Preparing for ministry and religious life

Members of the Dehon Formation Community in Chicago

Dehon Formation Community, Chicago

In the U.S. Province, men preparing for religious life and ministry with the Priests of the Sacred Heart generally live and study in Chicago.  The Dehon Formation Community, located in Chicago’s Hyde Park area, includes candidates, novices and professed SCJs.  Most are in formation –– undergraduate and theology students.  Some are members of the formation team, including directors of the college and theology programs, as well as the novice master.  We asked them to introduce themselves. In their own words:

Juan Carlos Charum Monzon (third year candidate)

Juan Carlos Charum Monzon

My name is Juan Carlos Charum Monzon.  I am 26 years old and am from the most beautiful country that you can imagine in South America: Colombia.  I was born in a city in the north of Colombia called Barranquilla.  The culture, the music, the natural beauty, and the food have brought much joy and happiness to my life.  In Barranquilla, I had the opportunity to discover the wonder of my vocation; and with the help and advice of my family, I began to answer my call and to follow the will of God.

In January, 2006, I came to the United States. Beginning that month, I began the  journey of learning another language.  The ESL (English as a Second Language) program at Sacred Heart School of Theology brought to me some of the most wonderful experiences that I have had in this country, and I have been given the opportunity to know more about American culture while I try to learn this difficult, but beautiful, language.

A couple of years ago I was accepted as a candidate for the Priests of the Sacred Heart. During the time that I have been living here, I experienced the spirituality of the SCJs and community life in a close way, which brings joy and happiness to my life. I have been a candidate for the past three years in Chicago and I have to say that I am really happy and that everyone here is a member of my new family, members that I miss when I am away.

I am currently studying philosophy and art.

I am most thankful to God because He has given me life. He has given me the opportunity to live my vocation wherever he needs me, and right now that is why I am here in this country.  I am also thankful to my family for all the beautiful things that I have learned from them.  In addition, I am very thankful to the SCJ community and the staff at Sacred Heart School of Theology for their patience and help on this journey. Finally, I would like to thank the SCJ community in Chicago, which has received me like family.

Justin Krenke (first year candidate)

Justin Krenke

I am 20 years old and was born in West Allis, Wis., but grew up in nearby Milwaukee.  I lived with my mom, step-dad and two older sisters.  After graduating from W.E.B. Dubois High School in 2009 I spent a year helping my sister Heather with her three children.  It was hard not to go to college right away, but she needed the help.

This is my first year of formation so I am just trying to get used to everything.  I am a freshman at St. Xavier University and learning to get back into the habit of homework after a year away from studies.  So far, my days have been filled with school and community activities, like taking part in Mass and other prayer in the community.

What attracts me to the Priests of the Sacred Heart is the way everyone treats each other like they are one big family.  There is a lot of laughter.  Sometimes I don’t even feel like I am one of the new guys here.  Often, it feels like I have been here for years –– and I mean that in a GOOD way.  The guys here are really helpful, if you ever need anything – help or advice – all you have to do is ask.

Anthony Nguyen (first year candidate)

Anthony Nguyen

I’m 18 and though I was born in San Diego, Calif., I consider Minneapolis, Minn., as my home. I moved there when I was four.  I graduated last spring from DeLaSalle High School in Minnesota.  I am the youngest of five brothers, and I love sports.  I like to try new sports.

This is my first year in the Dehon Formation Community.  I attend Harold Washington College in downtown Chicago.  Next year I’ll be at St. Xavier University where some of the other SCJ students go.

Before I became a candidate I volunteered at a hospital and worked for three months serving meals to the elderly.  I have also been strongly involved in a youth group called “TNTT.”  It is a nationwide Eucharistic youth group that encourages young kids and teenagers to learn about the Catholic religion.  I hope to become involved with Chicago’s TNTT group next semester.

What attracts me to the Priests of the Sacred Heart is that members of the community are loving and caring toward one another.  You never feel like you are alone because the community is there for you; we pray for and support one another.  The community also helps you to strengthen your faith by the way things are done in the formation house.

The community is a lot of fun. To me, the Priests of the Sacred Heart are a family.

