A Minneapolis native, Jesuit begins ministry across the river

| July 12, 2017 | 0 Comments

Jesuit Father Richard “R.J.” Fichtinger, a native of Minneapolis, is excited to begin his ministry at St. Thomas More in St. Paul. He will serve at the parish for one year. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Jesuit Father Richard “R.J.” Fichtinger recently took a walk along the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis for the first time in nine years after returning from formation with the order.

The Minneapolis native, 35, said the walk along the bike path brought back “a flood of just wonderful memories” of places in his hometown. The newly-ordained priest began serving across the Mississippi River at St. Thomas More in St. Paul in late June.

Amid those memories are those of loss. His grew up without his father in south Minneapolis. His mother died during his senior year at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis. His half-brother, Brian, died in 2008, leaving Father Fichtinger in his mid-20s with no immediate family involved in his life.

By that time, however, he had developed a deep faith. He wasn’t raised Catholic; he considered himself  “culturally Christian” by high school. But his life took a turn to the Church in those years when he met John Burczek-Dreier, a Catholic, who became a best friend and brother to him.

They played football together, took driver’s education together and worked together at summer jobs. Both got involved in an ecumenical Christian group at the school, which helped faith become a significant part of their friendship.

That friendship grew into family over time as Father Fichtinger spent a lot of time with Burczek-Dreier’s family. Burczek-Dreier’s mother, Monica Bogucki, has been glad that Father Fichtinger joined the family ever since.

“It was an easy decision to make,” Bogucki said. “Watching him … spiritually grow and to grow as a young man has been such a joy. He has an incredibly gifted intellect and extraordinary compassion, which he has had from when we first me him.”

They became the avenue for him joining the Church. He went through RCIA at Our Lady of Peace in Minneapolis during his senior year. Burczek-Dreier served as Father Fichtinger’s RCIA sponsor.

“I was looking for something that anchored me in history, anchored me in a tradition,” Father Fichtinger said of the Catholic faith.

Burczek-Dreier, now a tuition and financial aid analyst at the University of Minnesota, said he wasn’t surprised to see Father Fichtinger become a priest.

“He’s always been a very faith-filled person,” he said.

Having benefited from social work as a child, Father Fichtinger earned a degree in social work at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul in 2004. While there, he also had a growing sense that God wanted more from him, but had yet to look into priesthood.

He felt that sense grow after college while working as a youth and family counselor with The Bridge in Minneapolis. He could help people with their mental health, but felt the desire to help people address their spiritual needs.

He said the desire to connect his faith and work grew into a realization that he could be a priest and surrender his life to “more than just work” and to be at “the service of others,” he said.

He began researching options online for becoming a priest and discovered the Jesuits. As he got to know Jesuit Father Warren Sazama, the Jesuit vocations director at the time and now St. Thomas More’s pastor, Father Fichtinger’s path became clear through a discernment retreat, vocations video and Jesuit events. He recognized that community would help him grow more, and he saw that some Jesuits do the work he had been doing with The Bridge.

“It wasn’t sort of this radical shift in what I was doing, but rather, it was a growing into doing something more for God,” he said.

Father Fichtinger entered the Jesuits in August 2006 as a novice at the St. Alberto Hurtado novitiate in St. Paul. After two years of study there, he underwent formation in multiple places around the U.S. Although Jesuit preparation is typically longer than that of diocesan priesthood, he said he didn’t mind.

“I figured doctors and lawyers and other professionals took a long time to move into their careers and be certified, so I thought it was akin to that,” Father Fichtinger said. “As I moved further along in formation, I realized, ‘Oh, there has been a lot for me to learn and grow in.’”

Ordained a priest June 3 at the Jesuit-run Church of the Gesu in Milwaukee, Father Fichtinger is happy to serve at St. Thomas More in his first assignment, which he has for one year.

He particularly looks forward to offering the sacraments, witnessing to the faith, being present to people in major events of their lives and helping people in need.

Although he’s happy to be home, he expects that his ministry with the Jesuits could take him elsewhere. Wherever he goes, he hopes to counsel people and families again, taking a holistic approach.

“The Church wants to love you and help you in how you be whole and healthy,” Father Fichtinger said. “Jesus wants nothing more but this deep and authentic relationship, and if you need help doing that, God wants to support that.”

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