‘Still on the journey’

Vocation came from owning the faith


by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — If seminaries had football programs, Deacon Adam Wilczak might have become a priest sooner.

It was while volunteering at a Catholic summer camp after he graduated from Hayden High School in 2002 that he took his first serious look at the possibility of a vocation to the priesthood.

After camp, he went home and looked up seminaries on the Internet — and found a problem.

“When I found out they didn’t have football — I’d already signed a football scholarship — I decided that it was not for me,” he said.

His foray into college athletics didn’t delay his priestly vocation for long, however.

Deacon Wilczak is one of the four children of Ron and Debbie Wilczak.  His father is a lifelong Catholic, and his mother entered the Catholic faith when Deacon Wilczak was in the eighth grade.

He attended St. Patrick Grade School when the family lived in Great Bend, and then St. Matthew School in Topeka from grade six until he entered Hayden High School.

“Growing up, we always went to Mass every Sunday,” said Deacon Wilczak. “The faith was part of what we did and who we were. My parents volunteered at church for various activities, and I was always involved in youth groups.”

It was during parish-sponsored Catholic summer camps that his faith began to mature.

At camp, he had the opportunity to delve more deeply into that faith with peers who were facing the same questions in life he was facing, but looking for answers through the lens of faith.

“St. Matthew Parish [in Topeka] used to put on a weeklong retreat for high school students [at Lake Perry],” he said. “That was one of the places where I started to take on the faith; I started to grow and make it my own.”

After  briefly considering entering the seminary the summer after high school graduation, he entered Benedictine College in Atchison on a football scholarship. He played noseguard on defense.

After one semester of college football, he decided it was time to hang up the cleats. He returned to Topeka and enrolled in Washburn University to save money.

That year and a half at Washburn opened his eyes.

“It was the first time I encountered people attacking the faith and questioning what we believed,” said Deacon Wilczak. “I knew that they were wrong in their arguments, but I wasn’t able to formulate why or argue back.”

“So I went back to Benedictine in order to learn the faith, so I could defend it,” he said. “And in the back of my mind was the possibility of the priesthood, although it was nothing too serious at the time.”

He spent his junior and senior years at Benedictine and graduated in 2007 with a degree in theology.

“When I went back to Benedictine, I got involved in Bible studies through FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students), and became one of their student leaders,” he said.

After graduation, he spent five months with the Benedictines as a novice discerning a vocation as a monk, but decided it wasn’t his calling. So he got a teaching job at Bishop LeBlond High School in St. Joseph, Mo., where he taught freshman and junior religion classes, was campus minister and coached football and track.

That consistent desire to serve God’s people — felt at summer camp, at Benedictine College, at St. Benedict’s Abbey and at LeBlond —  was still in his heart, still drawing him.

“I’d been at school after a 15-hour day and I wasn’t done yet,” said Deacon Wilczak. “I went to the chapel to pray. I had just finished a campus ministry meeting. Through the course of time in prayer, I had the same idea I had at the end of high school — the idea of serving God’s people.”

“There was a great value in what I was doing, but I felt this invitation from the Lord to give more of myself,” he continued, “to give myself completely through the priesthood, to dedicate the entirety of my life toward proclaiming the Gospel and teaching the faith.”

Deacon Wilczak entered the University of St. Mary by the Lake Mundelein Seminary, near Chicago, in 2009. He was ordained a deacon on May 18, 2013, at Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in Topeka. He will be ordained to the priesthood on May 24 at Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe.

What kind of priest does he want to be? Simple. One that is good and holy.

“A good priest is one that realizes he is still on the journey, that ordination doesn’t mean he’s done,” he said. “I’ve got to grow in my faith life and continue to seek God’s will in the everydayness of my life.

“And to realize every day is a great opportunity to affect people’s lives the way Christ did.”

 

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