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May 6, 2012

ORDINANDI 2012 Meet the new priests

The Archdiocese of Chicago was to welcome 14 new priests on May 12. Half are homegrown and the others come from Poland, Peru, Kenya and Tanzania. They range in age from 25 to 56. All of them are inspired by a desire to bring Christ to their parishioners.

  • Francis Michael Bitterman, 33

    • First assignment: St. Norbert, Northbrook
    • Born in: Elmwood Park
    • Education: St. Vincent Ferrer, Fenwick High School, University of Dallas, Mundelein Seminary
    • Parents: Mary (Ratigan) and the late Joseph Bitterman
    • First Mass: May 20 at 10:30 a.m.; St. Luke, River Forest

    Francis Bitterman thought about the priesthood first while he was in grade school, but he made a lot of detours on his way to ordination. He was an altar server and worked in the parish rectory in high school. He is the youngest of seven sons of a former seminarian, and his uncle is a priest of the Diocese of Joliet. He went to the University of Dallas, dated a girl for all four years and started to practice his faith less frequently.

    After graduation, he moved to Rome to help administer a study-abroad program, and it was there that he fell in love with the faith again, not so much because of treasures of the church that are there, but because of a couple of the students he was working with who routinely invited him to Mass and to pray.

    “They were on fire because of their love for Christ, and I wanted that,” he said.

    When he returned to the United States, he worked for a couple of more years, then entered a missionary congregation, the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity. While he was in the seminary there, he realized his call was to the archdiocesan priesthood.

    His own experience tells him that the way to bring people back to church is simple: have people who already come to Mass invite them. “When they do come, we have to do our part to make the homilies relevant to their lives, to show how Christ is speaking to them where they are,” he said.

  • Thomas J. Boharic, 27

    • First assignment: St. Agnes of Bohemia
    • Born in: LaGrange
    • Education: Blythe Park Elementary, Riverside; Riverside Brookfield High School; University of Illinois at Chicago; Loyola University/St. Joseph College Seminary; Mundelein Seminary
    • Parents: Kathleen Joan (Kane) and Robert V. Boharic
    • First Mass: May 13 at 1:30 p.m. at St. Mary, Riverside

    You could say ministry is all in the family for Thomas Boharic. His father is a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Chicago. But it wasn’t until Boharic was studying music at the University of Illinois at Chicago and became involved with the John Paul II Newman Center there that anyone asked if he had thought about the priesthood. When Father Pat Marshall, the Newman Center chaplain, brought it up, Boharic said, “I was kind of flattered, but I didn’t think I had what it took.”

    The idea stayed with him, though, and when Marshall took him to visit St. Joseph College Seminary at Loyola University, he felt like he was home. He transferred the next year. His sense of vocation was strengthened the summer after his first year in the seminary, when he spent the time at St. Agnes of Bohemia, 2651 S. Central Park Ave. He is delighted to be heading back to St. Agnes in his first assignment as a priest.

    Asked what he can do to draw people back to Mass in the Year of Sunday Mass, starting in July, he said he and other priests must work to make sure their homilies are wellcrafted and engaging, but it goes much deeper than that.

    “It starts from the parishes promoting devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and teaching about the importance of the Mass,” he said.

    Parishioners also should invite people who don’t usually attend Mass to come to church as well, he said.

  • Michael C. Grisolano, 34

    • First assignment: To be determined
    • Born in: Chicago Ridge
    • Education: Our Lady of the Ridge School, Chicago Ridge; Marist High School, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Mundelein Seminary
    • Parents: Marianne (Bilder) and James Grisolano
    • First Mass: May 13 at 11:30 a.m. at Our Lady of the Ridge

    Michael Grisolano got good Catholic teaching at Our Lady of the Ridge and Marist High School, he said, but it was always supplemental to what he had already learned at home from his parents. They were always the primary catechists in his household.

    That didn’t stop him from stepping a little bit away from the faith and enjoying college life, said Grisolano, who stopped attending Mass regularly for a time.

    But he never separated himself completely from the church, and by the end of his time at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he was taking credit classes offered through the Newman Center and learning more about his faith.

    Eventually, while reading John Paul II’s “Love and Responsibility” it dawned on him that perhaps he was called to celibacy. And after that, that maybe he was called to the priesthood.

    “All my heart was with the church,” he said. “I was just on fire.”