Dn. Duy Nguyen, SCJ

Dn. Duy Nguyen, SCJ
[Editor’s note:  Dn. Duy was ordained to the diaconate on October 10 and is now beginning his first full-time assignment with the SCJ pastoral team based in northern Mississippi.  Click here to read more about him.]

My name is Duy Nguyen and I’m 32 years old. I am of Vietnamese descent, born and bred in Chicago. I entered the community in 2003 and I professed perpetual vows on January 30, 2010. Besides playing sports, I enjoy listening to music and fishing.

Recently, I spent two months in Argentina learning Spanish and now I’m preparing for a new ministry and life in Mississippi. School is over and work is about to begin.

What attracts me to this community is the presence of the Spirit of God. I find the Spirit active and vibrant in the work we do, community life we share, and laughter we exchange. It is this same stirring Spirit that propelled me to the SCJs seven years ago and it is what keeps me here today.

Juan Carlos Castañeda Rojas (third year candidate)

Juan Carlos Castañeda Rojas

Something that I have learned is that the vocational process is something that never ends and the pursuit of the love of Jesus is the best thing that has happened in my life. I am from Medellin, Colombia; the city of the everlasting spring. My city is called that because all time it is just perfect there.

I am very happy and proud to say that I am a candidate of the Priests of the Sacred Heart. I came to the United States in January, 2006. It has been a wonderful experience for me. I have been learning not only the language, but also about American culture and some beautiful places. I have met many people during this time, nice and wonderful people. I have made many friends in the United States.

I grew up on a farm with my family and for that reason I love nature and animals. I love poetry; I like to write some also. I love cooking, listening to music, watching movies and doing exercise. I enjoy running and working out in the gym.

My studies in Chicago have been good. I am growing as a person, in my spiritual life, and intellectually. What else can I ask for?  My dream to be a member of the Priests of the Sacred Heart is stronger than ever, especially after spending time in ministry. Pray for me and I will pray always for you!!!

Br. Clay P. Diaz Vlaida, SCJ

Br. Clay Diaz Vlaida, SCJ

I’ve been with the Priests of the Sacred Heart for the past seven years, first as a candidate, then as a novice and now in vows.  I made my third vow renewal in August.

I was born in Massachusetts on December 19, 1964. I have lived in various locations, including Puerto Rico, which I moved to when I was 21.

I became a candidate for the Priests of the Sacred Heart in August, 2003. Throughout these years I have grown to love this community; I have grown both spiritually and personally.

I am currently working at St. Joseph Indian School in Chamberlain, South Dakota. I have been at St. Joe’s since December, 2009, and continue through mid December. This is a part of my pastoral ministry year before starting my studies at Chicago Theological Union in Chicago.

I have been working with the high school level students and with the house parents in a support role. My role with the high school students is to tutor them in English, science, history and other courses –– except for math, which is not my specialty. With the house parents I help them with transportation and in other areas as needed.  I also observed and helped with the Native American class and the computer class at the elementary school.

I truly enjoyed working with the high school students. Starting in August I moved to the elementary and middle schools, once again tutoring students.

I enjoy working at St. Joe’s because of the great people both at the homes and in the different academic departments. The atmosphere on the campus is such a unique experience. I have learned a lot about the Native American culture and continue to learn because each day is a new learning experience.

Frater Luis Fernando Orozco Cardona, SCJ

Frater Luis Fernando Orozco Cardona, SCJ

I am Luis Fernando Orozco Cardona, 35.  Born in Medellin, Colombia. I come from a large Catholic family of nine children.  My elementary education was in a public school and I went to a minor seminary for high school. After that I was in a diocesan seminary for two years.  College was at a pontifical university, where I earned my degree in philosophy.

For five years I taught ethics and philosophy in high school and at the university where he earned my degree. During my last two years in Colombia, before I came to the United States, I worked as Secretary of Education in my hometown. I came to the United States in January, 2006, to study in the ESL program at Sacred Heart School of Theology.  After a year-and-a-half I was accepted as an SCJ candidate and I moved to the formation house in Chicago where I started my theological studies at Catholic Theological Union.

