Small Diocese, Great Vocations

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The Diocese of Victoria was recently blessed by two wonderful events. We received our new bishop, Bishop Brendan Cahill, and welcomed our largest priestly ordination in diocesan history. I had not known Fr Jacob, and am very happy that he is serving at our parish. He recently shared his time and thoughts for this interview.

[Addendum: In the interview, Fr. Jacob mentions his favorite beer. I do ask that all beer donations be delivered to my house and I will make sure Father Jacob receives them; well, most of them!]

**

JT: Good day Father.  Would you mind sharing a few things about your background? The normal stuff. Where you are from, age, family, favorite Goonies character, etc.

FJK: I was born in Bay City, Texas and grew up out in the country close to Sargent beach.  I went to elementary at my parish school, Holy Cross, and for junior high and high school I went to the public school in Van Vleck where we moved when I was about 13.

As for family, my dad was married before he met my mom and had two kids, my older half-sister and half-brother.  He married my mom and they had me and my younger sister.  All four of the kids are each about 5 years apart.  I’m 27 years old and have been in school for 22 of those years.  I went to college at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio where I majored in Catechetics and Philosophy and then went to theological seminary in Houston at St. Mary’s.

The closest thing I had to a job was a student-work thing I did in college where I got the chance to be part of the maintenance crew. (I was a janitor.)  I did that for about three semesters.  One summer in junior high I worked on a flower farm.  But mostly I just mowed people’s lawns.  And for my favorite Goonies character, I think it would have to be Chunk, mostly because we share a common love of food.

**

JT: What are some of the qualities that make up Fr. Jacob? For instance, what hobbies do you have? Do you enjoy any particular types of books? Do you play an instrument? What is your favorite beer?

FJK:  I think one of my favorite things to do is to chill out on a back porch somewhere, and it’s probably because we used to do this all time at home growing up.  I love just sitting with a small group of people, talking, and having some beers.  The beer of choice would have to be Shiner Bock not only because it’s just a really good beer for all occasions but also because, as a priest of the Diocese of Victoria in Texas, I have to support any beer that’s produced inside the Diocese.

I love to read all types of books.  When I was in junior high and high school I read a lot of Stephen King.  Towards the end of high school and into college I got really into Tolkien.  Now I’ll read pretty much anything but my favorite book right now is Les Miserables.  I love to watch TV and movies, too.  Some favorites: for TV – Lost, House of Cards, The Simpsons, Breaking Bad, Walking Dead; and for movies – Forrest Gump, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Les Miserables (2012 musical version), Calvary, Birdman, Dodgeball, [and] Dumb and Dumber.

I play trumpet and guitar.  I was actually in a cover band at the seminary.  Usually we would perform for different house events but one time we got to play for the grand opening of a winery in Weimar, Texas.  My part was to play acoustic guitar and sing the country songs.

**

JT: If suddenly you found yourself walking in Middle Earth, which Lord of the Rings species would you be? An elf, hobbit, man, dwarf, wizard, ent? Why?

FJK: I would definitely be a hobbit.  I think I tend to be one anyway: meals at all times of the day, smoking a pipe on your porch, drinking a beer or three in the evening, chilling out, and taking it easy.  A simple life for simple folk; I would love that.  But at the same time, what’s so attractive about hobbits is that, though they have small bodies and desire simple lives, they also have grand souls and are still capable of extraordinary and magnanimous feats.  I wouldn’t mind being a hobbit.

**

JT: How long have you been a priest?

FJK: I’ve been a priest for a little over a month, although it’s felt like I’ve been one my entire life.  It’s pretty surreal.

**

JT: When was the first time God nudged you to your vocation? What were your first thoughts and feelings? Who helped nurture your vocation?

FJK: I think the first time I felt called to be a priest was when I was around 10 years old.  I was an altar boy and served all the time so I was around the altar and our pastor a lot.  He would tell me all the time that he was going to retire soon and that he would need a replacement.  He would ask me if I would take his place and called me Fr. Jacob.

I also remember the song, “Here I am Lord”, specifically where it says, “I have heard you calling in the night.  I will go, Lord…” and I would wonder to myself what it would be like to be called by God and to hear His voice.  I wrestled with God a lot, though, and when I got into junior high God and religion were the last things on my mind.  It wasn’t until I got involved in my Life Teen youth group in high school that things really started to stick and I began to take the possibility of a priestly vocation more seriously.

All of the conferences, camps, retreats, and Life Nights gradually moved me in that direction.  I got lots of encouragement from my youth minister and the other core members and plenty of support from my peers.  It was obvious to all of them even when I didn’t really want to see it.  I dated in high school and wanted to be a father and have a big family.  Now I realize that God always wanted me to have those things too but just in a different way.

