Seminarian retreat features prayer, fellowship and fun on the shores of Lake Mille Lacs
Father Troy Przybilla should have been proud to show off his fishing boat at the dock on Lake Mille Lacs.
He wasn’t. In fact, he was a bit sheepish when I stopped to admire the 18-foot Lund Pro V with a Johnson 140-horsepower outboard motor that sat gleaming in the water. In my view, it was a fitting craft on this most regal of lakes.
“I feel a little self-conscious driving it as a priest,” he admitted, “especially after Father [Michael] Izen’s talk on poverty.”
Yet, peel back the layers a bit and you uncover a significant reason why the vocations director for the archdiocese has ownership of such a vessel.
“This boat was my dad’s [Ken Przybilla],” Father Przybilla explained. “It was his dream boat before he passed away [a year ago in May].”
The helm of this fine fishing machine was fittingly passed down to the man Ken taught to fish way back in early childhood. The two spent many hours in a boat together, which had more than a little to do with discerning a priestly vocation for the younger Przybilla.
Spiritual and recreational
I’m sure Ken would be proud to see how his son is using the boat today. On a beautiful, summer evening last week, the priest took turns taking out men from St. Paul Seminary and St. John Vianney College Seminary onto the lake.
They caught a few fish, and even tried to get one of the seminarians up on water skis.
I was there to witness the attempt and, hopefully, document Kevin Manthey slicing across the gentle waves. But, he never was able to get up above the water.
After some gentle teasing by two of the other guys in the boat, Corey Manning and Ben Butler, it was on to some fishing.
The relaxing time on the water was an important part of a two-day retreat for the men before things get cranked up at both institutions when the school year begins after Labor Day.
For people like Paul Shovelain, a third-year seminarian at SPS on track for ordination to the transitional diaconate at the end of this school year, switching the event to the outdoors a year ago was a welcome change.
Last year, the retreat was held for one day at Father Hennepin State Park on the south shore of the lake in Isle Bay. This year, it was bumped up to two days, with the first focusing on the spiritual and the second focusing on the recreational.
“It’s a heckuva lot better than it was seven years ago when I began at the [SJV] seminary,” Shovelain said. “The way we used to do it was in the basement of the Cathedral.”
He went on: “We talk about how men grow together by doing things, and this is one of those things. We had guys out fishing, we had guys out tubing — some for the first time — some guys playing catch.”
All in all, a fun time was had by all, with well over half of the seminarians choosing to stay for Day 2, which was optional. Fittingly, the second day was capped by a rosary around a bonfire, just a stone’s throw for the water’s edge and a beautiful sunset that seemed to say God was pleased with the gathering.
How could he not be? Here are men either considering or pursuing priesthood in a culture that says chastity is crazy and obedience to church teaching bigoted.
One thing became certain in my conversations with some of these men — they know what they’re up against.
“It’s difficult in these trying times and constant battle with the media,” said Manthey, also a third-year seminarian at SPS. “This calls for a constant charity and growth in virtue. We’re called to still love these people — love your enemies.”
I, for one, do not underestimate this challenge — loving, and forgiving, those who scream at us Catholics and label us as bigoted homophobes. Yet, in the calm serenity of God’s creation, young men like Manthey and Shovelain seem as determined as they can be to walk the path to the Roman collar.
“I’m pursuing this because my heart has been taken by the God who is love,” Manthey said. “I can only find my personal joy and fulfillment if I’m faithful to that love. My hope lies in the fact that the Lord, through the church, has nothing in mind but the well-being of every person.”
It amazes me how guys can spend two days enjoying the outdoors and, in the midst of all the fun, remain focused on their vocation.
In fact, my conversation with Shovelain lasted so long, we nearly missed dinner — grilled hamburgers, one of my all-time favorite meals.
But, I was so captivated by what he had to say, even the smell of charcoal didn’t deter me from hearing his vocations story.
And, what a story it is. Like many native Minnesotans, he grew up enjoying the outdoors. When his grandfather, Elroy Shovelain, bought a house on a lake, young Paul would come over many times in the summer. The two would fish ‘til dark, go in for dinner, then go back out the next morning.
“I treasure those times,” he said, noting that Elroy died 10 years ago.”It was good just to spend time with my grandpa.”
He also enjoyed being with his grandmother, Irene, who cooked the meals at the lake home for her husband and grandson. But there’s much more to the relationship than that.
“She’s wonderful,” Paul said. “She’s one of my biggest supporters. She had a heart attack three years ago when I was a senior at SJV. She said one of the reasons she wanted to live was to see me be ordained a priest.”
Sure looks like she will get her wish. Her health is good, and Shovelain already is envisioning himself as a priest. If everything goes according to plan, he will be ordained a priest in May 2014.
Yes, he is thinking that far ahead even now. Inspired by numerous outdoor experiences, including a trip to Alaska in 2006 with Father Michael Becker, rector of SJV, and other seminarians, he has imagined celebrating Mass in a location where the only wood is the trees surrounding him.
“I’d love to [celebrate Mass] in the Boundary Waters [Canoe Area] or somewhere like that,” he said. “Or, even the North Shore [of Lake Superior]. I think the North Shore is even better. . . . The views are fantastic.”
I told Paul to contact me when this happens.
I want to be in the front row.