Call to priesthood invites entire family to new vocation

Categories: Around the Diocese

February 14, 2014, edition
By Kristi Anderson
For The Visitor

“Mom, Dad — I want to be a priest.”

 In today’s world where the quest for wealth and material possessions are driving forces in choosing career paths, it may seem rare to hear these words. It may even instill worry in the hearts of parents who question whether this is a good option for their son.

What many families have found is that when their sons authentically discern their call to the priesthood, they don’t consider it a career choice but a profound and fulfilling journey led by God.


A son newly discerning


Tom Skaja, left, with his parents Mike and Kim and brother Ryan.

For Mike and Kim Skaja, parishioners of Annunciation Parish, Mayhew Lake, there was no shock factor when their oldest son, Tom, informed them of his desire to discern his call to the priesthood.

“Tom has been interested in the priesthood since second grade,” Kim said, “and continued to talk about it from time to time while growing up. He made his decision to enter the seminary just before his senior year of high school.”

The Skajas have seen a difference in Tom since he entered the Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona in the fall of 2012.

“Since Tom has been in the seminary, his faith has grown noticeably,” Kim said. “He enjoys daily Mass and likes his time spent in the chapel in private prayer. Although he likes to come home for a break, he always looks forward to getting back to the seminary.”

Tom has also noticed changes in himself.

“When I entered seminary, the biggest surprise was realizing that each seminarian comes from a different walk of life, but that we all follow a similar call from God in our hearts,” he said. “This is what unites us all as brothers in Christ.

“The seminary faculty, which includes the rector, vice-rector and other directors, help us to focus on four main pillars of formation: human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral,” Tom continued. “I notice growth in these pillars every day, such as growing closer to God in prayer and growing into a man of communion. Seminary is a constant call of growth from God, and I am so thankful for these blessings.”

A son nearing ordination


Deacon Jeremy Theis, right, prepares chalices for the diaconate ordination with his brother seminarians at St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, in October 2013.

Deacon Jerry and Renee Theis are parishioners of SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Richmond. Their son Jeremy is a transitional deacon seminarian for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

“Initially, I was shocked when Jeremy told us he wanted to be a priest,” Renee said.

“I knew he had been talking with my mother (his grandmother, the late Elaine Leither) who fervently believed Jeremy had a special calling to the priesthood. He was also spending more time before the Blessed Sacrament, but I had no inkling that this was what was on his mind.”

“I, too, had seen him falling more and more in love with the church,” Deacon Jerry added. “It was certainly a pleasant surprise.”

About six months before Jeremy entered the seminary, then-director of vocations Father Gregory Mastey called the Theis family together at their Richmond home.

“He really took the time to answer our questions,” Renee said, “whatever questions Jerry and I had as well as the questions the kids asked. It really gave us a sense of peace about Jeremy’s decision.”

“He was very good at explaining what discernment meant,” Deacon Jerry added. “He told us that it was a process for him to search, learn and discern God’s will in his life. He told us that whether or not Jeremy became a priest, the seminary experience would help him develop a disciplined prayer life, a tool that would help him in whatever vocation he was called to.”

Though they were joyful and excited for their son to enter seminary, Renee still had some concerns. “Was this the right choice for him?” she asked herself. But when she and Deacon Jerry had the opportunity to travel to Rome in 2011 to visit Deacon Jeremy at the Pontifical North American College where he was and is currently studying, her fears were allayed.

“To witness firsthand Jeremy in that environment, I could truly see his pastoral heart,” she shared. “It made me as sure as I could ever be that the Lord was calling him to this vocation.”

The Theis family gives thanks to Father Scott Pogatchnik, current director of vocations, for his role in the discernment process.

“Father Scott continues the same attitude and energy as Father Gregory had,” Deacon Jerry said. “We are so thankful to him and to all of the people praying for our son and the others discerning priesthood. It gives us so much hope seeing all the work being done for the future of the church.”

Deacon Jeremy is set to be ordained June 21 at St. Mary’s Cathedral, St. Cloud.

An ordained son


Father Joe Backowski, center, with parents Bob and Mary Anne during the entrance procession of his transitional diaconate ordination in 2011.

Anyone who has met Father Joseph Backowski, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Breckenridge and St. Thomas Parish in Kent, has probably taken note of his love of the outdoors.

Before entering seminary, Father Backowski attended the University of Minnesota, Crookston, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in water resources management. His parents, Bob and Mary Anne Backowski, are parishioners of Holy Family Parish, Belle Prairie.

“While Joe was in high school, we encouraged him to get a four-year degree in a field he was interested in,” Bob said. “Mary Anne and I felt that if he was called to be a priest, the call would still be there.”

Before he finished college, Joe felt he was still called to be a priest.

“With joy and reservation,” Bob recalled, “we said, ‘Go for it.’ “

For the Backowskis, the concerns they had were not unlike any parent who hopes for a fulfilling, happy life for their child.

“For us, the reservation we had was that we were aware of how much is expected of priests and the heavy workload because of the shortage of priests,” Bob explained.

Now that they have a priest in the family, the Backowskis see how God has worked in all of their lives through Father Backowski’s call to his vocation. They even find humor in his day-to-day experiences.

“Father Joe was home on his first Easter Sunday as a priest,” Bob shared. “Before leaving our home to return to his parish, we offered him some food — coffeecake, eggs and candy to take with him, which was blessed by our parish priest Easter morning. Father Joe smiled and said, ‘You keep that blessed food for yourselves; I can bless my own Easter eggs!’ “

More importantly, the Backowskis feel blessed to have a son who is able to share his relationship with Jesus Christ, to be of service and to lead others to that same relationship.

“It is humbling,” Bob said. “We and our extended family are blessed with the ministry that Father Joe has accepted.”

2014 Vocations Office events
• Diaconate Ordination: June 7, 10:30 a.m., St. Mary’s Cathedral, St. Cloud

• Priesthood Ordination: June 21, 10:30 a.m., St. Mary’s Cathedral, St. Cloud

• Men of Virtue (Vocation) Camps:

• Avon area camp: June 23-25

• Villard area camp: July 21-23

• Zimmerman area camp: Aug. 4-6

• Seminarian Family Picnic (July)

• House of Discernment at St. Cloud State University (beginning in August)

• St. Andrew Discernment Dinners with bishop and local priests (TBD)

• Seminary Open House (March 22-24 in Winona, Minn.)

• Into the Deep — 16+ Boundary Waters Retreat (Aug. 8-13)

Other vocations-related events

 • Ablaze High School Youth Events: March 15, April 12, May 10

• Steubenville North Retreats

• Rochester, Minn.: July 11-13

• St. Paul: July 25-27

• Castaways Retreats

• March 28-30

• April 4-6

• Town Parades (TBD)

To contact the Vocations Office call 320-251-5001 or email