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Preparing for SCJ ministry and religious life
The Dehon Formation Community in Chicago’s Hyde Park is a base for those preparing for ministry and religious life with the Priests of the Sacred Heart. Its primary focus is candidates and professed SCJs in their initial years of formation, but the community also hosts SCJs, as well as priests and brothers from other communities and dioceses, who are doing advanced studies or sabbatical programs.
Our undergraduates generally attend St. Xavier University or Harold Washington College, while theology students go to Catholic Theological Union. However, since Chicago is home to a variety of strong academic institutions, including the University of Chicago, Loyola University, DePaul University and Northwestern University, students have many choices depending on their academic needs.
As has become the yearly tradition, our students introduce themselves:
Br. Clay Diaz, SCJ
I have been with the Priests of the Sacred Heart for the past nine years, first as a candidate, then as a novice and now in vows. I made my first profession in 2007.
I came to know the SCJ community while living in Puerto Rico in 2000 through Vision Magazine. I truly appreciate the SCJ charism and the ministries of the community: working with the poor and serving those who have needs, be it through parish ministries, social outreach, schools and many other ministries.
I was born in Massachusetts in 1964. I lived in various locations, including Puerto Rico, which I moved to when I was 21.
Two years ago I began studies at Chicago Theological Union (CTU) and am working toward a Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies (MAPS). This semester I am in a program near St. Louis.
My hobbies are reading, playing music (guitar and piano), and pencil art. I am also a big sports fanatic, starting with football, hockey, baseball, and basketball.
[Editor’s note: Br. Clay is bilingual in Spanish and English in sign language as well in the written and spoken word.]
My name is Justin Krenke, and I am a third year candidate. I am 22 years old and was born in West Allis, Wis., but grew up next door in Milwaukee. I lived with my mom, step-dad, and two older sisters. After I graduated in 2009 from W.E.B. Du Bois High School I took a year off of school to help my sister, Heather, with her three children. I would have liked to have gone to school right away instead of taking a year off, but she needed the help.
This is my third year in the formation program and I am starting my third year at St. Xavier University. I am enjoying my time at St. Xavier, despite the homework, and I am enjoying all of my courses this semester.
I learned about the SCJs from a vocational website that matched people with religious communities based off of their interests. After I visited the community on a Come and See weekend I became very interested and decided that this is the community for me. I am glad I choose this community; we enjoy each other’s company and are always telling jokes and laughing. The directors and other students in the house are always around if you need help with anything and I look forward to continuing my discernment with the SCJs.
It was four years ago that I traveled to Chicago for the Come and See weekend after meeting Fr. Francis Vu Tran at the camp for the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Society. At that time, I had no anticipation of being back again to the formation house. However, God works in amazing ways and here I am, staying this time for a little more than one weekend.
I am James Nguyen, 23. I was born in Saigon, but lived in Seattle since I was four. I am the middle of three boys; the oldest is a Jesuit and the youngest is still in high school. I am a graduate from the University of Washington with a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and Sociology, and a minor in Values in Society. I am a Husky for life and will fly the colors of purple and gold wherever I go.
This year, I am taking a year off from my studies at Catholic Theological Union for the novitiate program.
During my spare time, I enjoy exploring the outdoors on hiking, camping or backpacking trips. I love to travel and hope to one day return to South America where I have been to Peru and Brazil. Not many people can say they have been to the Amazon twice, but I am blessed to be able to.
This past summer, I had the chance to work with Catholic Social Services for the Sacred Heart Southern Missions in Mississippi. It was shocking to see the images of third world America with my own eyes. Seeing it on television is one thing, but being there, listening to the stories of their struggles, and breathing in the same air they were breathing was something really powerful. I realized during my time there that no one asked me what degrees or academic credentials I had. I did spend four hard, enduring years of college to get those degrees. But there, it was about companionship, the trust of the people and the relationships that you know. It was a humbling experience and I felt that when I lost the need to impress others I became freer to deepen friendships and explore new ways of loving. This is part of the reason why I chose the L’arche community for my ministry this year.
Juan Carlos Castañeda Rojas
There is no place like home. I have heard that many times and I strongly agree with it. My name is Juan Carlos Castañeda Rojas. I am 30 years old and I am from, Medellin, Colombia. I love horses, cooking, and spending time with my family and friends. Since I was a kid I felt that I was called to the religious life. But I never thought that it was going to be a long distance call!
Since January, 2006, I have responded to God’s call here in the United States, doing my discernment process about my vocation with the Priests of the Sacred Heart.
