Priestly jubilees: Celebrating lives in service to the Church

| June 25, 2020 | 0 Comments

This year, 16 archdiocesan priests are celebrating 10, 25 or 50 years of ministry. The Catholic Spirit asked three of them to share their stories: Father Gregory Skrypek at 50 years, Father Michael Van Sloun at 25 years and Father Erik Lundgren at 10 years.

In their stories, the three priests demonstrate the Spirit’s work in the Church, in their ministries and in their hopes for the future.


Uniting merged parishes

Father Erik Lundgren has spent his first 10 years as a priest managing merged parishes and helping them become one — responsibilities he feels may be an important part of priests’ lives in the future.

“I’d say the one great takeaway is needing to learn how to pace yourself, needing to learn how to ask for help because the more that gets combined under one person’s responsibility, the less time one has to figure out things on their own,” said Father Lundgren, 37, pastor of Sts. Joachim and Anne in Shakopee, which formed in 2012 through the merger of three parishes.

Since his 2010 ordination, Father Lundgren has served at merged parishes as well as smaller ones in the southern area of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. At the same time, he has worked with parish schools and bilingual ministry. As Father Lundgren has gained experience, he’s also put on a lot of mileage traveling between parish campuses.

Father Lundgren grew up in a family that valued but also at times questioned the Catholic faith, which he said has helped him explain it to others. He began considering priesthood as a teen, influenced by his pastor at Our Lady of Grace in Edina, the late Father Bob Cassidy. After college, Father Lundgren decided to try The St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, and when it gave him joy, he didn’t leave.

His first assignment was to the parishes of Divine Mercy in Faribault, St. Michael in Kenyon and
St. Patrick in Shieldsville. As Father Lundgren adjusted to serving Divine Mercy and two other parishes, he was inspired by the energy and engaging tone of Father Kevin Finnegan, then-pastor of Divine Mercy.

In 2014, Father Lundgren was transferred to
Sts. Joachim and Anne and four years later became pastor. Three church buildings are used for worship, and the parish school, Shakopee Area Catholic School, is located on another site.

Leading communities that once had distinct identities is challenging because people continue to gather on different campuses, Father Lundgren said. As he works to create one parish family, Father Lundgren has learned to accompany parishioners through significant changes.

While trying to unite parishioners, he has also ministered to Latino Catholics during his assignments. Reflecting on his mother’s experience as a Belgian immigrant has helped him to better understand issues immigrant parishioners face, he said.

In working with parish schools, Father Lundgren said he’s been surprised at their power to form souls and introduce young people to the faith.

Encouraging the talents of school and church employees and asking for help have helped him grow in humility, he said.

“The reality of how much needs to get done in a large, multi-campus, merged-parish assignment really forces one to discern, ‘What are my greatest priorities in life, and what do I value most when time is limited?’”

Despite challenges, Father Lundgren said the highlight of his first decade of priesthood has been offering Mass.

“Letting yourself be used by God to make God present in a physical way to people is beyond our ability to completely appreciate,” he said.


Teaching about Scripture

Father Michael Van Sloun began giving lectures to seminarians when he was a religious brother, and he has continued to teach in different ways since leaving religious life to become a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Now celebrating 25 years as a priest, the pastor of St. Bartholomew in Wayzata instructs parishioners, those he leads on pilgrimage and, in his monthly Faith Fundamentals column, readers of The Catholic Spirit, about the Catholic faith and Scripture.

“I’ve watched person after person come to new insight about the faith and understand their faith better, and that puts joy in my heart,” said Father Van Sloun, 68, who also spent 23 years as a Crosier brother.

His boyhood faith inspired by priests at Incarnation, his south Minneapolis parish, Father Van Sloun considered attending the archdiocese’s preparatory seminary until he visited an Onamia, Minnesota, seminary run by the Canons Regular of the Order of the Holy Cross, commonly known as the Crosiers. He joined the community as a religious brother in 1972 because of its fellowship, spirituality and commitment to service.

Still sensing a call to the priesthood in the late 1980s, Father Van Sloun decided to pursue the possibility. With his superiors’ approval, he studied at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and was ordained at St. Odilia in Shoreview in 1995.

