Faces of mission – Father Steve Pawelk

| October 6, 2010 | 0 Comments

Glenmary Father Steve Pawelk, 50, just celebrated the 25th anniversary of his first profession with the Glenmary Home Missioners. He attended St. Timothy church and school in Maple Lake, where many family members still live and worship. During the summer before his sophomore year of college, he served six weeks in mission service with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in St. Paul and three weeks in Guatemala with the Maryknoll Missioners. Both experiences motivated him to consider the life of a missioner. Soon after graduating from St. John’s University in Collegeville, he  volunteered with Glenmary. He served 10 years as the Glenmary vocation director and is currently on sabbatical at the Institute for Continuing Theological Education at the North American College in Rome.

How did you become interested in missionary work?

Father Steve Pawelk

I credit the Benedictine Sisters from St. Joseph, who taught me in grade school for my first six years. Volunteering and serving others was always part of my upbringing. Also, I kept thinking of places where the Catholic faith was not strong and where there were people living in poverty.

How was your service connected to you faith? What did it teach you about faith?

I was blessed during my 10th-grade year to have a very deep spiritual experience. The result is, the Bible became part of my regular life, so much so that, by the beginning of my senior year, I was reading it every day. Matthew 25 always stayed with me as what we need to do, as well as Matthew 28:16. The Acts of the Apostles also inspired me to journey out and spread the Good News to others. When I did simple volunteer work at the Catholic church during my senior year of high school or the numerous volunteer services during college, I always felt I was trying to do what Jesus would do. As I entered more deeply into the missionary spirit of helping those most in need, my faith grew with a sense of joy and happiness.

Talk about one memorable story from your life as a missionary.

Two stories I enjoy telling are about the oldest person I baptized and a family who joined the church.

The oldest person I baptized was 98 years old. Her daughter-in-law was Catholic but not married in the church for a variety of reasons. When she came down with cancer, I helped reconcile her back to the church. Later, the son on his death bed asked to be baptized Catholic and was thus buried from the church. This left his mother alone, since he was an only child. I visited her once a week. One day, I asked her why she was never baptized. Her response was, “You see my neighbor over there,” pointing to the next farmhouse over, “Their dog chases and sometimes kills my chickens. How can I be baptized since I do not love them because they don’t control their dog?” She was baptized and attended Mass two weeks before she died. This was in southern Georgia.

The other story takes place in Mississippi where I was pastor for six years. Every year, I placed a large ad in the local paper, inviting people to come to the inquiry portion of the RCIA. The advertisement was titled, “Curious about Catholics: A six-week session where all questions are welcomed.” Leonard and his family responded. In time, many of them were received into the Catholic Church. Today, Leonard has completed a master’s degree in pastoral theology and is the administrator of the parish.

What was the most important lesson you learned from your experience?

One lesson I have learned is do your best and God will do the rest. Jesus’ love for folks who are poor, who are sinners, who are lost or lonely is far greater than mine. He is there first and working very hard to bring everyone into his loving flock. Millions of people are in need of his love. Yet, all I have to do is love God and love my neighbor. If I do one loving act a day, God will multiply it 10 times to build his kingdom.

What would you like others to know about being a missionary?

The last three popes have reminded us that the church is missionary by nature and that all the baptized are called to mission. Some of us dedicate our entire life to going to places where the faith is weak or not evident and where there is a lack of resources, both materially and spiritually. We can all be missionaries. Going out to all the world includes your own neighborhood.


Category: World Mission Sunday