ALLOUEZ — Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi said, “The straight line belongs to men, the curved one to God.” Deacon Jon Thorsen, who will be ordained to the priesthood for the diocese on July 1 at St. Mary Church in Ledgeview, can relate. His journey to the priesthood has included a number of curves, which he views as a positive.
“I feel like I had a wide array of experiences that will help me relate to a variety of people,” he said.
When he was 8 years-old, Deacon Thorsen’s family sought a move north from Milwaukee. Attending Mass at St. Augustine Church in Wausaukee led them to their new home.
“When we were first looking, we stayed at a motel for a weekend,” he explained. “At St. Augustine, we met a family that lived in Silver Cliff, the Wagner family. We were homeschooling when we were living in Milwaukee. This family was homeschooling as well.”
A number of Catholic homeschool families were living in the Silver Cliff area, so it seemed like a perfect fit. The Thorsen family relocated to the area and St. Augustine Parish.
“Silver Cliff provided something I think a lot of homeschoolers do not get, a sense of community of peers,” said Deacon Thorsen. “I became an altar server as soon as I could. I think I started when I was 12 years-old. I enjoyed that. That deep affection, that connection with the Eucharist, was definitely a seed.”
Deacon Thorsen has fond memories of Fr. John McLaughlin, pastor at St. Augustine at the time. “Fr. Mac,” as he was known, would pull out bags of candy bars after Mass to distribute to the young people.
“He was a good old Irish priest,” said Deacon Thorsen. “I remember him being very generous and very approachable.”
Fr. Joe Dorner, who served as administrator in Wausaukee, also served as a role model for Deacon Thorsen and encouraged his discernment by taking him to a Project Andrew Dinner hosted by Bishop (Robert) Banks.
Deacon Thorsen’s involvement in the Boy Scouts provided a good mentor. Bill Woger, a Marine veteran, organized a marching team for parades and events.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Deacon Thorsen, an Eagle Scout. “He taught us discipline. He displayed those good human virtues.”
Deacon Thorsen had been in contact with the vocations office of the diocese and was open to the possibility of priesthood, but didn’t feel ready to enter seminary after high school. He enrolled at Magdalen College in Warner, N.H., a classical school that no longer exists.
“The classical education has a lot of parallels to the seminary education,” he said. “There was daily Mass. I figured that it would be a good stepping stone if I did end up taking the route of seminary eventually.”
He attended Magdalen for two years.
“I ended up graduating from UW-Oshkosh,” he explained. “Priesthood sort of faded off my radar screen. I dated for a little while. I looked for something more career-focused.”
He earned a degree in criminal justice. While at UW-Oshkosh, he became involved at the Newman Center. During his senior year, he met Fr. Quinn Mann, who was a part-time chaplain at the university.
“I found him very relatable, a charismatic priest,” said Deacon Thorsen. “His homilies spoke to me. I connected with different aspects. He would invite me on occasion to CYE (Catholic Youth Expeditions).”
Deacon Thorsen served two summers on the CYE staff and completed a missionary internship.
“There was restlessness,” he said. “I felt like I was forcing the whole criminal justice thing. It didn’t seem to fit who I was. Even in the midst of that restlessness, I wasn’t thinking about priesthood. I was enjoying CYE. I saw it as an opportunity to grow in my prayer life and really take the Lord’s will seriously and let him guide me a little bit. I was trying to pave my own path and it wasn’t working.”
Growth in his prayer life led Deacon Thorsen to feel the pull to priesthood again. He entered Conception Seminary College in Missouri in the fall of 2011.
“The experiences I had in prayer were very confirming in my mind,” he said. “It gave me a lot of confidence that I was doing the right thing. It also made me rather nervous. I struggled with worry that I would never be competent enough. I was terrified of public speaking. The first couple years were quite difficult.”
The compassion of the Benedictines at Conception was helpful, he added. They were direct in giving Deacon Thorsen feedback about his strengths and areas that needed improvement.
“They did it in such a charitable way,” he said. “It was life changing. It was a great gift. The people who I met through CYE were also very supportive during this time.”
Following two years at Conception, Deacon Thorsen moved on to Mundelein Seminary, just north of Chicago. His ministry experience has included an internship at Holy Cross Parish in Kaukauna, Clinical Pastoral Education in Ann Arbor, Mich., and service at Our Lady of the Angels Mission in Chicago.
Last summer, Deacon Thorsen, the son of Terry and Margo Thorsen, served as a deacon at St. John and SS. Mary and Hyacinth parishes in Antigo, and, in the fall, at St. Thomas of Villanova Parish in Palatine, Ill. He has overcome his fear of public speaking to preach.
“I pray about it a lot,” he said with a laugh. “I spend some time reading, in prayer and take a look at commentaries. I look at online resources. If something sticks out to me from the readings, I let that guide the preparation process. I write out how I want to say it and make an outline.”
Deacon Thorsen’s home parish is now SS. Peter and Paul in Green Bay, where he will celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving later in the day on July 1. He has been appointed parochial vicar at Sacred Heart and St. Bernadette parishes in Appleton, where he will serve under Fr. Don Zuleger, pastor.
Deacon Thorsen will be vested at the ordination by Fr. Tom Farrell, whom he got to know while living in the St. Pius X rectory in Appleton during his CYE missionary internship. Deacon Thorsen looks forward to the sacraments as a priest.
“The Eucharist, confessions, anointing of the sick, as a deacon you feel there is this incredible tension where you want to serve and then realize ‘I can’t do that,’” he explained.
“It’s felt like a long ways away for a long time,” he added about ordination day. “I have a lot of people to thank and there will be some opportunities to do so.”