In 2009 I began my novitiate year and professed my first vows on August 15 of this year. I am now back at CTU completing my studies for a Master of Divinity. This is my third year of theology. I am doing my ministry practicum in a parish at the south side of Chicago — St. Mary Magdalene. It is a multicultural community of Hispanic, African American, Polish and Asian people. Most of my time is with the Hispanic community working in the Religious Education Program.

There are two fundamental things that attracted me to the Priests of the Sacred Heart. First, I like the way that we take care of each other. I really feel support from the community; I feel welcome and I have come to believe that God takes care of me through this community. Second, the SCJs offer so many opportunities in pastoral and educational experiences which allow me to grow in knowledge, but also, to grow in my faith and vocation.

Frater Greg Schill, SCJ

Frater Greg Schill, SCJ
[Editor’s note:  Like Dn. Duy Nguyen, Frater Greg Schill is nearing the end of his time in initial formation.  He will be ordained to the diaconate on November 20 and will begin ministry at St. Martin of Tours parish in Franklin, Wis.  Frater Greg wrote the following during his last weeks with the Dehon Formation Community.]

The welcoming spirit and presence of the SCJs attracted me to the Priests of the Sacred Heart.  I cannot tell you how many times I have brought guests to Dehon House and heard them comment on how much they appreciated the community and energy of the place.

The SCJs’ emphasis on reaching out to the poor and marginalized has also given me the spirit and inspiration to become an SCJ.

I am 34 years old and entered the formation house seven years ago.  I am orignally from San Antonio, Texas, and have traveled extensively throughout the world.  In May I went to Alaska and was able to fulfill my dream of traveling to all 50 states.  I enjoy watching baseball, college football and taking walks no matter where I am at.  My parents live in San Antonio, Texas.  I have two sisters, one residing in San Antonio and the other living in Berea, Ky.

I graduated from high school in San Antonio, Texas, in 1994, and entered the Marines immediately after.  I served for four years.  After my discharge I worked for a private security company before entering college.  In 2003, I graduated from Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, with a bachelor’s degree in political science.  In 2003, I entered the Priests of the Sacred Heart as a candidate and pursued undergradate studies at St. Xavier University.  I entered the novitiate program in 2005 and professed my first vows in 2006.  In 2008 I completed CPE training (Clinical Pastoral Education) and did a pastoral year in Mississippi.  In 2010 I graduated from Catholic Theological Union with a Master of Divinity.  In the summer of 2010, I spent two months in Argentina for an intensive course in Spanish.

I professed my final vows on October 2.  Until my diaconate ordination I will continue to serve as a volunteer at the Chicago Lighthouse where I was named the 2009 “Volunteer of the Year.”

Frater Joseph Vu, SCJ

Frater Joseph Vu, SCJ

I am 24, was born on the north side of Chicago and have been here ever since. I have two younger siblings.

I graduated from Northside College Prep High School and attended Loyola University, Chicago, before applying to be a candidate with the Priests of the Sacred Heart.  Since doing so, I continued my undergraduate studies at St. Xavier Univeristy where I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and philosophy (double major).  When I have spare time, I love to read comics.

In August I finished my novitiate year and professed my first vows so I am in my first year as a temporarily professed member of the Priests of the Sacred Heart. Now I can add “SCJ” after my name.

I just started my first semester at Catholic Theological Union and am working on a Master of Divinity degree.  I have been working at St. Henry’s parish for the past few years, primarily with Vietnamese youth.

What attracted me to the SCJs was the focus on “community.”  I had looked at other ways of pursuing my vocation, including other religious communities and as a diocesan priest.  However, I found that what set the SCJs apart was their own sense of community.  Living in community is what continues to attract me to the Priests of the Sacred Heart today.  I find that living in a house that combines all of the formation programs (theology, philosophy, novitiate and candidacy) to be adventureous and appealing.  That’s not to say that there aren’t any problems, but life here at the house is, for lack of a better word, FUN.

I find that God is calling me here and I hope to continue to further discover my vocation within this community.

The food here ain’t half bad either!  :)

The formation team

All candidates and SCJs in formation –– including those living outside of the Dehon Formation Community –– 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.

Click here to read their stories.