ALLOUEZ — Ordination to the priesthood on July 1 at St. Mary Church in Ledgeview will mark a return home for Deacon Mark Mleziva. Following four years at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, he looks forward to serving the Diocese of Green Bay.
“I just want to be with people in whatever capacity,” said the deacon, whose home parishes are Immaculate Conception in Luxemburg and St. Therese de Lisieux (Pilsen site). “Priests have such a privileged opportunity to be with their parishioners in times of joy, sorrow and everything in between, and I very much look forward to bringing the presence of Jesus into those situations.”
Deacon Mleziva first felt the call to the priesthood while a student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He vividly remembers the moment during his sophomore year, lying in bed at the end of the day.
“I sort of fell into a state where I was conscious, but not really aware of my surroundings,” he explained. “I felt as if I was completely in my mind, and I heard the words, ‘Mark, Mark, I want you to be a priest.’ I was pretty taken back to say the least and I was unsure of what just happened. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well that evening and wasn’t sure what to make of it. A few days went by, but the thought of the event did not leave me.”
He wanted to be a high school teacher, get married and have a family, so the priesthood was not in his plans. Deacon Mleziva tried to put it out of his mind, but when attending Mass, he found himself focused on the priest.
“I became more and more open to it, and I came to the ‘deacon compromise,’ where I could do God’s work, yet still be married and do my thing,” he said. “However, as time went on, I knew that God was calling me to be a priest.”
Following graduation from college in 2011, he entered St. Francis de Sales Seminary near Milwaukee, where he studied for two years before moving on to Rome. While at Pontifical North American College, he took classes at Pontifical Gregorian University.
“Being close to the Holy Father has been amazing as he is the chief shepherd of the church. And who better to learn from regarding how to be a shepherd than the pope?” he said. “In addition, being able to travel and see so much of this part of the world has been a wonderful experience. I’ve seen so much faith alive in and around Europe, and it has been a blessing to witness that faith in action as well as some of the traditions that these countries still celebrate.”
The opportunity to meet people from around the world, while studying in Rome, also stands out.
“I’ve made some lifelong friends and I look forward to keeping in contact with them, assuming I can remember how to write in Italian,” he said.
Another lasting memory for Deacon Mleziva from Rome is the ordination Mass on Sept. 29, when he became a deacon at St. Peter’s Basilica. He was vested by Deacon Adam Bradley, one of his priesthood ordination classmates.
“Being able to share my diaconate ordination with both my friends and family was an amazing blessing,” he said.
“Rome has been good, but I very much look forward to watching the Badgers and Packers at a decent hour again, and not in the middle of the night,” he added.
During the past year, formation focused on how to help disciples grow in their relationship with Jesus and how to make new disciples, explained Deacon Mleziva.
“It has also focused on some of the other areas of the priesthood that people may not think much about, such as the financial and administrative components,” he said. “In addition, there is also a shift to some of the more practical parts of priesthood such as celebrating Mass, hearing confessions and administering the other sacraments. It has certainly made it more real.”
Reflecting on his vocation journey, Deacon Mleziva believes the most significant change in his spiritual life is his trust in God. He realizes that he cannot serve on his own.
“Understanding who the priest is and what he does is completely dependent upon God and his grace,” he said. “It’s been both good and difficult, learning how to die to myself so that God can shine through me as his instrument. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve prayed ‘Jesus, I trust in you.’”
Deacon Mleziva, the son of Rodney and Karen Mleziva, will be vested at the ordination by Fr. Milton Suess, who has served as a model for his vocation.
“He has been my pastor in Luxemburg since I was born and his tireless dedication to the parish and school is truly remarkable,” said Deacon Mleziva. “He gives of himself every single day, and I have no doubt that this has been a positive influence on me even before I felt called to the priesthood.
“My parents have also have been a strong influence on me and the rest of my family,” he added. “I am truly indebted to them for deciding to baptize me and bring me up in the faith.”
Deacon Mleziva is also thankful for the support received from the people of his home parishes.
“The encouragement from back home has been so overwhelming that I have been humbled by it all,” he said. “In particular, I am very grateful for the support of the Christian Mothers and Knights of Columbus at St. Mary’s in Luxemburg, as well as the Catholic Order of Foresters and Rosary Society at St. Therese (St. Joseph site) in Pilsen.”
The newly ordained Fr. Mleziva will celebrate Masses of Thanksgiving on July 2 at St. Mary (Immaculate Conception) and July 16 in Pilsen. His first appointment is parochial vicar at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Manitowoc.
“I am very excited to begin there and I know that it will be a wonderful experience,” he said. “Seeing as how I have never been a priest before, I’m excited to give myself to them, but also learn from them as well, as relationships are always a two-way street. I hope to offer much, but I know that I will be given much as well.”