Deacon Lee Brokaw, Raritan native, to be ordained to the priesthood May 27

Deacon Brokaw was raised on his family's farm in Raritan and earned degrees in agriculture economics and crop and soil management from the University of Illinois before entering the seminary. A tractor and planter provide the background to this photo taken on May 12 as he assisted on the farm prior to his ordination to the priesthood on May 27. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

RARITAN — No priest reaches ordination day alone, and Deacon Lee Brokaw is well aware that his faith and vocation have deep and widespread roots.

“My whole family has been really supportive,” said Deacon Brokaw, the son of Patrick and Brenda Brokaw of St. Patrick Parish in Raritan, who will be ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, next Saturday, May 27, during a 10:30 a.m. Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria. The public is invited.

“This parish is home to me and means a tremendous deal to my family,” said Deacon Brokaw, shown outside St. Patrick Church in Raritan. He will offer a Mass in his home parish on Memorial Day, May 29. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

Raised on the family’s corn and soybean farm just minutes from St. Patrick Church — itself surrounded by farmland — Deacon Brokaw, 31, reflected on his rural upbringing and the many who are part of his story of faith during a wide-ranging interview with The Catholic Post last week.

It was fitting, he said, that the interview took place in the pews of St. Patrick Church.

“This parish is home to me and means a tremendous deal to my family,” said Deacon Brokaw, who like his three sisters and many cousins, was baptized and confirmed in the white frame church built in 1876.

The family’s faith goes back generations. His grandmother, Alice Brokaw, was a Kane, a parish founding family. Now 88, she remains “a spiritual rock for our family” and her husband Bill, who died in 2011, “taught us about hard work and responsibility and faith.” Deacon Brokaw’s maternal grandparents were “faithful, Baptist Christians” who also lived nearby and have been supportive, significant influences.

PRIESTHOOD INFLUENCES

Two priests with key roles in Deacon Brokaw’s journey to the priesthood will serve as his vesting priests at next Saturday’s ordination Mass.

Msgr. Greg Ketcham was a parish assistant during Deacon Brokaw’s boyhood and years later was chaplain at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center when Deacon Brokaw was an agriculture business student at the University of Illinois. “He was the first one who ever introduced priesthood to me,” said Deacon Brokaw, noting Msgr. Ketcham remains a close family friend.

Msgr. Thomas Mack has been pastor of St. Patrick Parish since 2012, but also served the parish as pastor from 1991 to 1997.

Following ordination, Father Brokaw’s first Mass will be at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, May 28, at Immaculate Conception Church in nearby Monmouth, which is large enough to handle the expected crowd. Father Luke Spannagel will be homilist.

The following day, Father Brokaw will celebrate a Memorial Day Mass at St. Patrick Church for the deceased members of the parish and as “a way to assure the parishioners of my love for this parish.”

LOVE OF FARMING

Deacon Brokaw also has a deep love for farming and the agriculture business. After graduating from Stronghurst Southern High School in 2004, he went on to earn a degree in agriculture economics and crop and soil management at the University of Illinois.

While living in Nabor House, the agriculture fraternity on campus, Deacon Brokaw was introduced by Msgr. Ketcham to two missionaries of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). He joined a Bible study, and in his senior year began a Bible study at his fraternity.

“My vocation has come literally out of the soil and my love for the land,” said Deacon Brokaw, pictured with emerging corn seedlings on family land in rural Raritan. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

After graduation, he declined an offer from a seed company so he could become a FOCUS missionary, first at Atchison College in Kansas and then as team director at Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri.

The priesthood seed planted by Msgr. Ketcham was watered through prayer and sharing the faith. The final decision to enter seminary, however, came after he was close to proposing to a woman he was dating.

“Something deep inside of me knew I couldn’t give her my entire ‘yes’ at the altar,” he recalled. “I had never given myself entirely to discern God’s will for the priesthood.”

After breaking off the relationship, he began the seminary application process and for the last six years has studied at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. During his studies, he served as chaplain for the college’s women’s lacrosse team.

“I love the Mount, the seminary, the men, the priests, the faculty members. All had impact on my life,” he said.

So has growing up with his close-knit family on the farm. He returns to Raritan as often as he can to assist his father’s operation, including the ordering of seeds and planting, which he helped with last week.

“My vocation has come literally out of the soil and the land and my love for the land,” he told The Catholic Post. “Our Lord has asked me in a distinct way to give that to him as a priest, and trust that he’ll return my love for agriculture back to me a hundredfold.

“I love the church, and our Lord has affected my life in such a way that if he is inviting me to (the priesthood), I can’t say no,” he continued. “I trust that wherever God sends me is where in the vineyard he wants me to work, and where I’ll be made holy as a priest.”

CATHEDRAL TO HOST VIGIL FOR ORDINATION

The public is invited to pray for Deacon Brokaw and for an increase in priestly vocations during a vigil service at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria at 7:15 p.m. on Friday, May 26. The service will include a consecration of the chalice he will use in his priestly ministry, and there will be adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

 

 

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