Cardinal George is expected to ordain 11 new priests for the archdiocese May 17 at St. Juliana Church, 7201 N. Oketo. The men are a diverse group, with five from Poland, two from Tanzania, two from Mexico, one from Colombia and one from Ecuador. All accepted the Archdiocese of Chicago’s invitation to leave their homeland and minister to the church here.
The men are a younger group than those ordained in recent years, with an average of about 29.5 years old. Last year’s class of 13 had an average of nearly 33. They were welcomed as young men at Abramowicz Preparatory Seminary, for seminarians coming from Poland; Tuite House, for African-American and African young men discerning a call to the priesthood; and Casa Jesus, a house of discernment for young men from Latin America. The Catholic New World congratulates them.
Juan Pablo Ávila Ibarra, 29
- First assignment: St. Agnes, Chicago Heights
- Education: Diocesan Seminary of Aguascalientes, Mexico
- Parents: Francisca Ibarra (deceased) and Jose Ávila
- First Mass: 6 p.m. May 18, St. Frances of Rome, Cicero; 6 p.m. May 24, Jesus Nazareno, Jesus María, Aguascalientes, Mexico
Like many men who hear a call to the priesthood, Ávila was influenced by his parish priests, he said. He also admired St. Edith Stein, St. Therese of Ávila, St. Ignatius of Loyola and Pope John Paul II, people he thought about as he spent time in his third year of philosophy studies trying to determine whether he had a priestly vocation. “I concluded that the vocation to the priesthood is, and must be, as a crystal of a window that lets any sunlight enter to the room but it appears invisible to everybody,” he wrote in an e-mail. “In other words, a priest is only a medium who proclaims the Gospel. The priest must present Christ and not to present himself to the community. Then I found that I wanted to be that crystal that lets Christ enter into the rooms of people.”
The fourth of his parents’ 10 children, Ávila studied for 10 years in seminary in Aguascalientes, Mexico, before coming to Casa Jesus in Chicago. He sees himself as adaptable to new situations, while having strong moral opinions.
“I am aware (that I need) to be a real example of Christ and my desire as a man with values and mores is to serve to the people of the Archdiocese of Chicago as good and holy priest and be a bridge between God and his people in this local church,” he wrote.
Diego Berrio, 27
- First assignment: St. Edna
- Education: Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, Medellin, Colombia
- Parents: Stella Barrera and Jairo Berrio
- First Mass: 10:30 a.m. May 18, St. Nicholas of Tolentine, Olympia Fields
Berrio had no thought of becoming a priest when he was a child, but his family practiced its faith with simplicity and devotion, attending Mass each Sunday, praying every evening and living in solidarity with people who were less fortunate.
That led to his vocation, he believes, but he did not hear the call at first. “God doesn’t only call us one time,” he wrote in a reflection on his vocation in 2005. “He is calling us continuously, and the discovery of vocation is a process which takes place slowly and with discernment while we let Jesus enter into our lives. Jesus doesn’t change the lives of many of us because we are people who don’t want to be changed.”
Berrio entered law school after high school, but left to study philosophy when he started thinking about the priesthood.
After finishing his philosophy studies, he was accepted into Casa Jesus, where he studied English and American culture while he considered whether he should become a priest for Chicago.
“The country, culture and language that I have been learning help me to fulfill my call,” he wrote. “I hope to be a part of this society as a priest in Chicago, where God wanted to put me to fulfill his will and to achieve ideals and dreams of being an instrument of service, an instrument of change.”
Maciej Galle, 30
- First assignment: St. Stephen Deacon and Martyr, Tinley Park
- Education: Catholic University of Lublin, three years of seminary in Czestochowa, Poland
- Parents: María Kiepura and Henryk Galle
- First Mass: 3 p.m. May 18, St. Priscilla
Maciej Galle did not enter the seminary directly out of high school in Czestochowa, Poland. Instead, he studied at the Catholic University of Lublin for five years, earning degrees in canon law and in public relations. His vocation, he said, was influenced by his uncle, a priest in Czestochowa, and his own parish priest growing up.
To those who challenge his vocation as countercultural, Galle said he responds, “We need men who are able to show to the world that there is something more to what we have here and now and it is very fulfilling.”
He hopes to bring “faith, hope and charity” to the people he serves, he said. And if he has time, he likes to play the drums and ride his motorcycle.
