The Archdiocese of Chicago will welcome nine new priests May 23. The class will be ordained at 10 a.m. in the chapel at St. Rita High School, 7740 S. Western Ave. The group includes men ranging in age from 26 to 42, hailing from Mexico, Colombia, Tanzania, Poland, Indiana and here in the Archdiocese of Chicago. While some went straight from school into the seminary system, one was a Chicago police officer, another was a research analyst. All of them are looking forward to serving the people of the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Benjamin Arevalos, 37
- First assignment: Good Shepherd Parish, Chicago
- Education:Elementary school in Mexico, received a general equivalency diploma in Chicago before attending St. Joseph College Seminary at Loyola University and University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary
- Parents: Maria Isabel Lupercio and Porfirio Arevalos Perez
- First Mass:4:30 p.m. May 24, Our Lady of Mercy
Benjamin Arevalos grew up in a farming family in Jalisco, Mexico, working in the fields with his nine brothers and two sisters. He came to Chicago when he was 22 years old. When he heard a priest struggling to express himself in Spanish at Mass, he had the idea of becoming a priest to serve God’s people. He entered Casa Jesus, a house of formation and discernment for Latin American men, at age 26, then earned a bachelor’s degree in literature at St. Joseph College Seminary at Loyola University. After a quarter at University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary, he left Chicago for a diocese in Chile. After two years there, he returned to Chicago.
“Being in another country far away from my family and friends, I realized that God was calling me to serve his people in Chicago,” Arevalos wrote in an account of his vocation story. “I came to this country looking for material things, but I found something more important. I found the call to serve this archdiocese as a priest.”
Juan Carlos Arrieta Correa, 32
- First assignment: St. Bede the Venerable
- Education: Elementary and high school in Colombia; Seminario Mayor de Bucaramanga, Colombia and University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary
- Parents: Miriam Correa del Valle and Plutarco Arrieta Morales
- First Mass: 9:15 a.m. May 24, St. Jerome
Juan Carlos Arrieta Correa was studying chemistry and teaching Communion classes in his home parish before entering the seminary. When he came to Chicago in 2005, he entered Casa Jesus to learn English before joining his class at the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary.
It was his time as a catechist in Barrancabermeja, Colombia, that led Arrieta to consider life as a priest. After spending two years helping prepare children for First Communion, he saw the need for help in more ministries.
“By having been involved in those ministries I came to realize that God was calling me to do something more,” he wrote in an email.
He was influenced by Father Rafael Nino, who helped him discern his vocation. Nino is “a charitable priest always ready to care for the people, especially the needy.” Arrieta was also supported by Bishop Daniel Caro Borda of the Diocese of Soacha, Colombia, where he began his studies for the priesthood. “They both have taught me what a priest must be,” he said.
Arrieta came to Chicago because he feels that God is calling him to serve in a diverse community of faith.
“In a multicultural environment of faith as Chicago is, I have the opportunity of growing in my faith by learning from people of different backgrounds and cultures,” he wrote.
“I feel also called to serve the church of Chicago because the Latino population is growing and they need priests who understand their culture and language.”
Augustine Madafa R. Mahonge, 34
- First assignment: St. Benedict, Blue Island
- Education: Elementary and high school in Tanzania; Spiritan Missionary Seminary, Arusha, Tanzania; Tangaza School of Theology, Nairobi; and University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary
- Parents:Victoia Dimu Salimu and the late Richard Mbiu Mahonge
- First Mass: 5:30 p.m. May 23 at Holy Family Church, 1080 W. Roosevelt Rd.
Augustine Mahonge is the youngest of seven children, and he remembers gathering as a family for prayer every morning and evening. “I found myself interested in leading the prayers at our family and always I asked my mother if I could do it,” he wrote. “I found that to be more of a treat from my parents than a duty, to be allowed to lead everyone in prayer.” He was trained as an altar server by his brother, then a seminarian and now a priest in Tanzania. “Going to the seminary back in my country brought forth my desire to a more reasonable and passionate pursuit of priesthood vocation,” he said. “Deep within me I felt that this is what I want to do in my life.”
