Meet our student community!

Preparing for religious life and ministry

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.

Everyone has kitchen chores at Dehon House, from Fr. John Czyzynski, a member of the formation team, to candidate James Nguyen.

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.

The 2011 fall semester begins with four candidates and three professed SCJs in initial formation.  They are directed by Br. Duane Lemke, coordinator of the community, and Fr. John Czyzynski.  Fr. Bob Bossie is in residence. Later in the year, the formation community anticipates welcoming several SCJs on sabbatical.

Members of the Dehon Formation Community introduce themselves:

Juan Carlos Castañeda

My name is Juan Carlos Castañeda Rojas. I am 29 years old and I am from the city of everlasting spring, 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! In January, 2006, I responded to God’s call and came to the United States to start my discernment process about my vocation with the Priests of the Sacred Heart.

Juan Carlos Casteñda Rojas

Since I first arrived, 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 I was able to make it. From there I moved to the formation house in Chicago to continue with 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 enrolled in St. Xavier University in 2007 and am studying philosophy in preparation for theology studies at Catholic Theological Union.

Responding to God´s call is not easy. Last year, when I went to visit my family back in Colombia, I had problems renewing my student visa; I was away for almost a year. However, during that time I never felt alone because I had the support of the community. And even though I was away, I felt they were with me all the time. It is because of them that I am back, continuing to discern God´s call.

I am so thankful to the community; I am so thankful to be home with the community.

Br. Clay P. Diaz Vlaida, SCJ

I have been with the Priests of the Sacred Heart for the past eight years, first as a candidate, then a novice and now in vows.  I made my first profession as an SCJ brother in 2007.

Br. Clay Diaz, SCJ

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 December, 1964.  I 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 of 2003. Throughout these years I have grown to love this community.  I have grown both spiritually and personally.

I am currently a freshman at Chicago Theological Union (CTU) and working toward a Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies (MAPS).

This semester I will also be working with the Port Ministries here in Chicago.  My hobbies are reading, playing music (guitar and piano) along with pencil arts.  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.]

Justin Krenke

My name is Justin Krenke, and I am a second year candidate. I am 21 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 go to school right away instead of taking a year off, but she needed the help.

Justin Krenke

This is my second year in the formation program and I am starting my second year at St. Xavier University.  I am trying to readjust to school after the summer break, and trying to get my sleeping schedule back on track. I am also starting campus ministry this year and am looking forward to that.

Although school, ministry, and community life takes time, I am still able to take time to hang out with friends outside of the community.

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.

James Nguyen

It was three 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.

James Nguyen

I am James Nguyen, 22, from the great Pacific Northwest.  Although I was born in Saigon, Vietnam, I spent much of my life in Seattle, Wash.  Before entering candidacy, I lived with my parents and little brother.  I am the middle child with my older brother, who is a Jesuit, and currently doing his regency years back home.  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.  There is no doubt that I am a Husky for life as I will always fly the colors of purple and gold where ever I go.

This semester, I will be back to school routines but this time at Catholic Theological Union.

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 in that I can.

The trip to Peru was one of the turning points in my life as I saw the splendor of Ausangate and the magnificence of Machu Picchu.  To me, it was God’s creation at its best.  I never felt so in touch with the divine presence and something just struck me as I gazed in awe.  My friends joked later,  “if you don’t want to enter religious life, don’t go to Peru.”

What drew me to the Priests of the Sacred Heart was the charism and spirituality in Fr. Leo Dehon’s writings.  Every SCJ that I have met shows such passion and hospitality in his ministry.  They express the mission of being prophets of love and servants of reconciliation in their daily lives.  I was inspired by Fr. Dehon saying that going out to the world with a bible is not just enough as we should also be carrying a newspaper.  Today, I like to tweak that just a bit in saying that we should go with a bible in one hand and in the other an IPad!

In my first year of candidacy I want to live my vocation as Frederick Buechner defined it as “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”  As I continue on this adventure that God is leading me, I am excited to meet new people, live new experiences, and find God in all of those things.

Frater Luis Fernando Orozco Cardona, SCJ

I am Luis Fernando Orozco Cardona, born in October 25, 1974, 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.

Frater Luis Fernando Orozco Cardona, SCJ

For five years I taught ethics and philosophy in high school and at the university where I 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, 2010. Right now I am full time student at Catholic Theological Union, completing my studies for a Master of Divinity degree. This is my fourth  and last year of theology and the first year as a professed member of the community. I am looking forward to doing my pastoral experience next year, though I don’t know yet where it is going to be.

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 Joseph Vu, SCJ

I was born in Chicago, Ill., on a cold day in March. When I was young, we moved quite a lot, so I was never able to consider any neighborhood as my home. However, Chicago is my “hometown”. For as long as I can remember, Chicago has been either really cold, or really hot.

Frater Joseph Vu, SCJ

I am currently in my second year of studies at Catholic Theological Union (CTU). I am part of the M. Div program for priestly ordination.

As for hobbies, I love to read in my spare time. I read from all sorts of genres, but my favorites include sci-fi and fantasy. I have been recently adding books that delve into the mentality of teenagers, as it will help me in youth ministry.

Currently I’m working at St. Henry parish as a youth group coordinator. This year will be my ninth year with the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Society. I’ve been helping with the Vietnamese congregation for the past 13 years. I lend a hand at the church whenever it’s needed.

I am also ministering at the Br. David Darst Center, an organization dedicated to justice and peace. The facility’s main activity is hosting retreats for youth and it helps them explore social issues and introduces them to the social services offered around the Chicago area.

I am currently in my second year of temporary vows with the Priests of the Sacred Heart. I met the SCJs through my youth group. My vows continually remind me of my dedication to live my life intent on being united with the heart of Christ and to be in community with my brothers.

My goal as of right now is to get through CTU. I’m not trying to think too far ahead, because I don’t want to worry myself too much. The curriculum for M. Div students was changed during my first year in theology, and the program has become quite rigorous. Graduate school is a struggle for me. However, I hope that, with God’s help, I become ordained as a priest. If so, I would like to go back to school in order to get a doctorate and hopefully become a professor, because I love to teach.

And now, the formation team:

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.”

Fr. John Czyzynski, SCJ

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, coordinator of the Dehon Formation Community

My name is Br. Duane Lemke, and the Sacred Heart has been forming and changing my heart since before I was born.

Br. Duane Lemke, SCJ

My introduction to the SCJs was through one of their members:  Fr. Joseph Ford.  He baptized me and witnessed my parent’s 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 my later years.  At that time, the Sacred Heart was little more than religious art and statues that adorned the various rooms of my parish.

But the Sacred Heart was there, through the witness of SCJs who ministered to me during my grade school years, in a two-room prairie schoolhouse, and later, during my high school years at the more “metropolitan center” of Dupree, SD (Population 500!).  These men, these brothers and priests with names like Ford, Presto, Clancy, Sheehy, Klingler, and Huffstetter, taught me about the deep love 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, our founder, these were men who came to our homes and our schools and did not expect us to always come to them at the church and rectory.  They called us to community, friendship, and conversion.

My path to the 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). I knew I wanted to minister to God’s people, but it was at a time when deeper questions began stirring.  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 parish ministry with the Lakota and settlement cultures of South Dakota, to grade school students at St. Joseph’s Indian School, and most recently, to being a formation director in Chicago:  helping to continue molding 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 parent’s marriage and my baptism.

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, I am humbled that I have been called to spend my lifetime discovering them.  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.  A witness in the world, to individuals and the societies that need to know such love.

Want to learn more about a vocation with the Priests of the Sacred Heart? Contact us!

The 2011 Dehon Formation Community