Can you tell me about the spiritual transformation you underwent when you were in grade school?
I was kind of a hot head before it; not a real bad kid or anything, but I didn’t always listen and I had a temper. I remember the day very clearly. It happened when I was around 10. I had this habit of kneeling down in my parents’ bedroom and saying the rosary. One day, all of a sudden, this feeling came over me, something that’s hard to explain, but I changed. It was as simple as that. I experienced God’s grace in such a way that my heart was filled with love and I became peaceful. I no longer used bad words and things like that. It was my first real spiritual encounter with God and Mary.
What’s something that came from that transformation?
After that, I began to say the rosary and read the bible every night. I read it cover to cover in middle school — a chapter or two a night. And, I prayed for all my dead relatives. I promised God at that time that I’d say an Our Father every day for the rest of my life, and I promised him that I’d do whatever he wanted me to do. That led to a desire to be a priest.
You ended up at Boston College for your bachelor’s; what was that experience like?
I really didn’t know what God had for me at that point. I was discerning the priesthood and considering medicine, so I studied both and earned a double major in biology and philosophy.
I got involved in a lot of campus ministry and ended up going to Mexico to help the Sisters of Charity in Mexico City. We worked refinishing furniture to help the parish save money and helped children in the streets. I also spent a few summers in Alabama at a Head Start daycare camp run by a nun for migrant workers who picked potatoes.
Can you tell me about seeing Mother Teresa when you were in Mexico?
It was amazing. She was walking up the cobblestone alley from her convent and I nervously took her picture. I was within five feet of her, though. It was pretty cool.
How did you end up going to Belize for a year?
I’d deferred my acceptance into medical school and decided to teach in Belize through the newly formed Jesuit International Volunteer Program. I taught 11th grade math and college physics. It was a hard year but I absolutely loved the work and it was a time in my life when I knew I was doing exactly what God wanted me to be doing. I managed the school’s volleyball team and led a parish troop of 30 boys.
Was that a time of discernment for you?
Yes. I was trying to figure out if I wanted to join the Jesuits or return and go to med school. All year, it was the most persistent thought in my head, my daily prayer. Two weeks before I was scheduled to come back to Wisconsin, I sliced my leg with a machete in the river in the Belizean jungle on our last Boy Scout trip. It was such a bad cut that, after I was sewn up in Belize City and flew home, they were afraid I had an infection. The doctor redid the sutures and I was in a cast all summer, which added to how hard it was psychologically to adjust to being back home. I ultimately decided against medical school and joined the Jesuit Novitiate in Boston.
How long were you in the novitiate?
For two years, up until the time we had to take our vows. First, we had a 30-day silent retreat. During that time of wrestling with God and talking to him about what he wanted, I realized that I was there out of a sense of obligation. I’d never explored the vocation of marriage, and I wanted to.
What did you do afterward?
I left and I had no car, no job, no place to live. I hadn’t prayed the rosary in a long time and I decided to pray to Mary for help. Within three days of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, I was offered an old car that was donated to the parish I’d been working at, I found a very inexpensive place to live, and I got a job teaching theology at a high school in Harvard Square. It blew me away and lifted my faith; it felt like God’s blessing on my decision.
How did your spiritual life evolve after you made that decision?
When I met my wife, I knew my vocation. It was clear. We spent the first few years of our marriage moving around following my career and growing in faith and devotion but I think it all changed when a friend invited me to join the Men of Christ group at Christ King Parish. It was totally transformative to me. I started praying more and going to the Thursday morning faith sharing sessions. It was a combination of joining that group and listening to Relevant Radio that expanded my learning and my wife’s learning, and deepened our devotion to the Church.
What’s something you’ve done for The Church that you’re proud of?
In 2017, it was the 100th anniversary of the Apparition of Mary at Fatima. The Fatima Marian Shrine is near our house, and my wife and I go there a few times a week to pray. I’d noticed that the bird house there was broken, so I decided to try to fix it. A week later, I found out that one of my neighbors was working toward his Eagle Scout and I asked if he wanted to go over to the Shrine with me and see some of the work that needed to be done, and maybe take it on as his Eagle Scout Project. He was open to it and we came up with two dozen things that needed to be fixed. I told him that I’d help him with fundraising and would be his project advisor. Out of that one project, a group of 24 people stepped forward and have raised more than $38,000 for the upkeep of the Shrine.