Helping others to follow footsteps of founder

Br. Duane Lemke, SCJ, director of the Dehon Formation Community

The formation team

All candidates and SCJs in formation –– including those living outside of the Dehon Formation Community in Chicago –– are guided by members of the formation team.

Br. Duane Lemke, SCJ, is the director of the Dehon Formation Community.  He works with Fr. Vien Nguyen, SCJ, and Fr. John Czyzynski, SCJ.  Fr. John is also the novice master.  Together, these three men supervise the preparation of students for ministry and religious life with the Priests of the Sacred Heart.  The formation team is also responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Dehon Formation Community, organizing everything from maintenance to chore schedules to prayer times.

Although they most directly work with the candidates and SCJ students living in the formation community in Chicago, the formation team is also responsible for SCJs outside of the community who are fulfilling formation assignments, such as Br. Clay Diaz who is doing his pastoral year in South Dakota.  The formation team works as well with SCJs as they are transitioning out of formation and into full-time ministry, such as Dn. Duy Nguyen and Frater Greg Schill.

Just as the students (click HERE to read their biographies), we have asked the formation team members to introduce themselves:

Fr. John Czyzynski, SCJ

Fr. John Czyzynski, SCJ

My name is John Czyzynski and that in itself is a story.  The U.S. government knows me as Richard.  My family and Cleveland friends call me Mike (my middle name).  John is my “religious” name (we used to take a new name, but now we emphasize religious vows as an intensification of our baptism so now guys use their baptismal names).  I took St. John Bosco as my patron when I became a novice.  I remember our novice director telling me:  “if you are half the priest he was, you’ll be all right.”

I was born in Cleveland, Ohio and that city, which was named “the most miserable city to live in the United States” is precious to me.  After grade school I left home to pursue my vocation with the Priests of the Sacred Heart. We had our own seminary system and I am grateful for the formation and education I received at our high school seminary in Donaldson, Ind., novitiate in Ste. Marie, Ill., college at Kilroe Seminary in Honesdale, Penn., and theology at Sacred Heart Monastery (now Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wis.).  I was asked to do graduate studies and earned a master’s in classical languages and a licentiate in theology at Catholic University in Washington, DC and a licentiate in Sacred Scripture at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome.   I also had a year of special training in spirituality and spiritual direction at the Institute for Spiritual Leadership in Chicago.

The ministries I have been involved in are all connected with the formation of others preparing to become priests and/or religious.  I taught Scripture for five years at Sacred Heart School of Theology, but most of my ministry has been in spiritual formation and spiritual direction.  I truly find fulfillment in this ministry.  This is what I believe God wants of me and what God has formed me to be.

For fun I play golf .  I dabble in collecting coins.  I enjoy watching old movies.  I taught myself to do counted cross stitching and it provides me with a way of making a truly personal gift for friends and family.

Currently I am the director of novices (novice master) for our province, but since we have no novices right now my time is taken up with being a formation director for other students in our program.  We have a great formation team and we each have responsibilities for the formation of our students in the program.

Besides all that is a part of my life as a formation director and as a member of a formation community I have found that I am becoming more involved in a kind of “street ministry” with the poor and homeless folks who come to our door or whom I encounter in our neighborhood.  I gather clothes for them.  Sometimes I warm up leftovers for them to eat, help them with funds for transportation, and make them aware of resources available to them.   Sometimes I  just listen to what is going on in their lives.  I am known among these folks as “Rev” or “Pastor John.”

What attracts me to the SCJs is that I believe that our founder, Fr. Leo John Dehon, took the heart of the gospel of Jesus and said:  “this is what our community is going to be about.”  Jesus’ life was spent in loving, available obedience to His Father.  Jesus came to this earth to “show us the face of God” as Joseph Ratzinger said in his book about Jesus.  Jesus spent his life doing the will of the Father so we could come to believe that we have a God who loves us tremendously and wants us just to love Him back and to show that love for Him by showing love for one another, especially those of us whose condition in life makes it so difficult to believe that we have a God who loves us.

When I left home, I did so because I believed God wanted me to be a priest.  I feel I grew into understanding what it meant to be an SCJ religious.  Now I don’t know how else to live.  This is where God wants me to be and I am truly blessed.

Br. Duane Lemke, SCJ

Driving through the wheat fields of South Dakota
Full tank of gas, not a cloud in the sky…
…Take a chance on a love that can last.

Br. Duane Lemke, SCJ

I met the Priests of the Sacred Heart in the wheat fields of South Dakota.  The SCJs served my home parish.  They ministered to my family for decades.  One of them, Fr. Joe Ford, witnessed the marriage of my parents and later baptized me.  I was raised on a farm, and spent years helping my parents, sister, and brother raise the fields of wheat that make South Dakota’s expansive prairies one of the most beautiful places on earth.

From kindergarten through the seventh grade I was educated in a two-room school house in my hometown of Lantry, in the northcentral part of the state, an hour west of the Missouri River.  High school was in Dupree, a 12-mile drive further west.  I first left the fields of home on a trip to the other Dakota, receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Mary, in Bismarck.  My tank full, the horizon calling, and a desire to take a chance, I traded fields of wheat for a skyline of glass, concrete, and steel.  I entered the SCJ formation program in Chicago, Ill.  There I not only professed vows with the Priests of the Sacred Heart, I also earned a master’s degree in Pastoral Studies from Catholic Theological Union.