My parents were very supportive but only after I brought the idea to them.  I don’t remember them ever mentioning vocations in the house growing up, which is probably best because if they would have pushed me, I never would have considered it.  I think they knew it and I know they were praying hard for me.

I was a little nervous when I first decided to give it a shot but it was comforting to know that I would have a long time to discern and that nothing would be set in stone for a while.

**

JT: I think we share somethings in common. We both grew up in the coastal region of Texas in the Diocese of Victoria. We both studied in Ohio. Why on earth did you leave this great state to study there?

FJK: I found out about Franciscan University of Steubenville from one of the summer conferences they put on: Steubenville South in Alexandria, Louisiana.  It was here, at these conferences, that I had many of my biggest conversions (because I needed a whole bunch of them).  And when I got to the end of high school and started thinking about what kind of job I wanted, I could only think of Steubenville.

I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew whatever it was, it was going to be in the Church.  I wanted to give to others the same experiences and opportunities for conversion that I enjoyed when I was in high school.  That’s why I went to Franciscan and studied Catechetics.

I thought maybe if I wasn’t called to be a priest, I could possibly be a teacher or a youth minister.  But although FUS was a great school, I was happy to be back in Texas.  I couldn’t stand being away from Buccee’s and Whataburger for that long.

**

JT: Please describe a day in the life of a seminarian for us. What time did you wake up? How long did you study each day? Etc.

FJK: We would normally start off with Morning Prayer at 7am followed by 30 minutes of silent meditation.  We took a typical college course load – about 15 credits a semester – so you weren’t always in class and it would look different each semester.

The morning block of classes lasted from 8:30-11:15 a.m.  Mass was at 11:30 a.m.  The afternoon block of classes was from 1:15-4 p.m.  Evening Prayer was at 5:45 p.m followed by supper and then night classes were from 7-9:45 p.m.  Our classes were typically an hour and 15 minutes, though we did have some long 3-hour courses.  We would usually have no more than 2-3 classes any given day.  Each year we were also assigned a specific ministry off campus that we would help out at once a week.  Free time could be used however you wanted.

**

JT: What is the funniest thing that you experienced in seminary?

FJK:  This is a hard question because I can’t seem to narrow down all the funny things that happened.  I feel like my whole time at seminary, even though it was really hard at times, was spent laughing.  My friends and I were always hanging out, telling jokes, doing stupid things, and laughing.

I’m pretty sure they all could have been stand-up comedians (one of them actually wrote his own jokes that he would try out on us and entertain us with).  I think it was that constant back and forth, the banter, and hilarious interactions that were the funniest things.  It’s partly what got us through and kept us sane.

**

JT: How about your most soul shaking experience?

FJK: Franciscan University was a normal co-ed liberal arts college.  So although I was in the priestly discernment program, we still had classes and regular interactions with the rest of the student population.  And our groups of friends reflected that – guys, girls, different majors, and classes – it was generally pretty mixed.  The guys in the discernment program weren’t totally isolated from everyone else, which was a real blessing.

The problem for me, though, was that I accidentally fell head-over-heels in love with one of my female friends; and she with me.  I felt like my entire being wanted to quit discerning, leave the program, and start a new life with this girl.  But at the same time I could still feel a subtle and almost imperceptible drawing to the priesthood.  It was a very dark, painful, and confusing time and lasted for about 6 months.

It’s kind of hard to put into words.  It was like God had stripped me of everything I thought priesthood and discernment was supposed to be.  He took away all the reasons I wanted to be a priest and brought me to the very foundations of my soul; deeper than my ideals, desires, fears, or infatuations.  And then He spoke silently and invited me once more.  And I said ‘Yes’ and was flooded with clarity, light, and peace.

That was when I knew that even though I sometimes find marriage attractive and desire to be a father and have a family of my own, at the core of my heart – the deepest part of me – God calls me to be His priest.  And I yearn to follow Him.  It hasn’t been perfect every day since then.  There have been ups and downs.  But I have never regretted the decision I made to continue discerning.  And now that I’m a priest, I can say that it was all worth it.

**

JT: Now describe a day in the life of a newly ordained priest of Jesus Christ.

FJK:  It depends on the day but it has similar elements to my seminary schedule: Morning Prayer and some meditation when I wake up, Mass every day, Evening Prayer usually before supper, etc.  I also have been keeping office hours, which is another thing that’s pretty new for me.  I even got my own office.

What I really like is that the perpetual adoration chapel is just right next door so I go there all the time throughout the day.  Lately, I’ve been writing a lot of thank you notes, trying to get to know the staff and memorize names, visiting people, and meeting with whoever comes in the office.  It hasn’t been too busy yet but I expect it to get that way soon.

**

JT: What were some of your greatest fears in being called to the priesthood? How did you overcome those fears?

