CYE experience helped foster Deacon Parent’s vocation

ALLOUEZ — Deacon Greg Parent cherished the last four years as a seminarian in Rome, but “it’s good to be home,” he said. He returned to the diocese at the end of May, and on June 30, he will be ordained to the priesthood by Bishop David Ricken at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral.

Deacon Greg Parent is pictured with his parents, Steve and Cindy, and brother Brad and his wife, Susanna, following his ordination to the diaconate on Sept. 28 at St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City. (Chris Parrilli | Special To The Compass)

Prior to studying in Rome, Deacon Parent, 26, spent four years at St. John Vianney College Seminary at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn.

“Looking back, I was a different person when I started,” he said. “The gift of seminary formation in a lot of ways helped me grow up. I was an 18-year-old kid when I started. The process works. It was an incredible gift to get that many years of formation. I don’t think you are ever ready to be a priest, but they really prepared me well. I’m as ready as I can be.”

The journey to the priesthood for Deacon Parent began in the eighth grade when his family joined the Catholic Church. His parents, Steve and Cindy Parent of New Franken, were raised Catholic and married in the Catholic Church, but left the church before having children.

“As a family, we had been searching around at different churches,” said Deacon Parent. “My parents came across SS. Peter and Paul Parish (Green Bay) with Fr. Tom Farrell as the pastor. He was really inspiring for us. My parents were drawn to him as a good, faithful priest. It was an on-fire parish and a good place for my brother (Brad) and me as young kids to learn more about the faith.

“We found our way back,” he added. “The biggest thing I remember about that process is I got involved in Catholic Youth Expeditions (CYE). That’s what facilitated my vocation.”

Fr. Quinn Mann, founder and director of CYE, which offers expedition retreats of prayer, Gospel proclamation and outdoor adventure, served as associate pastor (parochial vicar) at SS. Peter and Paul. Deacon Parent participated in CYE three summers during high school. Following his senior year at Preble High School in Green Bay, he joined the staff and served two additional summers as a seminarian. Deacon Parent was a standout athlete in high school, including competing in the 110-meter hurdles at the state track and field meet as a senior, so the physical components of CYE appealed to him.

“Swimming, ultimate Frisbee, that sort of stuff, I was all about it,” he said. “It was a really amazing mix of playing hard and praying hard. It was a ton of fun, but then you would get up at 7:30 a.m. for adoration and Mass, pray the Liturgy of the Hours together and do some formational reading. They certainly didn’t sugarcoat the religious aspects of it. The best way to live life in every facet was impressed upon me.”

In addition to Frs. Farrell and Mann, Deacon Parent’s family knew the late Msgr. Roy Klister, who also served as an example. The combination of good priests and his CYE experience led him to answer the call and enroll in seminary.

While at St. John Vianney, Deacon Parent studied a semester abroad in Rome. He didn’t expect to return to Italy later in his formation.

“I sort of went crazy seeing everything,” he said. “My family came over and visited. St. Thomas has a campus there. I studied at the Angelicum (University). I did my first cycle of studies (when he returned to Rome in 2014) at Gregorian (University). This past year I was back at the Angelicum. I had some of the same professors.”

Bishop Ricken asked Deacon Parent during his senior year in St. Paul to study in Rome for four years.

“I trusted his prayer and discernment,” said Deacon Parent. “It’s a unique setting because you’re living

in a foreign country with 250 other Americans. We speak English in the house, so there are some homey aspects. It’s not totally an emersion experience. You definitely get to experience the universal church because there are so many seminarians and sisters from so many countries. You get to make friends from all over the world.”

During his time in Rome, Deacon Parent was able to return home for two summer parish assignments in the diocese. He served at St. Anthony Parish, Niagara, and St. Margaret Parish, Pembine, and a summer at St. Jude the Apostle Parish, Oshkosh.

“I enjoyed being back in a parish, to get to know the parishioners and the pastors, Fr. Matt Settle and Fr. Matt Simonar,” he said.

Deacon Parent was ordained to the diaconate on Sept. 28, 2017, in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. He had more opportunities to serve as a deacon than most seminarians in Rome.

“In addition to our studies, we all have apostolates in the city to do any number of things,” he said. “I was working with the study abroad program from St. John’s University in Queens (N.Y.). We would celebrate Mass with them every Sunday, so I got to deacon Mass every other week. I was able to preach a lot. I was thankful to get that pastoral outlet in the middle of studies.”

Deacon Parent prepares for homilies by spending time in prayer with the Scriptures and reading commentaries.

“I try to find the one nugget, the one point and bring people listening to that point,” he said. “Hopefully I do it succinctly and clearly. It’s definitely a work in process.”

Fr. Farrell will preach at Deacon Parent’s Mass of Thanksgiving at 3 p.m. on Sunday, July 1, at SS. Peter and Paul Church in Green Bay. His brother, Brad, and sister-in-law, Susanna, will serve as lectors. Fr. Mann will vest him at the ordination Mass. Deacon Parent looks forward to being ordained in the cathedral.

“That’s the church I’ve been praying with since the day I entered seminary,” he said. “That’s the marble I’m going to lay on as I get ordained. That church building has been a source of prayer and encouragement for me.

“I’m thankful to have Bishop Ricken ordain me because of the respect I have for him,” he added. “I learned a lesson in the gift of obedience. He had discerned (studying in Rome) and it turned out to be the right choice, a beautiful opportunity.”

Fr. Simonar gave Deacon Parent a chalice that was made in France. His grandmother, Mary Parent, had it replated as a gift. Following ordination, Deacon Parent will be appointed parochial vicar at the Quad Parishes on the west side of Green Bay — Annunciation, St. Joseph, St. Jude and St. Patrick. He looks forward to celebrating Mass and administering the sacraments.

“It’s very humbling. As a deacon I had the opportunity to do my brother’s wedding (in the fall) and one baptism when I was home for Christmas,” he said. “It will be a real privilege to celebrate Mass, hear confessions and be with people at important times in their lives. When we were being trained for anointing of the sick, it gets less attention, but is really a gift of the church. This person is going to die. This is how we get them to heaven.

“I want to be the best example, the best teacher of prayer that I can be,” he added. “Sharing how deeply God loves us is something I take very seriously. This is a gift given to me by God for a reason.”