He entered the seminary in Tanzania, and then entered Tuite House of the Archdiocese of Chicago, a house of formation for men from Africa, in 2005. “I grew to love the text of M 16:15, that called for a missionary spirit to Jesus’ disciples. I always wondered how people, regardless of cultural background, race, social status and formation can be united by one faith and keep the joy of God’s love as they come together to church. In view of this I have always wanted to be in a place different from my own origin, background and experience but learn and serve among others of that same faith and belief. Chicago proves to be that place.”
Mahonge said he has a positive attitude and appreciation of culture that will help him bring the grace of God to his people.
“Christ is our rock when in or out of season, his message of love needs to be presented as the source of light, truth and life,” he said. “In him our rock we remain firm and stable like the house built on the rock.”
Matthew Nemchausky, 26
- First assignment: Most Holy Redeemer, Evergreen Park
- Education: St. Rene Goupil, Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary, St. Joseph College Seminary and University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary
- Parents: Ronald and Rita O’Ryan Nemchausky
- First Mass: Mass: 11:30 a.m. May 24 at St. Rene Goupil
Matthew Nemchausky saw early on that his gifts and talents could be put to good use in the priesthood.
“There always seemed to be a sense in my mind of ‘Why not?’ Why not be a priest and serve God as one of God’s ministers? Why not serve God’s people with love? Why not live your life in close relationship with God in the best way you know?”
His vocation was nurtured by the priests at St. Rene Goupil and those who taught in the seminary system, as well those who mentored him on parish internships. When he was at Quigley, “Father (Wayne) Watts took us on a mission trip to Appalachia and a pilgrimage to Lourdes, and that really affected me because it put into my mind the idea that priesthood is not foreign. It is something that can be done and can be done well.”
He cited the formation experiences he had at St. Joseph Seminary, including the example of the rector, Father James Presta (“a gracious, grateful and happy priest”), and his experience at Mundelein bringing everything together.
As one of the youngest to be ordained, Nemchausky knows he doesn’t have as much life experience as some of the others, but that will come in time.
“The majority of experiences are in front of me,” he wrote in an e-mail. “My ministry will be helped by those in the parishes, those in Most Holy Redeemer where I'm at now and those in parishes that I will be at in the future. ”
Andrzej Nowicki, 27
- First assignment: St. John Brebeuf, Niles
- Education: Elementary and high school in Poland; Wyzsze Seminarium Duchowne, Siedlce, Poland; and University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary
- Parents: Alina Nowicka Zaciura and Zenon Nowicki
- First Mass: 12:30 p.m. May 24 at St. Thecla
Andrzej Nowicki dreamt of being a police officer or a soldier in the Special Forces. In high school, he practiced kickboxing, aikido and karate and remains a fan of ultimate fighting. But he felt a call to the priesthood when he was a senior in high school, after a friend died in a car accident just two weeks after he had gotten married.
“I could not explain it, but when I saw the body of my friend lying in the casket, I knew right then and there that I had to be a priest,” Nowicki wrote in an e-mail. “ I just knew it. God sometimes uses situations to bring people back to the church. I really believe that every critical moment in our lives makes sense even when we do not understand it right away.”
Certainly, none of Nowicki’s friends or relatives understood it. “I remember telling my uncle that I was going to enter the seminary and he said, ‘You? I give you two months and you will quit.’ It’s been eight years. That’s the amazing thing about vocation. God calls whom he wants. God never gives up.”
Nowicki said he is very excited about his coming ordination, and feels at home in the Archdiocese of Chicago, which he takes as a sign that this is where God wants him to be.
“I feel at peace and very happy about my future vocation. I am very grateful and humbled that God in his great love and mercy has called me to his service,” Nowicki wrote.
Michael Owen, 26
- First assignment: St. Patricia, Hickory Hills
- Education: St. Luke, River Forest; Marmion Academy, Aurora; University of Miami, Fla.; and University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary
- Parents: David and Mary Mazeikas Owen
- First Mass: 10:30 a.m. May 24 at St. Alphonsus
Michael Owen remembers going to daily Mass with his parents and siblings as a child, and working his way up on the altar to serve Mass well before he reached the minimum age of fifth grade. “I remember thinking how wonderful the life of a priest must be ... always close to God, always in church; two places that I have always been comfortable being around,” he wrote in an e-mail. “By the time I was in fourth grade, I was pretty sure I wanted to be a priest, and those feelings and thoughts never went away.”
