Seminarians grateful as they prepare for ordination May 29

By: By Jennifer Willems

As he kneels in St. Mary’s Cathedral to be ordained to the priesthood on May 29, Deacon James Pankiewicz knows that what put him there is the grace of God and the prayers and support of laity and priests throughout central Illinois.

“One of the things I often tell people is being a seminarian you do experience a lot of support, especially from this diocese,” Deacon Pankiewicz said. “The amount of support I’ve gotten has been tremendous — from the Serra Club, from the Peoria Vocation Support Group, and most especially from the priests.

“I just want to let people know that their prayers and their support of the seminary program really do bear fruit,” he said.

Kneeling next to Deacon Pankiewicz at 10:30 a.m. on May 29 will be Deacon Paul Carlson of Rock Island. Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, will preside at the ordination liturgy and offer the homily.

A reception for the new priests and their families and friends will follow at the Spalding Pastoral Center.

The son of Jill and Dennis Carlson of St. Pius X Parish in Rock Island, Deacon Carlson, 28, has been studying at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. He shared the story of how he discerned his call to the priesthood in Vocations 2010, a special section of The Catholic Post published March 21. (Excerpts from that column are reprinted at the end this story.)

Deacon Pankiewicz had considered being a priest early in his childhood in St. Joseph, Mo., but said, “That’s just growing up in a Catholic family. I was also going to be a professional baseball player and a Nazi-fighting archaeologist like Indiana Jones. I was going to be many things at that age — including priest.”

What he pursued after attending St. Francis Xavier School and Bishop LeBlond Memorial High School, both in St. Joseph, was history at Northwest Missouri State University. He spent two summers working at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace in Kentucky and thought he would probably end up working at an historic site like that or in the archives at a museum.

The next step toward that goal turned out to be the first step away from it, however.

Graduate school took Deacon Pankiewicz to Western Illinois University in Macomb. As he got involved in the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Newman Center, he started talking to Father Ken Hummel, chaplain and director.

“That’s when the call really started,” Deacon Pankiewicz told The Post. “One Sunday morning in the spring semester the vocation director for the diocese, Father Brian Brownsey, had Mass. I didn’t even know he was going to be there. I visited with him after Mass and that sort of got the ball rolling in that direction.”

He said his interest in the priesthood started as an intellectual quest after he read several books on apologetics. “The spirituality kicked in along the way.”

“I was very impressed with the priests of Peoria — their Marian devotion, their eucharistic devotion,” Deacon Pankiewicz added, calling them “John Paul II priests.”

“It was the way they talked, the way they interacted with people,” he said.

His home parish in St. Joseph was administered by the Missionaries of the Precious Blood and as part of his discernment he talked with the vocation director and exchanged e-mail, “but Peoria just seemed the best fit. The Lord led me here. It’s where I got my call.”

Deacon Pankiewicz entered Mount St. Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., in 2004. After two years of pre-theology and four years of theology he graduated earlier this month with a master’s of divinity degree and a master’s degree in church history.

Along the way, he worked with Father Robert Rayson in the parishes of Wyoming, Camp Grove and Bradford, helped out in the chancery office, attended the Institute for Priestly Formation in Omaha, Neb., and assisted Father John Thieryoung in Aledo, Keithsburg, Matherville and Viola. As a transitional deacon last summer, he was mentored by Father Philip Halfacre, pastor of St. Patrick’s in Ottawa.

Deacon Pankiewicz said he has enjoyed all of the ministries in which he has been involved and found visiting people in the hospital and nursing homes to be “very rewarding.”

Father Hummel, who helped him discern his vocation, vested him as his ordination to the transitional diaconate last May. On Saturday, Father Rayson will be his vesting priest as he is ordained to the priesthood.

“At the seminary, Msgr. (Steven) Rohlfs, the rector, often talks about how important it is to be a workhorse priest and Father Rayson is certainly that,” Deacon Pankiewicz said about the man who is now pastor of St. Hyacinth’s and St. Patrick’s in LaSalle, rector of Holy Rosary Shrine there and has had pastoral care for St. Thomas More in Dalzell and St. Benedict’s in Ladd.

