A heart set on heaven

Categories: Around the Diocese

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Deacon Gabriel Walz. Photo by Dianne Towalski / The Visitor

Deacon Gabriel Walz to be ordained a priest June 20 at St. Mary’s Cathedral

By Kristi Anderson
The Visitor

This spring, in the small sacristy of St. Mary’s Chapel located inside St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Deacon Gabriel Walz prepared to practice a portion of the Mass during a liturgy class in front of his classmates and his professor, Father Thomas Margevicius.

After arranging the vessels, linens and Roman Missal on the altar, he began describing his home parish of Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Rockville — the parish where he will celebrate one of his first Masses after being ordained to the priesthood at 10:30 a.m. June 20 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud.

For the next 30 minutes of the class, he rehearsed prayers, practiced motions and then received feedback from his peers.

“My time at the seminary taught me a lot about my own fears in coming to ministry,” Deacon Walz said. “I really didn’t think I was the kind of guy that God should be calling to do this. I’ve come to recognize that I can’t do anything without the Lord. He has the power to work through someone as limited as me.”

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Deacon Gabriel Walz prepares to practice part of the Mass during a liturgy class with professor Father Thomas Margevicius at St. Paul Seminary. Photo by Dianne Towalski/The Visitor

Growing up, Deacon Walz was surrounded by family and friends who not only practiced their Catholic faith but lived it out in their daily lives.

“There are a lot of good and holy people who love the Lord in my home area. I used to think that the whole world was like where I grew up. I was very blessed to grow up around such good people,” he said.

His father, Ralph, would often read to him, his four brothers and his four sisters about the lives of the saints.

“There is something about the saints, their holiness and having their heart set on heaven,” Deacon Walz said.

“I am always reminded of the Scripture verse, ‘Where your heart is, there your treasure lies’ [Matthew 6:21]. Some of the saints faced brutal things, even death for their faith, and they could do that with joy. That’s inspiring.”

He attended St. Boniface School in Cold Spring and his mother, Jean, taught him from home during his high school years. Daily Mass was a part of his life. Every year, they would also visit his great aunt, Poor Clare Sister Mary Dolores Walz, who died in 2010.

“I remember how they would always talk about me as the ‘little priest’ when we visited,” he recalled.

Father Richard Walz, who passed away in 2014, was Deacon Walz’s uncle. Despite the fact that Father Walz was serving as a priest in Maracay, Venezuela, for much of Deacon Walz’s childhood, the priest still visited them when he could and called when he got the chance. “Father Richard was always inviting me to come to Venezuela to visit,” he said.

Though priesthood was always in the back of his mind, in high school, Deacon Walz thought he might rather be married and have a family. He began thinking about career options and decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an electrician.

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Deacon Walz signs an Oath of Fidelity along with classmates at the seminary April 10. Photo by Dianne Towalski/The Visitor

“That was going well. I was making some money. I had a nice truck,” he said. “But it is interesting what happens internally. Something within me was just not excited about this anymore. I was realizing without really realizing that I was doing what I wanted to do, but it wasn’t fulfilling me. I was brought back to that original desire I had when I was younger — to be a priest.”

Deacon Walz met with his pastor, Father Gregory Mastey, who helped begin the process of entering seminary in 2007 at St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul.

“The first two years marked a significant transition for me,” Deacon Walz said. “They were really hard. It was then I realized that we are all on a journey and are all called to grow deeper in our relationship with the Lord.”

He spent part of his third year of college seminary in Rome, where “time just flew by,” he said. The day he came home, another seminarian picked him up from the airport with difficult news.

“It was also the day that Shirley Molitor died,” he recalled. Molitor, a close friend of the family, fellow parishioner and mother of eight daughters, passed away in a car accident on Jan. 29, 2010.

“She was very instrumental in my vocation,” Deacon Walz said. “She helped me grow closer to Mary and inspired me to consecrate myself to Jesus through the Marian devotion of St. Louis de Montfort. She helped me recognize that, like my own mom, Mary is genuinely willing my own good but also that she is Jesus’ mom and she is always leading everyone who turns to her to her son.”

Deacon Walz made the Marian consecration almost five years earlier on Aug. 15, 2005, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, at St. Francis Church in Dusseldorf, Germany, during a youth group trip to World Youth Day. One of Molitor’s daughters, Kristin, was also on the trip.

“Growing up with Gabriel was such a privilege,” Kristin said.” From teaching CCD together to attending youth group and traveling to World Youth Day in Germany, it was always evident that Gabriel had a heart for the Lord. In his ‘yes’ to his call to the priesthood, Gabriel has truly grown into the man he was created to be.”

Embracing his pastoral role

Deacon Walz is most excited to celebrate Mass, the sacraments and work with couples once ordained. He has also developed a heart for Hispanic ministry. He traveled withFather Walz to Venezuela in 2010 where he had a loaded itinerary, only seeing his uncle for the first few days. He stayed at the seminary there, visited a Benedictine monastery, stayed with various pastors in parishes, went to the beach and saw a few movies.

“I really got to experience the culture from the inside,” he said. “I also learned how much I needed to work on my Spanish.”

More courses and more experience serving locally in Hispanic communities back home in the diocese landed him at a Hispanic Koinonia retreat that had a significant impact on him, changing what was once a fear into a desire to serve.

Last summer, he had a similar experience while assigned to the parishes of St. Joseph in Waite Park and St. Michael in St. Cloud. There he visited the sick with Father Mark Innocenti.

“When we stepped into a room where someone was suffering, it was like Jesus was walking in with us. It was really beautiful and an image that I will always take with me as a priest,” he said.

Most important, he discovered the importance of teaching — and learning — about the love of God.

“There are so many who struggle when people say, ‘God loves you,’” he said. “It’s easy for me to understand the love of God the Father, because I have a loving father. It’s easy for me to understand Marian devotion because I have experienced my mother’s love. As a priest, I want to help others know what God’s love means.”