    But the fire died down a bit when he was approaching ordination in 2009, and he backed away. “I kept thinking that something would happen to make me more holy or make me more prepared for this momentous moment,” he said.

    He stayed close to the church as a transitional deacon — helping at St. Alphonsus Parish — and now, he said, he is ready to make that commitment.

  • Paul Guzman, 56

    • First assignment: St. Damian, Oak Forest
    • Born in: Chicago
    • Education: St. Christopher School, Midlothian; Brother Rice High School; DePaul University; Holy Apostles Seminary, Cromwell, Conn.
    • Parents: the late Ann Marie (Cosgrove) and the late Hector Guzman
    • First Mass: To be determined

    The priesthood is not the first vocation Paul Guzman has lived. For 10 years, he was a police officer with the U.S. Department of Justice. Then he left and joined a Benedictine monastery for a few years, before working as a nurse for 17 years. And 10 years ago, he was ordained to the permanent diaconate.

    It was during his formation for the diaconate that Guzman first felt that he might be called to the priesthood, Guzman said. He took his time exploring the idea before entering the seminary.

    He thinks his early vocations, in law enforcement and as a nurse, will serve him well in his ministry.

    “In all my experience, I’ve been dealing with people in crisis, people at their worst moments,” he said. “I know how to live with life and death emergencies, I know how to stay calm, but most of all, I know how to listen.”

    Guzman said he doesn’t think he was called earlier and didn’t hear it. “Maybe I got sent this way because there were things I had to learn, gifts I had to develop,” he said. “Maybe it was a purposeful detour.”

    On the topic of religious freedom, he said, the U.S. bishops were acting prudently and slowly, until the government tipped its hand about what it wants the role of the church to be.“

    Now we have to get very active and make our voices heard,” Guzman said. “Catholics need to send letters to their representative, letters to the editor. Let the government know that there are voices out there.

  • Robert Krueger, 28

    • First assignment: St. Bede the Venerable
    • Born in: Hoffman Estates
    • Education: St. Mary, Buffalo Grove; Stevenson High School, Lincolnshire; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Mundelein Seminary
    • Parents: Dina (Cerrone) and Robert Krueger
    • First Mass: May 12 at 4:30 p.m. at St. Mary, Buffalo Grove

    Robert (Bobby) Krueger knows that even for many of the people who show up for Mass every week, it’s an obligation, something to get out of the way, not a joyful encounter with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

    He knows because he once felt that way himself. “I’ve been playing piano at Mass basically my whole life,” said Krueger, who has a degree in music education from the University of Illinois. “And that was why I went: because I had to play.”

    That changed for him when he went to World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002, where he recognized the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist for the first time, an experience that cemented his faith as a Catholic. Shortly after that, he arrived at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and encountered the St. John Catholic Newman Center, where he made faith-filled and faithful friends, and met his spiritual director. He also learned about Totus Tuus, a program in which college-age young adults spend the summer offering Catholic day camps at various parishes. He spent two summers doing that in the Archdiocese of Denver, and came home to suggest it to Father Joe Noonan, then the archdiocese’s vocations director, that the archdiocese start the program here.

    To bring more people to church during the Year of Sunday Mass, he thinks priests should work to awaken a real love of the Eucharist in the hearts of those who attend Mass every Sunday. “If you help that group fall in love with the Mass, then they are our best evangelists,” he said.

  • Mariusz G. Manka, 28

    • First assignment: St. Francis Xavier, Wilmette
    • Born in: Kielce, Poland
    • Education: Gen. Stanislaw Maczek School, Kielce, Poland; high school minor seminary Czestochowa, Poland; major seminary in Kielce, Poland and Mundelein Seminary
    • Parents: Krystyna (Kwiecien) and Stanislaw Manka
    • First Mass: May 13 at 11 a.m. at Our Lady Mother of the Church

    Mariusz Manka says the road to priesthood for him was not very simple, although he felt a call to the priestly vocation early on in his life and entered minor seminary when he was 15. After graduating, he planned to leave the seminary, at least for a time, and study psychology at university. But he changed his mind and ended up entering the major seminary in Kielce, Poland. “I decided to follow the loud voice from my heart which called me to the priesthood,” he said.

    After four years in the major seminary, he decided to come to Chicago and study for the priesthood here.

    “I think that it was the best decision I have ever made in my life,” he said. “I am so happy and very excited that I have an opportunity to serve God and people in the U.S.A.”

