While still in high school, Warden transferred his strong work ethic to become a skilled woodworker and carpenter.
Now, at age 32, Fr. Michael Warden plans to work hard at fulfilling a long-held desire to serve the Lord as a parish priest.
“I have a deep sense of joy and confidence,” Fr. Warden said of receiving the sacrament of holy orders from Bishop David L. Ricken during ordination rites June 1 at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral.
Fr. Warden has been assigned as parochial vicar at St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in Oshkosh effective July 1, although he doesn’t officially take his place beside Fr. Doug LeCaptain until Aug. 1, following a month in Guatemala brushing up on his Spanish.
“St. Raphael’s is connected to St. Mary Parish in Omro, which has a Spanish Mass said twice a week. I will be responsible for one of those Masses,” Fr. Warden said. “I am looking forward to being in a parish, first to just be there. I will do anything that best serves the needs of the parish in coming to know Jesus better.”
With a near-photographic memory and a work ethic with no end, Fr. Warden should have no problem fitting into his vocation as a parish priest, said his father, Joe Warden.
“Anything Michael does, he does well. He’s a goal setter who completes his goal. His work ethic will translate into his priesthood,” said Joe Warden, who is no stranger to thoughts of religious life, having graduated from the former St. Bonaventure Seminary High School in Sturtevant.
The eighth of 10 children born to Joe and Karen Warden, Fr. Michael credits his parents with sowing the seeds of his desire to serve God.
“My parents were both very active in church and put the faith in us kids,” he said.
Karen Warden died in 2012 following a four-year battle with cancer, but lived to see her son be ordained a deacon.
“The death of my mother was a real blow, even though we were kind of prepared for it,” Fr. Michael said. “They say nobody loves you like your mother. I did sense her loss in a big way. I don’t really remember my last words to my mother. The dying process for her was so long. I do remember telling her I would see her soon. Life is short and ‘soon’ comes sooner than we know it. What would I tell my mother about myself now? I would tell her what she used to tell her children, ‘Thank God for God.'”
Fr. Warden’s decision to enter the seminary came when he was 25 and well on his way to a career as a woodworking tradesman, with five years manufacturing countertops in a business co-owned by one of his brothers and then as a framing and finishing carpenter on new homes.
He loved working on cars and other things mechanical, his father said.
Fr. Warden had the American dream of having a house and a family, but then came to the realization he wanted something more in life.
“My desire to be a carpenter was self-serving. The priesthood is self-giving,” Fr. Warden said. “If you think that something you obtain might make you happy and you get it, but are still not happy it doesn’t take long to figure out nothing in itself will make you happy. The alternative is to pursue everything in the world, but I didn’t have enough storage space for that.”
A year of personal discernment about his vocation came down to a moment of prayer in the adoration chapel at Ss. Peter and Paul Church in Green Bay.
“That moment of prayer didn’t come with overwhelming emotion or superficial joy. It was only a deep sense of confident peace and a deep discernment as to how I was going to keep on the path that was laid out for me before my eyes,” Fr. Warden said.
The summer of 2012 spent as a deacon at St. Jude the Apostle Parish in Oshkosh “was a great time of confirmation for my vocation to the priesthood,” Fr. Warden said. “The people were very welcoming and supportive, especially in a time of transition for me into a life where my mom would no longer be physically present.”
Bishop Ricken serves as an inspiration for Fr. Warden.
“I know Bishop Ricken as a man of prayer and bravery who is both firm and loving,” Fr. Michael said. “He always has the best of intentions because I believe his intentions are also the Lord’s intentions.”
Desiring to become a servant of God is not simply the result of strong personal feelings, Fr. Warden said.
“It’s something inside of me that draws me to God,” he said. “Sometimes I find myself in prayer asking God to make me a saint. I’ve read about the lives of saints and the martyrs. I know how trustingly they followed the Lord and how nothing in their lives came before God and service to his people. No one would ever desire such a thing on purely rational motives. Therefore if that desire does not come from within me it must come from God. In the end it is the Holy Spirit in us that motivates us to feel so strongly.”