by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Shawn Tunink had been on the fence regarding his future: priesthood or married life? But by the time he graduated from the University of Kansas, he was 99 percent sure.
His destiny was marriage.
Yes, marriage — until Pope John Paul II ruined it for him.
Tunink was at World Youth Day in Toronto when he heard Pope John Paul II repeat Jesus’ famous directive: “Be not afraid.”
Of a vocation to the priesthood, that is. Suddenly, the door Tunink thought was firmly shut flew wide open.
“I remember being kind of mad,” said Deacon Tunink. “Of all the things to say… why did he pick that? All of a sudden, I knew there was doubt about my vocation.”
With his well-laid plans now in complete disarray, Tunink went home and revisited the biggest question he ever faced in his life. Answering that question would lead him to a priestly ordination at St. Peter Cathedral in Kansas City, Kan.
A HUNGER TO KNOW
There wasn’t much in Tunink’s early upbringing that pointed to a priestly vocation. His family went to St. Francis de Sales Parish every Sunday, and he participated in parish religious programs all the way up through high school. (His mother was his second-grade CCD teacher.) If there was one hint, however, it was that he had his own little altar where he’d put little statues of the saints and prayed the rosary.
It was at the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center, where he was active while studying at the University of Kansas, that his faith really took off.
“All of a sudden, I got to KU, and I found teachers at St. Lawrence — like Mike Scherschligt (director of ministry) — who were able to show me the fullness of Catholic teaching,” said Tunink. “And Msgr. Vince Krische was a wonderful, inspiring example of a priest.”
Tunink was filled with questions and spent hours in the office of Father Ray May, then associate director at St. Lawrence. Father May tried to point him toward the priesthood, and Tunink went so far as to join a vocational discernment group.
But by graduation, he was sure his future lay elsewhere. After graduation from KU, Tunink went to work as a software engineer at Sprint.
But he bought a house in Lawrence and continued to take classes at St. Lawrence Center. He also attended Mass daily, prayed the Liturgy of the
Hours, and studied theology via distance learning through the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.
“I understood and valued the mission of the laity: to be in the world and bring Christ to the world,” he said. “I knew I was going to be a software engineer, but I also knew I would be a Catholic software engineer, and I was going to bring my faith into the workplace to spread the Gospel.”
THAT CATHOLIC GUY
At Sprint, Tunink became known as “the Catholic answer guy,” because he always had an answer for those who had questions. His cubicle and computer were decorated with icons, holy pictures and crucifixes.
He had money, a career, a house, a mission as a faithful Catholic layman — but no prospects for marriage, yet. He never wanted to say “no” to God, so he tried to be open.
Then in 2002, Tunink and some friends from the St. Lawrence Center went to Toronto, where he heard the words that would force him to reconsider his plans for the future.
“As much as I wanted it to go away, there was doubt,” said Deacon Tunink. “I wasn’t at all sure I was going to be a priest, and I was really kind of hoping this would go away.
“I was enjoying being a good lay Catholic, and the [certainty] that I knew where I was going — or so I thought,” he continued. “And all of a sudden, the pope sowed doubt in my mind.”
As Christians have done for two millennia now, Tunink chose to seek the answers he sought on the road. Maybe a pilgrimage would help.
“I decided I’d entrust this pilgrimage to our Blessed Mother and St. Padre Pio,” said Tunink. “I prayed that the fruit of this pilgrimage would be that I’d know what to do. [I asked:] ‘God, if you’re going to send me my wife, go ahead, I’m ready. But if you’re calling me to priesthood, you’re going to have to call a little louder.’”
As things turned out, Tunink was walking with his spiritual adviser in St. Peter Square in Rome when it dawned on him that pursuing a priestly vocation would indeed be a sacrifice for him — but one that he wanted to make. The realization brought a feeling of peace.
God had spoken a little louder, indeed.
A FUTURE CERTAIN
Upon his return home, Tunink contacted Father Brian Schieber, then director of the archdiocesan vocations office.
“I told him that I needed a week to make sure that this wasn’t just a big spiritual high from a pilgrimage, but if I still felt this way after a week, I’d apply for the seminary,” said Tunink.
A week later, he applied. Within a month, he’d quit his job, sold his house and prepared to move to Mundelein Seminary, near Chicago.
“My grandfather [Kennedy] was ecstatic,” said Deacon Tunink. “He said, ‘I always knew you’d be a priest, but I just never knew if I’d be alive to see it.’”
After his ordination, Tunink will return to Mundelein for five weeks to finish an advanced degree. He’s eager, however, to begin his priestly ministry — preaching and teaching, and celebrating the sacraments.
“[While in the seminary] I really got to the point that I had a great desire to celebrate the Eucharist, and to take all the intentions of the people and offer them to God, and offer them the body and blood of Christ,” said Tunink.
“I also look forward hearing confessions and really getting to know the flock that Jesus has entrusted [to] me,” he continued, “to see grace active in their lives, and bring that all to the altar of God.”