ALLOUEZ — Deacon Kyle Sladek anticipates a somewhat familiar feeling when he is ordained to the priesthood on June 30 by Bishop David Ricken at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay.
“Being ordained a deacon was a little bit surreal because the Mass is for you,” he said. “You go to a lot of ordinations as a seminarian and then the day comes. I have to be in the procession. The bishop is talking to you. There is a little bit of an out-of-body experience; there was for me. I found that I had a lot of joy, peace.”
That joy and peace was once lackluster for Deacon Sladek, 27. The example of his best friend, Eric DeMeuse, spurred his faith journey.
“I had all these other things that should have been making me happy in high school,” said Deacon Sladek about his experience at Notre Dame Academy in Green Bay. “I was well liked, pretty good at school, good grades, was involved in clubs, band, varsity tennis, was an Eagle Scout. Worldly success, but I knew I was missing something and Eric introduced me to what I was missing and who I was missing.
“We did the same sports and activities and had the same friend circle, but there was just a qualitative peace and happiness that he had that I didn’t and I noticed it,” added Deacon Sladek. “He invited me to be part of a youth group and go on retreats. He started to disciple me and teach me how to pray. Once I started praying, once I started spending time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharist, and going to daily Mass a little bit more, right then the thoughts of priesthood started to come.”
Following high school, Deacon Sladek, the son of Tom and Mary Ann Sladek, attended the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. He dismissed the priesthood as he tried to maintain a long-distance relationship with his high school girlfriend. When that dating relationship ended, thoughts of the priesthood were still present.
“Every time I would go to Mass, every time I would go to adoration, every time I would be around a priest, it was kind of a stirring in my heart, a stirring in my mind,” he said. “Maybe this is something I need to do. The Lord is telling me to be a priest.”
Deacon Sladek spoke with Fr. John Girotti, rector at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral at the time. Deacon Sladek, a Green Bay native, became of member of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral Parish while in college.
“We met on the feast of (St.) John Vianney in 2011,” said Deacon Sladek. “Neither one of us really planned it that way. I told him what I was feeling and what I was thinking. It was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I can remember sitting in my car after that meeting and getting this feeling in my gut, in my heart, of falling in love. This is the answer to all the questions I have. This is the beginning of the rest of my life. This is a new adventure. I could have told you right then that I’m called to be a priest, not just go to seminary. This has to be it. There is nothing else.”
Deacon Sladek studied at Mundelein Seminary, near Chicago. Ministry experiences in the Diocese of Green Bay during formation included serving on Totus Tuus teams, which provided parish youth missions, and a pastoral internship at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish in Oshkosh.
Following his ordination to the diaconate in May of 2017, Deacon Sladek served as a deacon in the summer at St. Mary of the Lake Parish in Lakewood with stations at Crooked Lake and Silver Cliff, and at St. Ambrose Parish in Wabeno. During the past year, he served as a deacon at St. Emily Parish in Mount Prospect, Ill., while continuing his studies at Mundelein.
“I got some preaching practice in and got to see a very different part of the diocese that I’m used to,” he said about his summer experience. “I’m kind of a city slicker, so being up in the north woods was good exposure.”
Deacon Sladek will be preaching at his Mass of Thanksgiving at 9 a.m. Sunday, July 1, at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral. He prepares for homilies in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
“Whatever comes to me in prayer is what I preach on,” he said. “God puts the ideas there and you ask the Lord, ‘What do you want to say to your people.’ I’m the guy. I’m the messenger boy. God has a message he wants to give to every specific parish, congregation. The 7:30 a.m. message is a little different than the 11:30 a.m. It’s up to me. How receptive can I be to that? How can I communicate, use my sense of humor, my writing ability?”
Bishop Ricken noted Deacon Sladek’s sense of humor at his deacon ordination Mass. He credits his parents for that trait.
“You notice little absurdities in things and comment on that,” he said. “Spirituality helps, having that right perspective and being able to laugh at things.”
Following ordination to the priesthood, Deacon Sladek, 27, will be assigned to serve as parochial vicar at Holy Cross Parish and St. Katharine Drexel Parish, both in Kaukauna.
“I’m looking forward to celebrating Mass, hearing confessions, anointing the sick,” he said. “I want to really get to know the people as a priest. There is a school at my first assignment. It’s a classical school. I’m a firm believer in the classical education. I’m excited to have kids around who know a little bit of Latin like I do.”
The last couple months have provided a good opportunity to reflect on the graces he has received, said Deacon Sladek. He is grateful to the many priest-mentors from the diocese including Fr. Girotti, who will be vesting him at the ordination, and Frs. Patrick Beno, Daniel Schuster, Tom Long, Philip Dinh-Van-Thiep and Jim Jugenheimer. He is also thankful for the example of his priest friends including Frs. Ryan Starks, Jon Thorsen and Zach Weber.
“I also got to know Fr. Leo Lessard (who died on March 1) last summer,” said Deacon Sladek. “It was just an inspiration to see a guy who still loved the Lord and the Blessed Mother. He inspired me through his love and laughter.”
Following ordination, Deacon Sladek will offer thanks at Masses at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, the Carmelite Monastery of the Holy Name of Jesus in Denmark, in Lakewood and Wabeno and Oshkosh. In the fall, he will celebrate Mass at his alma mater, Notre Dame Academy. He is thankful for the support of his parents, other family members and friends, including Eric DeMeuse and his wife, Danielle, who will be present at the ordination Mass with their three children. Their eldest son, Dominic, is Deacon Sladek’s godson.
“The Lord has really blessed me,” said Deacon Sladek. “I probably don’t realize how grateful I should be. He loved me into existence, loved me with this vocation and will love me in ministry.”