Since the very first day I arrived here, I felt welcome. Learning a new language was not easy, but thanks to all the support that I received in the ESL program at Sacred Heart School of Theology in Milwaukee I was able to make it. And that is how I ended up in the formation house in Chicago, working on my spiritual and academic formation. Here I found people like me who responded to God’s call, here I found friends, but more than that, I found a home and a family.
I was attending St. Xavier University studying philosophy in order to continue my academic formation and move to Catholic Theological Union, but now, happily since August 14, I am doing my novitiate year. I know it is going to be a great experience and it is a step forward toward achieving my goals and becoming an SCJ. I am really happy learning more about the charism and the history of my community. This year is full of adventures and I am ready to live them with an open heart.
Fra. Joseph Vu, SCJ
Chicago is my “hometown.” I am currently in my third year of studies at Catholic Theological Union (CTU) and am part of the M. Div program for priestly ordination.
As for hobbies, I love to read; I read from all sorts of genres, but currently I’m into spy novels. As part of my continuing education, I have been recently adding books that delve into the mentality of teenagers, as it would help me out in youth ministry.
Currently I’m working at St. Henry parish as a youth group coordinator. This year will my tenth year with the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Society. I have been an active member of my parish for the last 14 years.
I am also ministering at the Br. David Darst Center, an organization dedicated to justice and peace. The Center’s main activity is hosting retreats for youth and introducing them to social issues and the social services offered around the Chicagoland area. This is my second year at the Center.
I am currently in my third year of temporary vows. I met the SCJs through my youth group. My vows continually remind me of my dedication to live my life’s intent on being united with the Heart of Christ and to be in community with my brothers.
My goal is to get through CTU. The curriculum for M. Div students is quite rigorous, and I am feeling it through the workload of my courses. Graduate school is a struggle. However, I hope that, with God’s help, I become ordained as a priest.
The formation team
Fr. John Czyzynski, SCJ, novice master
My name is Fr. 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 (master of novices) for the province. For the past two years we did not have novices and it is wonderful to have two men in the novitiate program this year. Since we operate as a team, Br. Duane and Fr. Tim are associate directors for the men I work with as I am an associate director to each of them for the men they work with. We have a great formation team and we each have responsibilities for the specific group we head up: Br. Duane with the candidates, Fr. Tim with the men in temporary vows and myself with the novices.
Besides all that is part of my life as a formation director and member of this community, I have found that I have become more involved in a kind of “street ministry” with the poor and the homeless persons who come to our door or whom I meet in our neighborhood. I gather clothes for them, offer them food, funds for transportation, make them aware of other resources that are available to them. Sometimes I just listen to what is going on in their lives. Since we have novices this year, I do not have as much time as I did before to be involved with them and so I have had to limit myself to being available to them at certain times during the week when I do not have other responsibilities.
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.
Fr. Tim Gray, SCJ, formation team member
My name is Fr. Timothy Gray, SCJ. I am what is known as a “lifer” — someone who has spent nearly his whole life with the SCJs. When I was in grade school, in Detroit, an SCJ priest came to our school to talk about vocations to the religious life. When he gave us a booklet containing a map of the world showing all the countries where SCJs worked, I was hooked. I came to Divine Heart Seminary at the age of 13, one month before the Second Vatican Council began in 1962. My experience in formation paralleled the great changes that were taking place in the church in those years. Like many in my generation, I was excited about changing the world, and the SCJs were my way of being a part of that.
During my years in the seminary, I excelled in studies and everyone (myself included) thought I would go on to further studies and become a teacher. However, when that moment came, I felt a different call, and told my superiors I preferred to go out into the larger world and become a parish priest. I served in Detroit for one year at St. Rose parish, and then I had the opportunity to go to Toronto, where I served four years at St. Joan of Arc. I had a wonderful time there, getting to know our SCJ brethren in Canada.
Then I received another call. Our provincial superior wrote a letter inviting priests to study Spanish, to prepare to work in our parishes in Texas. This appealed to my missionary spirit, and so I went. This was the beginning of a wonderful career among the Hispanic people in East Chicago, Houston, Raymondville, and finally Mississippi.
It is common for missionaries to say that they receive more from the people they serve than what they have given. It is certainly true in my case. The warm, intense spirituality of the people has rubbed off on me and made me a better person. I served for 20 years in Houston and called that hot, sticky, busy city my home. But all things must come to an end, and now I am following another call.