“Actually, all the priests I’ve worked with have been workhorse priests,” Deacon Pankiewicz told The Post. “But (Father Rayson) obviously knows how to have a good time and kick back and watch a baseball game and make fun of Cardinals fans and take the Cubs fan jokes.”

Deacon Pankiewicz’s first Mass is planned for Sunday, May 30, at 2 p.m. at St. Mark’s Church in Peoria, with Msgr. Stuart Swetland as homilist. A reception will follow at nearby St. Joseph Catholic Newman Center.

He will celebrate a second Mass of Thanksgiving for family and friends the following weekend at St. Francis Xavier Church in St. Joseph.

It’s not a coincidence that he’s beginning his priestly service during the Year for Priests, he said.

“I think it’s a sign from God of the graces and blessings he wants to bestow on me, knowing that I especially will need them,” Deacon Pankiewicz said. “I consider it a great blessing to be ordained during this year. I hope it will result in more graces and blessings for me and those I minister to.”


Editor’s note: In the following reflection, originally published March 21 and excerpted here, Deacon Paul Carlson talks about how he heard God calling him to the priesthood.

By Deacon Paul Carlson

The top of our vocations poster for the Diocese of Peoria this year reads “A Culture of Vocations: If you Build It, They Will Come.” It is in the largest lettering on the poster, and rightfully so. I am a product of a culture of vocations, although I have not always recognized this fact.

During my time at Alleman High School in Rock Island I was surrounded by good friends who were taking seriously God’s will for their lives. A faithful group of upper classmen, including (now Fathers) Adam Stimpson and Dustin Schultz, and the priest chaplains we had at this time forged an atmosphere at Alleman where Christ and his church were generally respected and loved.

At the parish I was also surrounded in a culture of vocations. I began attending daily Mass at St. Pius X when I was a junior at Alleman. The faith, prayers, and wisdom my fellow parishioners shared with me at this time of my life was invaluable.

Knowing that I wanted to spend my life in service to the Lrod and his church, I began taking classes at Augustana College in Rock Island. Even here I found providence had kept me in a culture of vocations. Six of my friends entered seminary to more seriously consider the priestly vocation at this time. One of them left me his adoration hours in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at St. Pius X. For my three years of college I kept those hours from 10 p.m to midnight every Saturday. These hours were an anchor in my life. They kept me grounded and it was then that Jesus taught me how to pray.

After three years at Augustana and being encouraged by the words and example of Fathre Michael Driscoll at St. Mary’s in Rock Island, I applied and was accepted as a seminarian for the Diocese of Peoria. My three years at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona, Minn., were very blessed years filled with many friends who were likewise seeking holiness in the will of the Father. It was here that I discovered with a sense of certainty that God was calling me to become a priest. In the spring of 2006 I completed my bachelor of arts degree in social science, philosophy, and secondary education.

To complete my theological education I was sent to the Pontifical North American College, which is the seminary of the U.S. bishops in Rome. To live, study, and pray in Rome has been an amazing experience.

Rome is in many ways at the heart of the church. It is the city of Peter and Paul. It is itself a witness to the many Christian martyrs and saints who have lived and died within her walls. Rome is the See of Peter and Peter’s successors, who continue to guide and nourish the universal flock building on the ancient Christian tradition held in this city. Rome is certainly a great place for priestly formation!

In Rome we have the opportunity to see a microcosm of the universal church. At the American College, seminarians study at various pontifical universities with Catholic men and women from every inhabited continent. My pastoral assignment outside the seminary this year is to teach spirituality at the Emmanuel School of Mission, a school that trains young men and women to go back to their home countries and proclaim the Gospel. In this opportuinty alone I a wam able to work and pray with Catholics from France, Australia, Poland, England, Ireland, and India.

My time at the North American College in Rome has not only helped me appreciate and understand the gifts and struggles of the church throughout the world, but also in our own nation. I have classmates from every part of the country and have come to learn what being Catholic means as a growing immigrant community in the Southwest, as a minority in the Bible Belt, or as a community richly established on the East Coast.

More than anything I have come to realize how blessed we are in the Diocese of Peoria. Although we have our struggles, we are one of the strongest, healthiest, and most faithful local churches in the world.

I am convinced that as we continue to promote the culture of vocations and the culture of life in our diocese, we are doing nothing less than bringing forth the kingdom of God that Jesus tells us is now at hand.

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