Daily Mass during college years paved road to priesthood

| Susan Klemond for The Catholic Spirit | May 22, 2015 | 0 Comments
Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

The light of faith grew gradually brighter in Deacon Thomas (T.J.) McKenzie’s life until, as a college senior, he could see his vocation to the priesthood clearly enough to pursue it.

Deacon McKenzie, 28, grew up in Maple Grove, the oldest of Tom and Lori McKenzie’s four children. He wasn’t an altar server at his parish, St. Joseph the Worker in Maple Grove, because he feared making a mistake at Mass. He did, however, teach CCD.

When Deacon McKenzie was a high school senior, he watched St. John Paul II’s funeral liturgy and was inspired to read some of the late pontiff’s works.

“I was seeing all these things on television, and all of a sudden a brand new aspect of the Catholic faith was emerging from that,” he said. “I started seeing the beauty of the liturgy and how strong the Catholic faith was in the whole world.”

That summer, he encountered God while praying in a cathedral in Germany and decided he would live his Catholic faith intentionally.

While studying at the University of Minnesota on a scholarship he received because he had been a golf caddie, Deacon McKenzie lived with other caddies near the university’s Newman Center (now St. Lawrence Catholic Church and Newman Center). He attended Mass, began praying the rosary and reading the Bible. Eventually, he arranged his course schedule so he could attend daily Mass.

Though he planned to study physical therapy after graduation, he wondered if God might be calling him instead to the priesthood.

“Through the gradual process of going to Mass [at the Newman Center], I began thinking about the priesthood,” he said. “I had been wrestling with that idea, but no one had really posed it as an option at all when I was in high school.”

What convinced Deacon McKenzie to apply to seminary was Archbishop Emeritus Harry Flynn’s 2009 St. Patrick’s Day homily at the Cathedral of St. Paul about how priests deliver God to the people.

As he entered the St. Paul Seminary that fall with his parents’ support, Deacon McKenzie faced the challenge of living in a community of men zealous for Christ.

One thing that is no longer challenging as he approaches ordination is handling altar vessels — for two years he was responsible for them as the emcee at seminary Masses.

Deacon McKenzie said he is awed by the idea that priests serve as Christ’s ambassadors in the lives of Catholics, and looks forward to taking on that role.

“One thing I’ve come to appreciate more and more is the incarnational aspect of our faith,” he said. “How Jesus himself came in the form of a human person, and for us to realize that we can’t let go of our own humanity while ministering to people.”

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Category: Ordinations