Draw to priesthood came from seeing ‘regular guys’ strive for holiness

| June 3, 2016 | 0 Comments

Part of a series of profiles of nine newly ordained priests in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Father Mark Pavlak, 29, describes himself as a “regular Catholic guy.” With his parents, Reginald and Kathleen, and eight siblings — including a twin sister — he grew up in the parish-school community of St. Agnes in St. Paul. He enjoys reading, watching sports — especially Minnesota pro teams — and playing basketball and card games.

Recently ordained, he wants other young men to know that a call to the priesthood doesn’t have to be dramatic; it can simply mean being open to the possibility.

“Don’t think it can’t happen to you,” he said while sharing his own vocation story. “Don’t think you’re not suitable to be a priest, because if that was the case, then none of us would be here in seminary.”

For Father Pavlak, it wasn’t until he became friends with seminarians while attending the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, majoring in Catholic Studies and economics, that he seriously thought the priesthood might be for him.

“It was kind of my first exposure to men before they became priests,” he recalled. “All the priests I knew in my life, as far as I was ever concerned, were always priests. Now, these guys, who thought they had a call to the priesthood, I knew as just regular guys, and so I could connect myself with that. But they were also striving for holiness, they were men of prayer, men of Scripture, and that was something that was really attractive to me, something I could identify with, that I could see myself in them, too.”

Not yet ready to enter seminary after graduating from college, he worked in youth ministry and taught high school for a year at St. Agnes. But after much prayer, thought and conversation, he entered in the fall of 2011. In retrospect, he said he was in middle school when he first thought of becoming a priest.

“Looking back, you don’t really realize that there are moments of grace or little clues from the Holy Spirit when you’re that age,” he said, recalling inquiries about the potential for priesthood from people at St. Agnes.

In the seminary, Father Pavlak had a particularly memorable experience — although “not one of my shining moments,” he said — when he appeared with two other seminarians on the game show “American Bible Challenge” on the Game Show Network (Episode of local seminarians competing on national Bible game show airs May 22). Along with now Father Marc Paveglio and Deacon Chad VanHoose, the “Sons of Thunder” won $5,000 for NET (National Evangelization Teams) Ministries, a West St. Paul-based Catholic youth retreat ministry organization. Father Pavlak recalled how winning money was never their main focus.

“This was in the midst of the very beginning of when everything blew up here [the clergy sex abuse crisis], and so here we are trying to show that men from our local Church are still excited to be priests . . . to show the love of Christ, the love of the priesthood, the joy of the priesthood to all the viewers, to anybody we encountered, the producers and [others].”

Filmed in November 2013, the contestants were sworn to secrecy about the results until the show aired six months later. “It was good practice for the seal of confession, really,” he said, laughing.

In his priestly ministry, he wants to demonstrate mercy and kindness, and bring a “gentle presence” to penitents. He said he’ll continue to look to the saints and fellow priests for support.

In turn, he’s interested in reaching youth and believes the best way to do that is through supporting their parents, whom he said are the primary educators of their children, including in passing on the faith. Describing adolescent years as formative — “so many things can go right, and so many things can go wrong,” he said — Father Pavlak believes priests need to be present for parents and their children.

“The priest doesn’t need to be the hip, cool, popular priest all the time,” he said. “I think a lot of guys look at themselves and they say, ‘Well, that’s not me, so I guess I have no part doing youth ministry.’ But it’s like, no, of course you do. The youth — everybody — wants to see an authentic priest of Jesus Christ. Whether or not you’re the fun guy or the sports guy or the jokes guy, youth ultimately don’t want that — they want Jesus Christ. And if you can just be an authentic priest and an authentic witness, Christ will do the rest.”

Archbishop Bernard Hebda appointed Father Pavlak parochial vicar of the Church of St. John Neumann in Eagan.

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Category: Ordinations