Formation in Rome a rich experience for Father Wratkowski

| May 30, 2017 | 0 Comments

Father Timothy Wratkowski at his ordination Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul May 27. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

While walking to and from classes at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, Father Timothy Wratkowski would pass by St. Catherine of Siena, a large bone from St. Padre Pio and the house where St. Paul was imprisoned.

The path never became ordinary, but rather part of his “concrete experience of Catholicism” — solidifying his own faith and the “great witness that the saints provide to live the faith in a holy way with great charity,” said Father Wratkowski, 26, who grew up attending St. Charles Borromeo church and school in St. Anthony.

His first great witnesses to the faith were within his own home. His parents, Thomas and Renee Wratkowski, raised him and his three siblings to be fervent in prayer, a lesson he says he’ll bring to his ministry. And because the family would often host priests for dinner, Father Wratkowski was able to see their personalities, humanity and joy. From that, he said, he was open to the priesthood from a young age, although the option seemed less desirable during high school at Totino-Grace in Fridley. But one service trip to a Catholic Worker house in Kansas City, Missouri, was especially influential. It wasn’t so much serving the homeless people there, he said, but hearing their stories about coming into the faith and getting to know them.

“One man said his life made no sense before he became Catholic. He said, ‘There’s meaning to my suffering now,’ even though he was still homeless and poor,” Father Wratkowski recalled. “I realized that I’d been given so much, not only materially, not only with my family … and my education, but [also] just the gift of my faith. It really made me think about reopening myself to the Lord to see what he wanted me to do in a more docile manner, because the call to priesthood was always there.”

He took his vocational question to prayer, and in the adoration chapel at St. Charles Borromeo, realized he would find fulfillment in the priesthood.

“I thought, ‘I guess I should give seminary a shot; I guess I should give God a shot,’” he recalled with a laugh.

Studying at the PNAC since 2013 after attending St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul, his formation experience differs from that of his fellow ordinands who studied at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity. But he said Rome has been “a time blessed by the Lord,” noting the various opportunities to form him as a priest.

Father Wratkowski didn’t have a teaching parish in Rome, but he was assigned two apostolates — street evangelization in St. Peter’s Square through the Legion of Mary and leading an English program at the American Mission Society in China. Both provided him chances to preach and reach many young people. He was also part of the chaplaincy team for the study abroad program with Loyola University Chicago. The team hosted “theology uncorked,” holy hours and pilgrimages to Assisi. In China, he answered students’ questions about Catholicism and the priesthood. They would ask about his personal dream, and he would tell them it was to be a priest and live that vocation.

“It was like they had heard that for the first time,” he said.

Father Wratkowski said his experiences abroad have enriched his own understanding of what it means to be Catholic.

He described it as a blessing “to meet so many different people in different states of life here in Rome — from different religious orders [to] priests from around Europe, and hearing their experience and to draw on their lived experience of Catholicism, which is different from Catholicism lived in America,” he said.

Being in Rome also had its challenges. Contrary to what some might think, it’s not “a four-year vacation” he said. Aside from acclimating to a different culture, Father Wratkowski had to navigate the Italian health care system because he has Type 1 diabetes.

“It was a very long and difficult process, one which was very trying, but it taught me so much, just to feel my poverty and [to know] this is what people feel like when they can’t get what they need,” he said.

Father Wratkowski appreciates what his classmates have taught him — to rejoice in the variety of gifts in the Church. He saw that among his fellow seminarians in Rome — one man used to be a tap dancer on Broadway and another a rocket scientist in the Air Force.

“I’m edified in that,” he said. “I realize I don’t have to do or be everything; I don’t have to be the alpha male. It’s a joy to see and experience.”

His hobbies reflect that authenticity: He considers himself an outdoorsman and “sports guy” — even playing on a soccer team in the Cleric Cup in Rome — and enjoys reading classic novels. As a priest, he looks forward to evangelizing and telling people why he’s a priest, providing the sacraments and meeting people where they are.

Father Wratkowski named a handful of clergy of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis who fostered his discernment to the priesthood: Fathers James Adams, Joseph Johnson, Francis Kittock, Paul LaFontaine, Rolf Tollefson and Deacon Stephen Najarian.

Father Wratkowski will continue to study in Rome to complete a degree in moral theology at the University of Santa Croce before returning to serve in the archdiocese.

He will be ministering as parochial vicar of All Saints in Lakeville.

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