I am living in Chicago, in our house of formation, helping young men, as idealistic as I was 40 years ago, grow into priests and brothers ministering to our church and our world. I have had the grace to not only know the SCJs and our ministry here in the United States, but to travel to parts of the world I spotted on that map 50 years ago. Beginning with my stay in Canada, and continuing with my studies in Mexico, I have experienced different cultures and languages, and also different expressions of faith and of living religious life. I have spent a month in Rome, and more recently, two months in Brazil, getting to know our SCJ confreres and ministries (and think about how much I can travel after I am retired!). It is inspiring and challenging to see how our SCJ charism has extended itself around the world, and to see (in the words of Fr. Dehon) “the reign of the Heart of Jesus in souls and in societies.”
[Editor’s note: Fr. Tim is a frequent contributor to our province blog. Click here to read his latest post on the start of the new school year.]
Br. Duane Lemke, SCJ, local superior and formation director
My name is Br. Duane Lemke, and the Sacred Heart has been forming my heart since before I was born.
My introduction to the SCJs was through one: Fr. Joseph Ford. A very pastoral and colorful man, he baptized me and witnessed my parents’ marriage, both at Sacred Heart Parish of Dupree, South Dakota.
To be honest, though Sacred Heart was my parish, I didn’t appreciate the devotion until later in life. For my early years, the Sacred Heart was little more than a rather drab green tinted painting, and some statues that adorned the various rooms of my parish.
But there was more to the Sacred Heart than paintings and statues. This was through the witness of SCJs who ministered at this parish during my grade school years (those years, by the way, being in a two-room prairie schoolhouse) and later, during my high school years at the “metropolitan center” of Dupree, SD (population 500!). These men, these brothers and priests with names like Ford, Presto, Clancy, Sheehy, Klingler, Watson, and Huffstetter, taught me about the love and kindness contained in the Heart of Christ. Their teaching was by example and daily witness. They created Catholic parishes that were alive with Christ’s love, celebrating joys, sharing sorrows, and coming together despite differences to find reconciliation. They spoke about the changes we needed to make individually and as a society to make each a better reflection of God’s love.
In the finest tradition of Fr. Leo Dehon, the first SCJ, these were men who came to our homes and our schools (even two-room schoolhouses) and did not expect us to always come to them at the church and rectory, though many of us did. They called us to community, friendship, and conversion.
My path to becoming one of these Priests of the Sacred Heart was not a direct one. My calling to religious life was strongest after college (my undergraduate study included a degree in Christian Ministry). Deeper questions began stirring: not only “who am I?” but “whose am I?” I began considering my future vocation and not simply my career. I had kept up relationships with the Priests of the Sacred Heart during these years, and their example invited me to consider living my life as they did: devoted to Christ’s love.
I first entered an SCJ house as a candidate on January 14, 1995. Since that time, life with the SCJs has led me to graduate school in Chicago, to parish ministry with the Lakota and settlement cultures of South Dakota, to grade school students at St. Joseph’s Indian School, and most recently, as a formation director in Chicago. Now I am in the role of helping to form young (and not-so-young) men in the life and charism that had been given to me. Most importantly, this recent ministry has deepened my appreciation of how Christ has been forming my heart since Fr. Ford was witness of my parents’ marriage and my baptism. His heart continually calls us to community, friendship, and conversion.
I have noticed over the years that candidates remark on how their time in formation is an exploration of what it means to be a Priest of the Sacred Heart. That it is. I have discovered that the exploration only deepens with vows. Our founder spoke of the deep riches contained in the Heart of Christ. These riches are so deep that I am humbled that I have been called to spend my lifetime discovering them, that I was discovering these riches long before I knew I was, through the witness of these men.
I am a Catholic Brother, I am a Priest of the Sacred Heart, and I am called to be a witness to the love in Christ’s heart. Our vocation is to pay the love of Christ forward, as a witness in the world to the individuals and the societies that need to know such love.
Fr. Bob Bossie, SCJ, retired
A Boston native, I joined the SCJs after nine years with the U.S. Air Force and military industrial complex during which I worked on nuclear weapons carrying aircraft, among other weapon systems. Following ordination I spent a year’s internship in a Chicago inner-city parish and then became the superior – formation director at the community’s formation program at the college and theology levels. Subsequently, I represented the province at the 8th Day Center for (Social) Justice for 30-plus years during which time I also served on the congregation’s international commission for justice and peace and acted as the province’s director of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation for nine years.
In my ministry, I have had the opportunity to travel extensively to the Middle East, South America, Northern Africa, Europe and Asia.
We need ministers in the Church who will raise questions to help others find God’s way; this is what I did for many years.
I am retired now but continue to participate in the ministry of justice, peace and care for creation. I also continue to live with the Chicago formation community, which is a very life-giving community.
Come and see for yourself!