    To help people understand the need for us to practice our religion freely, he said, we as Chirstians must be willing to show the world our faith, “I think that people should not be afraid to show that they are Christian,” he said. “We should not be afraid that we believe, and we should not be ashamed that we do so. If somebody is threatening us we should respond with even greater sign of love and faith.”

    As the Archdiocese of Chicago prepares to start the year of Sunday Mass, Manka said he would concentrate his efforts on showing young people the “real beauty” of the Eucharist.

    “People have to realize that without young people, without this strong fundament of the church there will be nobody to carry the tradition” he said. “These youth will carry the great example of good faith, and in the future they will encourage their children to participate in the Eucharist for their own salvation.”

  • Gilbert Rushubirwa Mashurano, 32

    • First assignment: St. James, Arlington Heights
    • Born in: Bukoba, Tanzania
    • Education: Mugana & Amani Primary School and Jamhuri & Dakawa High School in Tanzania; Salvatorian Institute of Philosophy & Theology, Tanzania; Mundelein Seminary
    • Parents: Francisca Kokuteta Mashurano and the late John Chrizostom Rugizibwa
    • First Mass: May 12 at 4 p.m. at St. Eulalia, Maywood

    Gilbert Mashurano said he started thinking about a vocation to the priesthood when he was in sixth grade. His uncle, a priest of the Bukoba diocese in Tanzania, came to visit his family several times, and the young Gilbert took him as a role model. After high school, Mashurano joined the Precious Blood Congregation, which was the beginning of his journey toward priesthood.

    Mashurano has been following the recent threats to religious liberty and the U.S. bishops’ reaction. “I agree with the statement from the Catholic bishops in the United States, who said: ‘We have been staunch defenders of religious liberty in the past. We have a solemn duty to discharge that duty today… for religious liberty is under attack, both at home and abroad.’ Our responsibility is to help people understand what religious liberty means, and how the government is attacking it,” he said.

    On the topic of getting more Catholics to understand the importance of attending Mass each Sunday, Mashurano said, “The only way is to keep praying and asking God to increase faith to his people.”

  • Anthony Nyoro Muraya, 36

    • First assignment: St. Paul of the Cross, Park Ridge
    • Born in: Nairobi, Kenya
    • Education: Primary and secondary school in Kenya, Consolata Institute, Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Order of St. Augustine and Mundelein Seminary
    • Parents: Lucy (Wanjiku) and the late Wilson Muraya
    • First Mass: May 12, St. John Berchmans and May 13, St. Paul of the Cross, Park Ridge

    Anthony Muraya was raised a Presbyterian until he moved in with his grandmother, who taught him about the Catholic faith and encouraged him to learn from the local parish priest, over the objections of his father.

    The third of nine children, Muraya was baptized at 16 and became active in his parish. His pastor told him about missionary work, and where priests were needed.

    “He told me of the shortage of vocations and the decline in faith in the West and especially in the U.S., his country of origin,” Muraya said. “I cannot remember how many times he told me that it will be our task, young Africans, to re-evangelize Europe and America. I could entertain the idea of being a priest, but for sure not going outside my country and especially not away from my grandmother.”

    But after spending a year working and discerning his vocation after high school, Muraya joined the Augustinians, with whom he studied for eight years. He decided then that he was called to the diocesan priesthood, and his pastor put him in touch with a missionary priest who had helped other Kenyans into the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Chicago, and he followed in their footsteps.

    “The path was not always smooth,” he said. “External factors and my own indecisiveness oftentimes made things difficult. Special thanks to my grandmother; under her feet did I learn the joy of being a son and now a priest of Jesus.”

    Muraya says Catholics must insist on their right to practice their faith, and to do so publicly.

    Our faith is not a matter of convenience that should be hung in the closet whenever we feel it is a bother and brought out whenever we find some use for it,” he said “Far be it! Our faith should impact all aspects of our lives, private and public so that anyone who sees us sees not just us but the love of Christ reflected in us.”

  • Matthew Sean O’Donnell, 25

    • First assignment: St. Ailbe
    • Born in: Bridgeview
    • Education: Bridgeview Elementary, Bridgeview; Wilkins Junior High, Justice; St. Laurence High School, Burbank; Loyola University Chicago/St. Joseph College Seminary; Mundelein Seminary
    • Parents: Anita (Damico) and Kevin O’Donnell
    • First Mass: May 20 at 3 p.m. at St. Fabian, Bridgeview

    Matthew O’Donnell first heard the call to priesthood when he was a sophomore at St. Laurence High School, Burbank. But at the time, he ignored it “and continued on with life, as I wanted it to be.”