FJK:  Some of my greatest and most common fears were the fear that I wouldn’t be satisfied or happy as a priest, that God isn’t real, that the Church and all her teachings are made up, and that priesthood would be a waste of my life.  First and foremost, I think the only way I was able to overcome those fears was with God’s grace.

There is absolutely no way that I could have done any of it on my own.  But I also wrestled with God a lot and would struggle and seek for answers and pray and then wait.  Lots of patience and lots of trust, not to mention the fact that I didn’t have to understand the big picture or have all the answers at once; these were all essential in getting to where I’m at now.

**

JT: What were some of your greatest dreams of becoming a priest? What parts of the priesthood did you find especially attractive?

FJK:  I was tired of how often I was hearing, “I was used to be Catholic…  I grew up Catholic… My parents were Catholic…”  I wanted to bring back to the Church as many people as I possibly could.  Really, I hoped to be a witness to my extended family, most of whom are no longer practicing Catholics, and maybe at least influence them in some positive way with regards to the Church.  The part of priesthood that I originally found to be the most attractive was the Mass, now I would say that it’s hearing confessions.

**

JT: Do you have any special devotions to any particular saints? Do you recommend any devotions? If so, what are they?

FJK: St. John Vianney, the patron saint of priests, was an obvious one for me starting out.  He lived an extraordinary life and was incredibly holy and I wanted to be like him, to put love where there was none.

Now I gravitate more to the big Carmelite saints – Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Therese of Lisieux.  I read a lot of their writings and found them to be extremely attractive, especially in the ways they describe prayer.  The depth of their understanding and experience makes me want to pray more, to have the same relationship with God that they enjoyed.  It’s also a strong affirmation for me that God is real, that He is present, that He wants to be in relationship with me, and that I will never be able to exhaust the depths of His beautiful eternity.

Another saint I go to a lot is St. Anthony of Padua, not only because he helps me find things that I lose all the time, but also because he was a great preacher.  I ask him for help a lot.  I don’t really have any particular or special devotion, just the rosary and the Divine Mercy chaplet.  Stick with those and you’ll be fine.  I’m thinking about starting to do the St. Michael chaplet.  I hear it’s a pretty good one.

 

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**

JT: We live in a very secular culture, how do you recommend we evangelize these modern times?

FJK: Be converted to the very core; let God heal every wound you have – spiritual, emotional, intellectual, physical; put on the mind of Christ; learn what the Church teaches, struggle with it; and then be yourself.  I think a lot of times we overthink evangelization and want to have a plan or a program or some kind of trick to make it easier.

When we have God at the center of our lives, when we try to stay close to Him and frequent the sacraments it ought to shine through in everything we do.  So don’t be weird or reactionary and don’t try too hard, as if it all depended on you.  Let the Holy Spirit do His job.  Make friends, have fun, laugh often, be generous and genuine, authentic, and introduce people to the love of your life.

Individual Christians are usually not called to convert the whole world on their own but rather should try to positively impact their immediate sphere of influence.  Start with getting the beam out of your own eye and then go from there.

**

JT: The Supreme Court recently ruled on same sex marriage. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote “Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions.” When I first read this, I thought of the many wonderful priests and religious I have encountered. Because you are excluded from this ancient institution of marriage, do you feel lonely?

FJK: Loneliness is an inevitable part of our fallen human condition.  Everybody will have to deal with it in some form or fashion and a decision from the Supreme Court isn’t going to magically fix it.  Whether you’re married, single, a priest, or a nun, we all get lonely sometimes.  And I have to struggle with it from time to time, too.  But the only one who can save us from our existential, lonely isolation is the One who created us and made us to be in relationship with Him.

**

JT: Loneliness is a horrible situation to live. I know married couples, widows, elderly, young men and women that are lonely. What would you advise others that are experiencing loneliness?

FJK: Never allow yourself to think that you have no options or that there is no hope.  Walk into the dark painfulness of your loneliness and invite God to dwell there.  And be patient.  Also, stay in relationship with other people.  Find ways to be intimate without necessarily being sexual, be authentic; find friends that you’re able to share your true self with; serve, be generous, get out of yourself, and make a gift of yourself.  Stay involved with the Church and stay close to God.  He’ll help you.

**

JT: Do you have any parting words of wisdom for us here?

FJK: Don’t stop praying.

 

Image courtesy of stockdevil at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

J.Q. Tomanek

J.Q. Tomanek

J.Q. lives in the country of Texas with his wife Denise, a Southern Belle from Trinidad and Tobago, and his three children. He holds two graduate degrees from Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, an MBA and Master of Science in Organizational Leadership, and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Franciscan University of Steubenville. Having taught for five years in Catholic education, he now works in the construction industry in Victoria, TX. He is a parishioner of Holy Family of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus Parish in the Diocese of Victoria.

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