Former Navy officer zeroes in on priesthood

| May 25, 2011 | 0 Comments

Deacon Kracke

Deacon Cole Kracke, center, talks with Risa Stalboerger, right, and Julie McNamara, left, at an event for moms at St. Joseph in West St. Paul. Stalboerger belongs to St. Joseph and McNamara belongs to St. Agnes in St. Paul. Photo by Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Deacon Cole Kracke’s life story could have been ripped from the pages of a spy thriller.

A cryptologist for the U.S. Navy, he scanned communication frequencies for assassination plots and tracked drug runners in the Gulf of Mexico. He was a surface warfare officer on a guided missile destroyer. Oh, and he speaks Russian.

But even he couldn’t have predicted the plot twist God was penning for his life.

Deacon Kracke, from Burnsville, did not grow up Catholic. When he joined the Navy, he had to declare a religious preference, so he chose Catholicism because he had attended Catholic Masses when he was in high school.

At his base chapel in Spain, Deacon Kracke spoke with the chaplain about becoming Catholic. “He put me on a real quick crash course so I could be baptized and enter in at the Easter Vigil that April,” Deacon Kracke said.

Shortly after becoming Catholic, Deacon Kracke considered the priesthood. “I had all kinds of other goals and aspirations, so I didn’t pursue it,” he said, “but I continued to be active [in my faith].”

While based in Spain, he went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with other members of the chapel community. “I’d done a lot of traveling with the Navy, but that Holy Land trip . . . probably will go down still to this day as my most exciting trip, and certainly it had some sort of impact,” he said.

Five years later, Deacon Kracke considered the priesthood again as he was being transferred to Washington. “It kind of popped into my mind, I don’t know why, just out of the blue,” he said. “But I was not in a position where I could have acted on it because I had just reenlisted for another six years of military service.”

Leap of faith

At the age of 29, Deacon Kracke was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes, which cut short his Navy career.

With plans to attend law school, he worked in campus ministry at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., where he studied philosophy.

Around that time, Pope John Paul II died. Inspired by the pope’s life, Deacon Kracke entered St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore. “I took that leap,” he said.

On April 16, 2007, Deacon Kracke was a first-year seminarian when a gunman killed 32 people and wounded many others at nearby Virginia Tech.

“I had just gotten back from my spring break seeing family in Hawaii,” he recalled. “Two days later, I was in Blacksburg, Va., the site of the worst mass shooting in the nation’s history. . . . I was at the campus ministry house at Virginia Tech the week of the shooting talking with students who were telling me what was happening in the classrooms as the bullets were coming through the door.”

Deacon Kracke slept at the Newman Center for a week to be present for students coming in at all hours. He also was an altar server at a slain student’s funeral.

“That Virginia Tech event was a huge factor in my remaining in seminary,” he said. “I was getting ready to make a decision at that point that I was probably going to leave. Being able to minister to the community, the college kids, helped me in my discernment. . . . Any fears or apprehensions were completely eliminated.”

Eventually, Deacon Kracke, sensing a calling to return to Minnesota, transferred to the St. Paul Seminary, where he completed his studies.

A member of the fraternity of priests and seminarians called Companions of Christ and an aviation buff, Deacon Kracke said what he most looks forward to as a priest is “walking with people on their journey, . . . just being present with them at weddings, funerals, baptisms.

“I think it’s very humbling to be allowed into people’s lives like that,” he added, “and really there’s no person other than the priest who would ever be trusted with that. . . . It’s a very privileged role to have.”

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Category: Ordinations