This is the sixth in a series of articles introducing you to the seven men who will be ordained priests of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee this year. Ordination for six of them will take place on Saturday, May 19, while the seventh will be ordained later in the year.
ST. FRANCIS — Sometimes he wonders why he didn’t answer the call to the priesthood earlier. It certainly was something Deacon Brad Krawczyk had considered – early and often. In fact, he remembers at age 7 at Midnight Mass at St. Adalbert Parish, Milwaukee, feeling a strong desire to be part of what was taking place in a deeper way.
Had he entered the seminary earlier, he would be a priest already.
“Sometimes I think, man, I could have done this 10 years earlier and I’d be a priest for all these years,” said the 39-year-old deacon who, along with five other men, will be ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist this Saturday.
“But then another part of me – the stronger voice – tells me I’m where God wants me now. I think I’ll be a better priest, a better, future pastor as a result of my life experiences. Some guys will be great from the get-go, but for me personally, in the role of priest, I have developed the capacity for more empathy and developed an understanding of people’s lives and have learned compassion and patience.”
For example, Deacon Krawczyk said, as a former homeowner, he’ll be more understanding if a parishioner comes late to a meeting or can’t be there at all if a home emergency arises.
“I know how hard it can be to come to a meeting if bathroom repairs need to be done or if the grass has to be cut, and, of course, that’s amplified when you have a family, and kids who have to be taken to sporting events,” he said, adding he expects his experiences will help him “respect people’s time in a different way and will help me appreciate their efforts when they come and do something at church.”
Always involved in church activities
For Deacon Krawczyk, being involved in church activities is second nature. In fact, he ruefully noted that his vocation story is rather mundane.
“Some guys have a Paul experience (of conversion) or the sky parts and something wonderful happens when they know God is asking them to become a priest,” he said, explaining that his call was more subtle and ordinary.
A cradle Catholic, he’s never been away from the church. In fact, it’s much the opposite. He’s always been involved in the life of the church as a catechist, member of the liturgical planning committee, and sacristan.
A former pastor called him “the Phantom of the Altar,” according to his mother, Arlene Krawczyk, a member of St. Paul Parish, Racine, because in his late teens and early 20s, her son was responsible for decorating the church.
“Father would go home one day, and by the time he returned the next day, Brad would have all the things ready and he would have never seen him,” she told your Catholic Herald.
Deacon Krawczyk said he spent so much time at the church “that I can still walk the floor plan of St. Adalbert with my eyes closed and in the dark.”
Being so close to the church, it was natural that he consider priesthood, explained Deacon Krawczyk. After graduating from St. Adalbert Elementary School in 1987 and Marquette University High School in 1991, he thought about entering the seminary.
Mom suggested coed environment
But, as his mother recalled, she helped steer him toward a coed environment.
“The first time he thought about going to the seminary was when he graduated from high school. He had just come out of a four-year, all-boys school, and I thought, ‘Gee, he really didn’t mingle much with girls,’ and I didn’t want him to go to the seminary then and spend all that time there, only to find out that’s not where he really wanted to be, so I pushed him toward a coed school so he could have that experience of being with both sexes,” she said.
Deacon Krawczyk began his college career at St. Norbert College, DePere, studying political science with the thought of possibly becoming a lawyer. He was involved in speech and debate – just as he had been at MUHS – and worked with several political campaigns.
But after a couple years at St. Norbert, he returned home to the job he had previously worked over the summers at Industrial Towel and Uniform in New Berlin.
He worked himself up from floor supervisor to second shift plant supervisor and eventually worked in sales and marketing.
“In my mid-20s, I thought about priesthood more concretely again and I wondered what God might be calling me to,” he said, noting that he even visited a few religious communities during this time.
In addition to his full-time job in New Berlin, Deacon Krawczyk was the assistant debate coach at Brookfield Central High School, something he had also done at Notre Dame Academy in Green Bay, while he was a St. Norbert student.
He also became a homeowner, purchasing a home in a south side Milwaukee neighborhood near the airport in which he enjoyed decorating and hosting get-togethers for friends.
Father’s death is turning point
March 4, 1998, was a turning point in his life, however, when his father, Gilbert, died after a three-month hospital stay.
As he helped his mother go through his father’s belongings, seeing all the random hats, broken yard tools, he wondered to himself, “What am I storing up for my mansion in heaven?”
“I had started gathering stuff in my own life. I had a house that I was filling up with stuff, and I wondered what I might be putting before what God might be calling me to become. Am I letting these things prevent me from answering God’s call in my life and am I letting that get in the way of becoming holy?” he questioned himself.
As he wondered, he realized he had to make a sincere approach to the call to priesthood.
“It had been nagging me for years and I finally had the courage to see a vocations director, and the rest is history,” said Deacon Krawczyk, who explained he entered the Seminary Without Walls program, and completed his bachelor’s degree from Marquette University in 2005.
Decision puts him at peace
Arlene wasn’t surprised when her youngest son entered the seminary.
“I always saw it in his future, but it took him a long time to finally give in,” she said.
“I remember the day we moved him into his room at the seminary, there was such a glow that came over him. He was really at peace. ‘Lord, I’m yours,’ was the look on his face and his whole demeanor was so relaxed. It was so beautiful, I knew it was what was supposed to be,” she said.
Arlene described the youngest of her five children as “a little more on the quiet side, not very aggressive, but always striving for perfection. He always wanted to be the best at whatever he did,” she said of Deacon Krawczyk.
She also remembers having several conversations with him over the years about the priesthood, and said she would tell him, “When you do become a priest and are ordained, I hope it’s in my lifetime, because I am not getting any younger.
‘Larger than life’ personality
As she prepares to become the mother of a priest, Arlene said she is filled with awe.
“I am still trying to figure out why the Lord chose me to be his mother. I’m just a common person, and when I hear him – he’s delivered several homilies during Mass – I have such a feeling of awe that that’s my son,” she said.
Longtime friend Carolyn Stich, who considers Deacon Krawczyk to be her fifth brother, expects him to be a wonderful priest who will be able to relate to adults and children alike.
“He has an extremely gregarious personality; it’s larger than life,” she said, adding, “everybody loves him. He is a magnet for people, especially for young adults our age – 30s and 20s – they will see a priest they can identify with.”
Deacon Krawczyk presided at her Jan. 7, 2012 wedding to Daniel Stich at the Basilica of St. Josaphat, Milwaukee, and Stich said her longtime friend made everything special for the couple.
“It’s such an unbelievable comfort that every step of the way, he will be there, God will be in our lives, supporting us no matter what obstacles we face,” she said.
Stich met Deacon Krawczyk when she was in middle school, and two of her four older brothers were in school at MUHS with him.
From the beginning, she said, he was always around the Rydlewicz home, playing basketball, eating pizza and hanging out with her brothers.
When he told the family he intended to become a priest, she said no one was surprised.
“It made perfect sense to all of us,” she said, noting he has a “heart of gold and will do anything for you. He is without doubt one of the best men, gentlemen, I know.”