Deacon Nick VanDenBroeke
Home parish: Guardian Angels, Chaska
Parents’: Bob and Julie VanDenBroeke
Education: Bachelor’s degree in Catholic studies and philosophy from St. John Vianney College Seminary, St. Paul
Teaching parish: St. Charles Borromeo, St. Anthony
Pastoral learning experiences: Hospital ministry (CPE) at Avera McKennan Hospital and University Health Center in Sioux Falls, S.D.; Spanish immersion summer in Mexico; deacon summer at Nativity of Our Lord, St. Paul
Hobbies: Playing basketball; building, fixing and learning about computers
Favorite book: “A Severe Mercy” by Sheldon Vanauken
Favorite movie: “Gladiator”
Person you most admire: Blessed John Paul II
Thanksgiving Mass: 10 a.m. Sunday, May 27, Guardian Angels, Chaska
As a teenager, Deacon Nick VanDenBroeke used to take computers apart and put them back together just for fun.
He was considering studying computer science at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota in Winona when a priest friend invited him to spend a weekend at St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul.
Deacon VanDenBroeke agreed to it “to humor him,” he said. He had no intention of actually joining the seminary. But God had other plans for him, he said during an interview at the St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul just days before he was to be ordained a priest of the archdiocese.
“I could feel the Holy Spirit tugging on me,” he said. “I just felt that this is what the Holy Spirit was asking me to do, to really, seriously look at St. John Vianney, and I felt very much at peace while I was there the whole time.
“By the time I left,” Deacon VanDenBroeke said, “I wanted to sign up for SJV, which is almost a 180 from before I visited. It was very powerful.”
Deacon VanDenBroeke remembers being inspired by the spirituality and maturity of the seminarians at SJV. “Eighty guys would get up at 6:00 every morning, go and pray for an hour, go to Mass and pray from the breviary together, and then go to school. It was something I’d never seen before,” he said.
Deacon VanDenBroeke’s career in computers may have ended before it began, but his passion for technology remains. If anyone at the seminary was having computer troubles, he was always on call to help. He guesses he’s worked on at least a tenth of the computers there.
Deacon VanDenBroeke (pronounced van-den-brookie), the second of four children, attended Guardian Angels School in Chaska through fifth grade, then was home-schooled through high school. Being home-schooled gave him the opportunity to attend daily Mass with his family, something he usually looked forward to even as a child.
As a teenager, he attended retreats and events at NET Ministries in West St. Paul, which he says helped him grow in his faith because he saw other young people excited about being Catholic. Deacon VanDenBroeke also got to know several priests through NET who served as role models for him, he said.
One of Deacon VanDenBroeke’s most interesting — and challenging — experiences during his seminary years was an eight-week Spanish immersion in Guadalajara, Mexico, he said. “They take you to a home that either doesn’t speak any English or they’re not allowed to speak English while you’re there, drop you off on their doorstep, and say, ‘Have a nice summer.’”
Deacon VanDenBroeke studied Spanish with a tutor for six hours a day, five days a week. “It was very intense,” he said. But the effort paid off. Before going to Mexico, he knew only a few words in Spanish. Now he can carry on a conversation, say Mass and even do some preaching in his second language, he said.
During his time at the seminary, Deacon VanDenBroeke also ministered to patients at a hospital, led a parish Bible study and preached at Masses. He spent one semester in Rome.
At the seminary, Deacon VanDenBroeke is perhaps best known for starting an annual basketball tournament between priests and seminarians.
“I wanted people, teens in particular, to be able to see that seminarians are regular men who like to have fun and play sports,” he said. “It has turned out to be a very successful event, with about 200 people showing up the last two years, including many families with young children. We are hoping to continue to expand the tournament in the coming years.”
Deacon VanDenBroeke acknowledges that becoming a priest requires personal sacrifice, but it also brings great joy, he said. “I feel so at peace with the vocation that I have and the way God has led me that I feel very free. It just feels right. This is who I should be.”