Father Van Sloun’s first priestly assignment was at St. Stephen in Anoka, then run by the Crosiers. Six years later, he was appointed as pastor of the parish, which then had 4,400 families. When the Crosiers shifted their vision to de-emphasize ministry work and withdrew from St. Stephen in 2004, Father Van Sloun began serving there as a diocesan priest. He was formally incardinated into the archdiocese in 2006.

Father Van Sloun missed the Crosiers’ community life, but as a diocesan priest, his parishes have become his community.

“They are truly different vocations, so I’ve had a chance to have a foot in both worlds,” he said.

His experience also helped him mentor and build collegiality with the many new associate priests who served with him at St. Stephen.

Since being appointed pastor of “St. Bart’s” in 2013, Father Van Sloun hasn’t worked with associates. He celebrates all the Masses for the parish’s 1,500 families, which has given him more opportunities to get to know them.

“All of a sudden, the connection I have to the parishioners is even stronger, because I have more contact with regular parishioners,” he said.

Along with leading St. Bartholomew, Father Van Sloun instructs Catholics through parish Bible studies and the columns he’s written for The Catholic Spirit since 2007.

“We’re trying to go right at the heart of the way people live out the prayer part of their faith, and if they understand it, they’ll appreciate it more and it will give them more strength,” he said.

Looking back on his ministry as both a religious and diocesan priest, Father Van Sloun said he is grateful for the entire 25 years. “I would do this again in a minute, for sure.”


Seeking common ground

As a prison chaplain, Father Gregory Skrypek tried to find connecting points with non-Catholic inmates, and he’s done the same while serving Catholics in parishes.

“It was an experience of making things common,” Father Skrypek said of his 50 years of priesthood. “I was amazed at how people received me. … What I learned was not what I taught.”

From serving in his home parish to decades of prison work and now part-time ministry in retirement, Father Skrypek, 77, reflected on his ministry as he undergoes prostate cancer treatment.

After attending St. Columba’s parish school, Father Skrypek pursued the priesthood first at Nazareth Hall, the archdiocese’s former preparatory seminary, and then at The St. Paul Seminary, both in St. Paul.

During seminary he served as a counselor at then-St. Joseph’s Home for Children in St. Paul. He took a year off from seminary to continue discerning and working at the home.

After his 1970 ordination, Father Skrypek was assigned to his home parish, St. Columba. He was transferred to the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis in 1977 and served for three years, including as parochial administrator while starting the parish council.

Because of his experience working with troubled kids, Father Skrypek was asked to serve as chaplain at the Hennepin County Adult Correction Facility in 1980. After seven years there, he said he thought he was ready to go back into a parish. But instead he was asked to take over the chaplaincy at the Minnesota Correction Facility-Stillwater.

“I said, ‘That’s the natural progression, isn’t it? You go from jail to prison.’” He served prison inmates for 22 years.

As a chaplain, Father Skrypek learned to listen while frequently serving men with addictions. “It taught me to center myself wherever I am,” he said. “God is the answer, and it’s not so much that I need to answer, but the answer is in listening to people’s questions and being part of … that growth.”

While Father Skrypek served Catholics at the prison, all the inmates saw him as their chaplain.

“I never went into the prison as a prison,” he said. “It was my assignment, so I went into the prison realizing that I needed to respect that’s where they lived, and I tried to see it that way.”

Grateful for his chaplain experience, Father Skrypek said he learned more deeply the meaning of Christianity. “I jumped into an experience where there was so much to take in and it was so good, it didn’t seem like 30 years.”

Since leaving prison ministry in 2009, Father Skrypek has served part time at Assumption in
St. Paul. The active parish has kept him busy, although he has slowed down some.

In his various assignments, Father Skrypek said, what’s shaped his ministry is trying to be humble and accompany people in difficulties.

“When you’re with people in their journey, they can cry only for so long,” he said. “I’ve laughed so deeply with people at seemingly the hardest times when they come to an awareness. That’s a good place to be at this time in my life.”

— Stories by Susan Klemond and photos by Dave Hrbacek

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Category: Jubilees