Jose María García-Maldonado, 28
- First assignment: St. Sylvester
- Education: Seminario Mayor Diocesano, San Juan de los Lagos, Jalisco, Mexico
- Parents: Angelica Maldonado and Jose María García
- First Mass: 1:30 p.m. May 18, St. Leonard, Berwyn
García, the fifth of nine children in his family, heard the call to the priesthood early in his life, entering the high school seminary at age 15. He completed his high school and college seminary studies in Jalisco, Mexico, before coming to the United States. In the Chicago area, he worked for a year at a factory in Des Plaines before entering Casa Jesus to learn more about the archdiocese and to learn English.
“Being here in Chicago has been a great opportunity to meet people from all around the world and most especially to experience the universality of the Catholic Church,” García wrote. “In Chicago, God is worshipped by his daughters and sons in many different languages and in the same Spirit and all united by the same faith.”
Priesthood will be a challenge, but García is confident.
“I really believe that when God asks us to do something, he gives us the ways to accomplish his mission,” he said.
Michal Lewon, 27
- First assignment: St. Mary, Riverside
- Education: Uniwersytet Warminsko-Mazurski, Poland; St. Joseph Seminary
- Parents: Miroslaw Lewon and Jadwiga Janewicz
- First Mass: 6 p.m. May 17, St. Constance
Lewon was born and raised in Poland, but he credits Chicago’s Father Eugene Winkowski, now associate pastor at Our Lady of Victory, with raising the idea of priestly vocation in his mind. Lewon and his family spent two years in Chicago in the early 1990s, and attended St. Wenceslaus Parish, where Winkowski was assigned. “He was a nice pastor,” Lewon said. Lewon would see Winkowski out walking his dog every morning when he was walking to school, and he began to think, “Maybe I can be like Father Eugene.”
Lewon’s family moved back to Poland, and Lewon continued to feel he was called. He was especially drawn to the works of theologian Joseph Tischner and his inclusive theology.
Most people who challenge young men’s vocations to the priesthood raise the issue of celibacy, saying it is unnatural, Lewon said. “I agree. It is unnatural. We all have sexual energy. But we do things that are unnatural. Mothers sometimes sacrifice themselves for the sake of their children. Maybe men who love God enough to sacrifice their sexual energy are called to do something different—not better than marriage, but different.”
Thadeo Mgimba, 33
- First assignment: Holy Name of Mary
- Education: Elementary and high school in Tanzania; Salvatorian Institute of Philosophy, Tanzania; Tangaza College, Kenya; St. Joseph Seminary, Tuite House
- Parents: Ereneus Mgimba and Milka Christina Daudi Misonge
- First Mass: 5 p.m. May 17, St. Ignatius Parish
Mgimba was attracted to the idea of the priesthood ever since he started serving as an altar boy after making his First Holy Communion at age 9. He enjoyed the Mass and would memorize the Eucharistic Prayers, saying them in his head as the priest recited them. But he also was attracted to the idea of being a doctor, and wasn’t sure which way to go, until a sister who taught him told him he could do both. But over the years, it became clear to him that God wanted him to be a priest.
It wasn’t as clear to his friends. “I remember some of them laughing,” Mgimba said, saying they didn’t understand why he would choose a life where he could not marry, that would take many years of education and that, in their eyes, was just not much fun. But he was not discouraged by people who did not understand, even when he came to Chicago and, as a seminarian taking classes at Loyola University, was asked by women students if he was gay.
Before coming to the United States, he entered a missionary order and began seminary studies. But he decided that his vocation was not to missionary work. Then he heard about the Archdiocese of Chicago and Tuite House, a house of formation for African-American and African men who are discerning a call to the priesthood.
“I am one of the beneficiaries of this program,” he said. “I think it is part of God’s providence.”
Laurent Mhagama, 33
- First assignment: St. Christopher, Midlothian
- Education: Spiritan Missionary Seminary, Tanzania; Tangaza College, Kenya; St. Joseph Seminary
- Parents: Helena Weiner Kayombo and Laurent Mhagama (deceased)
- First Mass: 11 a.m. May 18, Our Lady of Loretto, Hometown
Mhagama was temporarily called back to his home in Tanzania because of a family emergency and was not available for an interview.
Robeth Molina, 38
- First assignment: Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Glenview
- Education: Pontifical University in Ecuador
- Parents: Mercedes Torres and Segundo David Molina
- First Mass: May 25, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Glenview
Molina was a university student in Ecuador who frankly did not believe much in God when he went to hear a reflection by Michael Cerles, a French mathematician priest, “I wanted to hear him more as a mathematician than as theologian,” Molina wrote in an email interview. “This one thing did not interest me at the time. … I was convinced that God was a sentimental and irrational longing which was reserved to convents and places without too much light.”