My horizons have changed and they have stayed the same.  I spent nine years ministering on and near the Lower Brule and Crow Creek Reservations, again in South Dakota.  Those years of initial ministry were wonderful.  The opportunity to learn about the Lakota and Dakota cultures widened my horizon.  Being present to people as a pastoral associate during times of joy and struggle was a privilege.  On the family front, I have witnessed my parents become truly grand parents.  I’ve become an uncle five times over, and have gained a brother -in-law and a sister-in-law.

Today, I am a formation director.  I’m back in Chicago again, this time as a mentor, guide, and teacher to the young men who are expanding their own horizons and discerning a vocation with the Priests of the Sacred Heart.  I’ve met men from around the country and around the world. It has been a privilege to be witness to God’s will in their lives.  I am blessed, also, to minister in community with Frs. Bob, John, Vien, and Br. Pete.  (Br. Pete!  Thank you for keeping us warm, fed, and dry!  And, for being a witness to what it means to give oneself over to God’s will through the changing horizons of life.)

What attracts me to the SCJs? It is the call to take a chance on a love that can last.  Personally, the love in Christ’s Heart redeems me from belief in a God who is unaffected by human stories.  An unmoved mover?  No.  God is moved.  As a minister, God’s love calls me to be moved too.  It has moved me from horizons of golden wheat and back again to the Native Americans and settlers who call those fields home.  It has moved me to the skylines of Chicago, to take his love to those who need to be loved, and to students who need to be formed.  It has moved me from a being a youth who receives from the world, to a man seeking to give something back.

[Editor’s note:  Br. Duane writes that the lyrics that he began with are from the song “Wheatfields of South Dakota,” sung by Wishing Chair.  An avid music fan, Br. Duane hosts a blog titled “My Dehonian Playlist” that he describes as “an exploration of music, lyrics and faith by a Priest of the Sacred Heart.”  Generally, he updates the blog each week.  Click here to take a look.]

Fr. Vien Nguyen, SCJ

Fr. Vien Nguyen, SCJ

I am a Vietnamese national who immigrated to the United States when I was 16.  I have one brother and one sister.  Both are married and have children.  My mother lives in Houston, not too far from where my brother and sister live.  My two beautiful nieces and three boisterous nephews always look forward to my coming home because my coming home means fun trips to the malls, the swimming pools, and video-game arcades.  Music and sports are my two favorite pastimes.

My primary ministry is in formation at the Dehon Formation Community in Chicago.   Besides formation ministry, I am involved in the life of the local church on the weekend.  The church where I regularly help out, St. Mary of the Lake, is a multi-cultural, multi-generational faith community.  I know enough Spanish to preside at Mass and to say “hello,” “I don’t understand what you are saying,” and “good-bye.”  I enjoy ministering in a cross-cultural context: the Dehon Formation Community is a cross-cultural community.

I am with the Priests of the Sacred Heart because of the call to “love as God loves me.”  I am with the congregation because of the challenge to be witness among the poor and marginalized and to respond to the social needs of the people.  And I am with the congregation because of my brother SCJs, for whom I have great respect and admiration.  I am proud to be an SCJ.

Also with the Dehon Formation Community…

Br. Peter Mankins, SCJ
Fr. Bob Bossie, SCJ

Fr. Bob Bossie, SCJ, and Br. Peter Mankins, SCJ, are not on the formation team but are still very much a part of the formation program through their presence in the community.  Although retired, for many years Br. Pete, 81, has served as the community’s bookkeeper.  Fr. Bob introduces himself below:

I’m from Boston. The middle child of the seven who made it past infancy (there were ten of us). I was raised as a traditional Catholic and thought about the priesthood quite early.  But I wanted to see the world, which I didn’t think that I could do as a priest.  Little did I know then! After high school, I joined the U.S. Air Force and, among other responsibilities, maintained nuclear weapons carrying aircraft. Thereafter, I worked for the military industry and roamed the country. I owned fast cars and motorcycles, engaged in SCUBA diving and the nightclub scene.

After several years of a “fast” lifestyle, I had an experience of God which changed my life completely. Thereafter, I sought to offer my whole soul, my whole life to God.

What attracts me to the community today is not what initially attracted me. Initially, I wrote several to religious congregations to see if they were interested in allowing me to apply. The only reason I wrote to the Priests of the Sacred Heart was that they had a program for “delayed vocations.” After all, I was 27 years of age and thought I was too old for the priesthood!  How times have changed.

Quickly I realized that their spirituality mirrored my own: a total offering of myself to God.

For 30 years now I have been ministering at the 8th Day Center for Social Justice in Chicago. In this capacity I’m engaged in looking at the root causes of hunger, homelessness, war, poverty and the destruction of the eco-system. This work is totally consistent with the spirituality and ministry of Fr. Leo Dehon, the founder of the SCJs. He was known as the Apostle of Social Justice. I’m honored to be counted among those who carry on his dreams.