Archbishop Flynn."

The priest also credited direct recruitment at the parish level for the increased size of this spring's ordination class. "That comes from pastors, teachers, parents, people in the pew," he said.

One of the newly ordained, Father Randel Kasel, also credited the archdiocese at large for routinely praying for an increase in vocations.

"There's an archdiocesan prayer, and I will not underestimate that," he told The Catholic Spirit, the archdiocesan newspaper. "It is a very specific, efficacious prayer."

During the ordination ceremony at the Cathedral of St. Paul, Archbishop Flynn advised the ordinands to "let people see you at prayer, let them see you before the Blessed Sacrament, let them see you with your rosary, let them see you meditating on the Scriptures in the church."

He also encouraged them to visit the sick in hospitals and nursing homes frequently and stressed the need for well-prepared homilies.

Regarding parish work, the archbishop stressed that the new priests should not "start battles" but instead should "try to keep people together. It's hard, it's very difficult, but listen to them and then speak the word kindly. That is one of the reasons that we exist -- to bring the people of God together."

The archdiocese's large group of seminarians, however, does not reflect a national increase in the number of priesthood candidates, said a scholar studying those trends.

"It's just one of those rare and wonderful events," said Franciscan Sister Katarina Schuth, an endowed chair for the social scientific study of Religion at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. "It's not in keeping with the trends in the rest of the country."

In Chicago, the 16 men ordained to the priesthood by Cardinal Francis E. George May 21 range in age from 25 to 46 and include men from the Chicago area as well as natives of Ecuador, Mexico, the Philippines and Poland.

While some of the new priests entered the seminary right after high school, one worked as a bartender and emergency response operator, others were teachers and another was an engineer.

One of the newly ordained Chicago priests, Father Krzysztof Paluch, from Poland, has already learned English as a second language and now hopes to learn Spanish to better communicate with his parishioners. Father Paluch credits his family, including a cousin who is a priest and two sisters who are nuns, with encouraging his vocation.

"They showed me how to be a joyful witness of Christ," he said.

A new priest in the Milwaukee Archdiocese, Father Norberto Jose Sandoval Villalobos, who was ordained May 21 at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, is a 37-year-old from Venezuela who had been working in public relations for a bank. After his ordination, he planned to still be doing public relations -- but this time, he said, for a more noble client.

Although Father Sandoval was raised Catholic, he describes himself as a teenage rebel who explored evangelical and Protestant faiths before coming back to his Catholic roots through a priest who had been a childhood friend.

When he was invited to consider the priesthood in the Milwaukee Archdiocese, Father Sandoval accepted and initially stayed for a three-month visit before enrolling in his studies. The seminarian found the cool Milwaukee temperatures a welcome change from the 110- to 120-degree heat in Venezuela and said his biggest challenge was learning English.

As a priest, he said he is looking forward to ministering to the Hispanic and Anglo communities. He also has a special concern for people suffering from HIV and AIDS.

In the Diocese of Joliet, Ill., Daniel Bachner, a graduate of the famed Goodman Theater School at DePaul University in Chicago, traded performing in the spotlight of the stage for serving the church as a priest. He and John Phan were ordained June 4 at the Cathedral of St. Raymond.

Before he felt called to the priesthood, Father Bachner went to Los Angeles and took the traditional job for aspiring actors waiting to be discovered -- he was a waiter.

In an interview with the Catholic Explorer, Joliet's diocesan newspaper, he recalled "hobnobbing" with comic actor Steve Martin. He auditioned for parts in commercials, roles on television shows and stage shows in Los Angeles, but his ailing father brought him back to Illinois.

His father died of cancer, and then he became a full-time caregiver for his mother, whose health also failed. At the same time he got involved in his parish and started on the road to discerning his call to the priesthood.

In the Diocese of Orange, Calif., 11 men were ordained June 11.

"These new priests are a blessing and a gift to our diocese," said Orange Bishop Tod D. Brown. He also noted that they represent the cultural diversity of the diocese since the ordinands included four Vietnamese who will be ministering to the largest Vietnamese community outside Vietnam.

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Contributing to this report was Julie Carroll in St. Paul, Ann Piasecki in Romeoville, Ill., and Maryangela Layman Roman in Milwaukee.