After ‘testing the Lord,’ priesthood promptings reign

| June 3, 2016 | 1 Comment

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 Joseph Zabinski remembers being mesmerized as a 4-year-old during Mass when the priest would hold up the host for consecration.

His interest in the priesthood started early, but the 29-year-old admits fear stood in the way for many years.

“God writes straight with crooked lines,” he said of his path to the priesthood.

With his parents, Roger and Mary Ann, and three sisters, he grew up in St. Anthony and attended St. Charles Borromeo parish and school. He also went to public school and was homeschooled for a few years before attending St. Agnes High School in St. Paul, where he graduated in 2004.

During high school, his girlfriend asked if he wanted a deeper relationship.

“But I said, ‘You know, I don’t think that’s where God is calling me to,’” Father Zabinski said.

Instead, he was feeling called to examine the promptings that grew through serving at St. Charles and attending Team Vianney retreats at St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul.

“When I went there, I felt a sense of peace, freedom and joy that I didn’t experience anywhere else except for in the adoration chapel at St. Charles,” he said.

But despite the draw of the seminary and the fraternity he experienced there, he was afraid he’d be “falling into a trap” by entering immediately after high school.

“And so I decided to test the Lord a little bit and go to the University of Minnesota,” Father Zabinski said.

He lasted a semester.

Intending to study bio-based products — “learning how to make plastics from corn” — Father Zabinski found the class sizes challenging. There were 350 students in his chemistry class alone, while his graduating class at St. Agnes was 60.

That winter, he attended the archbishop’s annual retreat for men thinking about seminary. He talked to Archbishop Harry Flynn about the thoughts and feelings that SJV retreats stirred.

“And he said, ‘Joe, that could be a calling,’” Father Zabinski said.

Doing God’s will

He enrolled at SJV the next fall, completed the four years, studied two years at the St. Paul Seminary and then, with his spiritual director, discerned he should leave. He felt the need to experience time out of the seminary and “get more comfortable in my own skin,” he said.

After serving with West St. Paul-based NET (National Evangelization Teams) Ministries from 2011 to 2013, Father Zabinski re-entered the seminary and stayed the course.

“Doing the Lord’s will is always the best thing,” he said. “I learned that going to the U of M because I was testing the Lord a little bit, not wanting to do his will.”

Along with a couple of priests who served as his spiritual directors, he credits his parents with helping him through a spiritual journey that was “all over the place,” he said. As Third Order Carmelites, the order’s lay branch whose main charism is prayer, his parents would chant evening prayer, which left an impression on Father Zabinski as he fell asleep each night.

Newly ordained, Father Zabinski plans to take the experiences he’s learned at his teaching parish, St. John the Baptist in Jordan, to his ministry. He has passions for serving young and old; last summer he served at Extreme Faith Camp with teenagers from across the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and has long visited nursing home residents, to whom he can now administer the sacraments. But he most looks forward to celebrating Mass.

“And also [serving] the people of God — I love them,” he said.

Father Zabinski is excited to serve under Archbishop Bernard Hebda, “a very pastoral and loving man,” he said, as he takes to heart the words of St. John Paul II — “Don’t be afraid.”

“As long as you do God’s will, you’ll be the most fulfilled . . . and the most joy-filled, no matter where it takes you,” he said.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda appointed Father Zabinski parochial vicar of the parish cluster of the Church of Saint Paul of Zumbrota, the Church of St. Michael of Pine Island and the Church of the Holy Trinity in Goodhue.

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Category: Ordinations