But that presentation opened a “conversation with God” that continues, Molina said.
In it, he has found unchanging truth, which is the measure of the culture, he said, not the other way around.
“It (truth) is like such constant formulas which can be proved and applied in different places and circumstances,” Molina wrote. “For example, H2O means water. That formula shows us a reality which does not depend upon the environment. In the same way, we have a truth which does not depend upon any newness in the world. Now if my vocation is a call to be a witness to that truth, I believe that this truth is there and that truth has to say a lot to this world and that is the contribution that our Christianity can do to this world.”
His vocation as a priest, Molina said, is to help people discover, or rediscover, that essential truth.
“Our vocation can remind people or turn people back to the truth with our testimony and faithfulness to the truth,” he said. “This is an encouraging paradigm that our vocation is placed in midst of people of God.”
Marcin Szczypula, 26
- First assignment: Ss. Cyril & Methodius, Lemont
- Education: Major Seminary in Krakow, Poland
- Parents: Teresa Szczepaniak and Jan Szczypula
- First Mass: 3 p.m. May 8, St. Blase, Summit
Szczypula knows whom to look to in terms of finding his vocation. “In special way, I am very grateful to my grandparents, parents and sister who taught me how to pray and live in the Christian way,” he wrote. “I dare say that my family was the first ‘seminary’ for me.”
His experience coming to a new country will help him understand and be sensitive to those who do not share his background or come from different countries, he said. “I think that the most telling development in this area was my participation in the Border Awareness Program during my third year of theology. I had an extraordinary opportunity to spend Thanksgiving break with other students in El Paso, Texas, and experience the difficulties of immigrant life.”
He thinks everyone has a calling from God, and his is to serve the people of God.
“I strongly believe that God is using different people giving them particular tasks, in order to take care of his church,” he said “On my side, I want to answer God’s grace and devote myself to the ministry of the church serving God’s people for the rest of my life. I hope to be a tool in God’s hands and bring the Good News wherever I will go.”
Grzegorz Wojcik, 27
- First assignment: Sacred Heart, Palos Hills
- Education: Wyzsze Seminarium Duchowne, Kielce
- Parents: Janina and Marian Wojcik
- First Mass: 11 a.m. May 18 at St. John the Evangelist, Streamwood
Wojcik’s vocation was most influenced by Father Stanislaw Stoklosa, the present pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus in Sokolniki. “He was the one who asked me ‘Have you ever thought to go to seminary?’ and then he invited me to participate in retreat which took place in a seminary,” Wojcik wrote in an e-mail. “Because of his question, I started to think seriously about entering the seminary.” While some may consider a vocation to the priesthood countercultural, Wojcik said it is the culture that is out of sync, not the priesthood. “When people ask me this kind of question I want them to think for a minute not about my vocation but rather about the culture in which we live in and all those aspects that this culture permits, like abortion, consumerism and many more. … Vocation to the priesthood is a normal thing but can we say this same about the culture in which we live?”
He hopes, he said, to bring “hope into people’s lives.”
“I would like to bring Jesus to their life and show the church as a mother who cares about all her children those present and those who left.”
Przemyslaw “Peter” Wojcik, 27
- First assignment: St. Francis Xavier Parish, Wilmette
- Education: Catholic University of Lublin, Metropolitan Seminary of Lublin, Poland
- Parents: Teresa Stasiak and Andrzej Wojcik
- First Mass: 3:30 p.m. May 18, St. John Brebeuf, Niles
Who influenced your vocation and how?
Three people influenced Wojcik on his path to the priesthood: his grandmother, his pastor and Pope John Paul II. “Surely I would not be on my way to being ordained if I would not have attended World Youth Days with the pope or read his letters,” Wojcik wrote in an e-mail. “There was always something amazing about him. When he spoke, you knew that what he said was addressed to you and with God’s grace you acted on it. And so I did.”
The church, Wojcik said, is a beacon of light in a complex society that too often concentrates on injustice and violence. “I believe people are thirsty for righteousness, truth and direction in life and that’s what the Catholic Church has offered for over 2,000 years,” Wojcik said. “As people of a new millennium, we need hope in Christ who has the power to walk us through every danger and bring us safely home. Therefore, in teaching that message of hope I will, with love and care, try to bring people closer to God and help them to recognize that Christ always is present in their lives.”