    But God didn’t leave him alone. The call to priesthood intensified when he went to Taize, France, for a retreat during his sophomore year at Loyola University Chicago. The next year, he transferred to St. Joseph College Seminary at Loyola.

    He also worked as an intern on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development in the archdiocese. In that position, he learned about the archdiocese, met priests and visited parishes. He credits the people in the parishes where he has served during his seminary career— St. Agatha, St. Ailbe and others— with encouraging him.

    “My vocation would have never come to fruition without the constant support of people in the parishes,” he said.

    He said he will try to emphasize the importance of the Eucharist and of attending Mass each week.

    “The best way to encourage people to participate in the Sunday Mass is to preach the importance of the Eucharist, and the best way to preach it is by showing, through my daily living, how the Eucharist has transformed me, how much I need the Eucharist to be nourished and strengthened for the everyday challenges we face,” he said. In addition to his studies at Mundelein, he is pursuing a master’s degree in theology through the Institute for Black Catholic Studies of Xavier University of Louisiana.

  • Piotr Rapcia, 28

    • First assignment: St. John Brebeuf, Niles
    • Born in: Starachowice, Poland
    • Education: Elementary school in Jeziorko, Poland; high school in Bodzentyn, Poland; seminary in Kielce, Poland, and Mundelein Seminary
    • Parents: Janina (Piwowarczyk) and Marian Rapcia
    • First Mass: May 13 at 11 a.m. at St. Odilo, Berwyn

    Piotr Rapcia said that becoming a priest was not something he or his family thought about for him when he was young child growing up in Starachowice, Poland, but his family was always faithful to the church.

    “My family has believed in this even when we were in hard times and the weekly Eucharist has helped us to fulfill our spiritual needs,” he said.

    As he began to discern a vocation to the priesthood as a young adult, he originally wanted to become a missionary and go to work in foreign countries. But he soon changed his mind and decided to come to the United States.

    He first learned about the Bishop Abramowicz Seminary from a fellow seminarian at St. Joseph College Seminary. In August 2007, at age 24, he came to the Bishop Abramowicz Seminary at Holy Innocents Parish. While there he studied English and helped with pastoral ministry at Holy Innocents Parish and St. Odilo Parish in Berwyn. “It was a great experience because at that time I did not know English and these parishes helped me to practice,” he said.

  • Krzysztof Maciej Swierczynski, 30

    • First assignment: St. Mary, Riverside
    • Born in: Jedrzejow, Poland
    • Education: Elementary school in Zarczyce Duze, Poland; Mikolaj Rej’s High School, Jedrzejow, Poland; major seminary in Kielce, Poland, and Mundelein Seminary
    • Parents: Jadwiga Bieronska-Swierczynski and Edward Swierczynski
    • First Mass: May 12 at 5 p.m. at St. Thecla

    Krzyzstof Swierczynski first thought of the priesthood when he began serving at the altar after his First Communion. His thoughts of a priestly vocation waned as he became a teenager, only to return at the end of high school and when he was in university. He spent five years in the major seminary in Poland, and chose to come to the United States to finish his studies at the invitation of friends who were already here.

    Swierczyski hears echoes of life in Poland under communism when he considers the threats to religious freedom now apparent in the United States. “I was born and first years of my life lived in a communistic country where government told people what was right and what they must do,” he said. “If somebody disagreed or had his own opinion, he must be aware of repressions from the government. Everybody looked at that time to the U.S.A. People saw in the freedom guaranteed by the U.S. constitution an ideal place. People dreamed of living in a free country like the U.S.A.”

    That changed with the recent mandate that employers — including many Catholic institutions such as schools, universities and hospitals — offer insurance plans that cover contraception to their employees.

    “The decision made recently by the U.S. government, forcing Catholic organizations to agree with them in my view is like a deja vu of communism in Poland; however no one will name it in this way,” he said.