They were confirmed during a Kairos retreat during his senior year in high school, when he sat in the church and thought about … nothing. “It was the first time in my life that there was nothing on my mind, no distractions of any kind. In that silence, I met God for the first time,” he wrote.
Owen said he wants to bring God’s grace to the people he serves.
“I know God, and I know of God’s mercy, compassion, love, and healing grace,” he wrote. “It is my goal that all those I interact with will be able to experience these graces as well, and I am letting God use me in order to accomplish this mission.”
Andrew Charles Smith Jr., 42
- First assignment: St. Ailbe
- Education: St. Thomas the Apostle, Mount Carmel High School, Loyola University Chicago and University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary
- Parents: Andrew and Dorothy McCoy Smith
- First Mass: 11 a.m. May 24 at St. Ailbe
Andrew Charles Smith Jr. first thought about the priesthood when he was in high school at Mount Carmel, and he attended Niles College Seminary at Loyola University. “It was a great time in my life,” Smith said, but he decided to leave the seminary system because he was not sure he was called to the priesthood. The idea of having a family one day was especially attractive to him, he said. So Smith became a Chicago Police officer in 1991, a job he held for 10 years.
“Each year, I thought about it,” he said. “But one year became 10.”
When he did decide to go back to the seminary, he was in Atlanta and studied for the priesthood there briefly. But Chicago — where he grew up and served as a police office in the Englewood and Grand Crossing districts — was calling him.
“It is so good to be home,” he said.
Smith said priests and police officers have some things in common.
“We tend to meet people in extreme situations,” he said. But, he noted, priests also meet people at joyous times. “And I think we get a little more love.”
Paul Stemn, 41
- First assignment: Ss. Faith, Hope and Charity, Winnetka
- Education: St. Anthony School and John Adams High School, South Bend, Ind.; Indiana University-Bloomington; and University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary
- Parents: Thomas and Teresa Covarubias Stemn
- First Mass: 11 a.m. May 31 at St. John the Evangelist, Streamwood
Paul Stemn served in the U.S. Army from 1987-89, and worked from 1995-2004 as a research analyst in the field of database marketing. “The idea of becoming a priest had been in the back of my mind for a while, but fears largely kept me from making the first step,” Stemn wrote in an e-mail. “I’m not a good public speaker, I thought. Eventually I realized that I wouldn’t have peace if I didn’t trust in God and follow him where he was leading me.”
That trust was rewarded when he was ordained to the diaconate Nov. 1. “On that day, I realized, in awe, that God had been faithful to me,” he wrote. “It was the happiest and most joyful and peaceful moment of my life.”
Stemn said he was supported in his vocation by his mother and the nuns and priests who taught him in grade school, as well as a visiting priest who told him in fifth grade that he might have a vocation to the priesthood, and that he should pray about it.
“My hope is that my life experiences will enable me to better identify with God’s people who are rich in diversity and at different stages in their spiritual lives; to be a bridge builder, bringing people to a better knowledge of and faith in Jesus Christ,” Stemn said.
Karol Tybor, 27
- First assignment: St. Christina, Chicago
- Education: Elementary and high school in Poland, Seminary of Jozef Pelczar, Rzeszow, Poland, University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary
- Parents: Jan and Wladyslawa Tybor
- First Mass: 4 pm, May 23 at St. Christina,
Karol Tybor was born in the southern part of Poland. The decision of choosing priesthood as a life path was easy, almost natural for him. As an elementary and high school student he was always active in the local parish.
Deeply influenced by the faith of his parents, Tybor regularly attended church, where he served as an altar boy. He participated in retreats and pilgrimages to the Polish National Shrine of St. Mary of Czestochowa.
Tybor is convinced that what helped in discerning his vocation was a friendship and support of many priests. “Many of them were missionaries, and have worked in various countries. Inspired by their examples, I decided to enter a seminary in Rzeszow, where I completed two years of philosophy,” he says.
It was there that Tybor met Cardinal George for the first time. Cardinal George traveled to Poland to invite seminarians to to the Archdiocese of Chicago.
“One year after that meeting, I decided to come to Chicago to continue my studies and to become a priest.” Although during his seminary years Tybor experienced what is to be homesick, he knows that God wants him here in Chicago.
“Through prayer and work my desire is to serve people of the Archdiocese of Chicago,” he says.