  • Javier Vilchez, 30

    • First assignment: Our Lady of Mercy
    • Born in: Jaén, Peru
    • Education: Ramon Castilla Elementary and Alfonso Villanueva Pinillos High School in Peru; Pontifical Faculty of Theology at Lima, Peru; Mundelein Seminary
    • Parents: Blanca Estela Parra-Castillo and Cristobal Vilchez-Nuñez
    • First Mass: May 13 at 12:30 p.m. at St. Mark

    Javier Vilchez fell away from the church as a young teenager, finding the church and the Mass “boring.” His mother, he said, prayed for him to come back to the church. Her prayer was answered in dramatic fashion. He was hiking up a mountain road with a friend when he was a senior in high school when a car nearly ran them down. When he jumped out of the car’s way, he slipped and started rolling down the mountain. But he stopped after about 25 feet, and after that, he promised God that he would not only return to the church but also attend seminary.

    Vilchez was with the Passionist congregation in Peru for about eight years before discerning that his vocation lay elsewhere. He came to Chicago and Casa Jesus in 2007, and found his vocation as a diocesan priest.

    Religious freedom, he said, is a primary human right and it has been threatened recently in the United States. “I think the church, especially the laity, should never cease to speak about their beliefs,” he said. “We are urged by the Gospel and Jesus to speak always the truth.”

    Catholics also must embrace the truth that they are called not only to attend Mass, but to participate. If they understood that all are called to be part of the Eucharist, the source and summit of the faith, he said, more people would come to Mass every Sunday.

  • James F. Wallace, 26

    • First assignment: Mary Seat of Wisdom, Park Ridge, before returning to Rome in the fall for further education
    • Born in: Winnetka
    • Education: Sts. Faith Hope and Charity School, Winnetka; New Trier High School, Winnetka; George Washington University; The Pontifical North American College, Rome
    • Parents: Lorraine (Monaco) and Donald Wallace
    • First Mass: May 12 at 5 p.m. at Sts. Faith Hope and Charity, Winnetka

    James Wallace said the seeds of his priestly vocation were planted early in life, even if he didn’t recognize what was growing within him until college. His parents and family had the biggest influence, he said, but teachers and coaches also taught him to live a moral and faith-filled life. “I first really proactively identified with the Catholic faith when I was on the baseball team at New Trier during the height of the sex abuse crisis in the spring of 2002,” he said. “It was highly unpopular to associate with the Catholic Church, particularly in a public school, but I continued to identify as a Catholic and go to Mass, as well as really think about the meaning and importance of priesthood.” Those thoughts were reinforced when he started attending daily Mass during college.

    Asked about religious freedom, he suggested that Catholics focus on living their faith. “A meaningful way for people to exercise their faith is to live a life of joy and love,” he said. “People can respond to the threat to religious freedom by continuing to participate in the sacraments and loving one another.”

    Seeing fellow Catholics living in the joy of Christ will help draw those who have fallen away back to Mass, he said.

    “Emphasizing that Mass and participation in the Body of Christ makes one’s life even better, giving meaning to relationships and work is an effective message,” he said, and added, “Good preaching is helpful to attracting people.”

  • Marcin Zasada, 33

    • First assignment: St. Ladislaus
    • Born in: Wielun, Poland
    • Education: Elementary and high school in Poland, Pontifical Academy of Theology in Krakow, Poland, Mundelein Seminary
    • Parents: Wanda (Makuch) and Henryk Zasada
    • First Mass: May 13 at 11 a.m. at St. Damian, Oak Forest

    Before Marcin Zasada came to the United States in 2007, he had not communicated in English, not at all, he said. So learning to “adapt to a new reality was full of challenges,” he said. “Today, I have four years of experience in the United States, and I am enjoying the possibility of interacting with its multicultural diversity.”

    Zasada started studying civil law in Poland after finishing high school, but in the middle of his studies, he changed course and entered Czestochowa Seminary and to the Pontifical Academy of Theology. In June 2007, he graduated and received a master’s degree in theology with a thesis on “An analysis of the crimes against the sacrament of reconciliation in view of the Code of Canon Law promulgated in 1983.”

    Zasada said he had considered the priesthood while in high school, especially after attending a retreat at a seminary, but did not want to give up his childhood dream of becoming a judge.

    “I’m convinced it was a great struggle between me and God,” he said. “Additionally, I was uncomfortable with the values and mores that I saw in my university’s friends living by. While observing their actions, I recalled my mother’s words which she often repeated in the past: “Marcin, life is so beautiful. And the art of living is to live well, to be honest and to be faithful.”

    He came to Chicago in August of that year and entered Bishop Abramowicz Seminary, where he spent a year learning English, before going to Mundelein Seminary the following year. He completed the academic requirements at Mundelein in 2011; since then, he has been assisting as a deacon at St. Damian Parish in Oak Forest.