Campus ministry led Ripley to discern vocation

UW-Madison, Varsity Catholic ministries opened his eyes to holy orders

Editor’s note: Bishop David Ricken will ordain two men to the transitional diaconate on Sunday, May 19. Here The Compass profiles Kevin Ripley. Click on the following name to read a profile of the other deacon candidate:

ALLOUEZ — Attending Mass was a priority for Kevin Ripley when he entered college, but little did he know that it would lead to a call to the priesthood.

Ripley, who will be ordained a deacon on Sunday, May 19, at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, signed up for a Bible study after his first Mass at St. Paul University Catholic Center at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Kevin Ripley

“I got engaged with a small group of guys that lasted four years,” said Ripley, the son of Rick and Cathy Ripley. “As I was getting more engaged in the faith, things were opening up. That’s the beauty of our faith. I started praying more often as I was encouraged to do so by the priests at the Newman Center and the other students.”

Ripley credits Fr. Eric Nielsen, pastor/executive director of St. Paul, and Fr. Eric Sternberg, who served as director of student ministries, for serving as faith examples during his college years. He also points to a mentor from Varsity Catholic, an arm of FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) for helping him to look at his vocation in life.

“He challenged me, ‘So Kevin, you’re going to get married, right?’ I said, ‘Yes, that’s the plan,’” explained Ripley, who is from Pulaski. “He said, ‘What are you doing about it?’ I said, ‘Nothing, I’m too busy.’ That was my excuse.”

Ripley, an engineering major, was involved in engineering clubs, a member of the rowing team, involved in another Bible study with the rowing team and a member of a team building a human-powered vehicle.

“(The conversation) opened my eyes to think, ‘Yeah, if (marriage) is my vocation, I better start looking into that,’” he said.

Product design was his plan as an engineer. Ripley felt that it would be a good career to support a family, but he knew that it wasn’t his main calling in life.

“Where was God in this? Where did God fit into my calling? I started praying for a vocation,” he said. “I ended up going on retreat up in Hayward (Wis.) with 12 other students and the two priests.”

Having discovered that it was a discernment retreat, he initially declined. He had been going out on dates at that time.

“Little by little, the invitation started to tug on my heart,” said Ripley. “I began to pray about it more, went on the retreat and came out of it really being open to what God is planning for me.

“Over a span of time, I can list 11 or 12 people who asked me, ‘Are you in seminary?’ I was considering it. What that did is give me the freedom to take the summer off from rowing. I needed to figure out where I was going to be the happiest.”

Ripley spoke with Fr. Daniel Schuster, diocesan vocation director at the time. He returned to the university for his senior year and applied to seminary during spring break.

“I finished up classes over the summer,” he explained. “I finished exams on Friday and that following Monday, I was at orientation at Mundelein (Seminary, University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Ill.). I was glad that we had a five-day silent retreat after orientation.”

One of Ripley’s favorite moments from his years in seminary occurred this past semester. Third-year theology students at Mundelein go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He was able to row on the Sea of Galilee.

“There is a rowing club on Tiberias, right on the shore,” he explained. “I told the guy that I rowed for four years at university. ‘Could I row?’ He said, ‘Yes, here’s your boat.’ I tried to pay them some money, but they said ‘no.’ There was a rainbow.”

For the past two years as a seminarian, Ripley has assisted at Ascension Parish in Oak Park, Ill., as part of Mundelein’s teaching program. He will serve as a deacon at the parish during his final year at seminary. This summer, he will serve as a deacon at St. Mary Parish in Greenville, where he will minister with Fr. Michael Warden.

“I look forward to preaching, doing some baptisms and weddings if I get the opportunity,” he said. “I hope to get involved in youth ministry.”

Prior to serving in Greenville, Ripley will return to Marinette, where he served as an intern at Holy Family Parish during his theology II year. He was invited by the senior class at St. Thomas Aquinas Academy to speak at commencement on May 26.

While his college and seminary years have fostered his call to the priesthood, Ripley said the foundation of his faith was formed during his youth. He grew up as a member of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Pulaski and attended the parish school.

“Faith was a big part of our family,” he said. “We always went to Mass on Sundays. I was an altar server for a few years. When I went to middle school, I stopped and did choir stuff more. I was always involved.

“I had gone on some retreats in high school like TEC (Teens Encounter Christ) and CYE (Catholic Youth Expeditions),” added Ripley, who is scheduled to be ordained a priest in the summer of 2020. “I knew there was something there that I wanted to be involved with moving forward.”

Franciscan Fr. Patrick Gawrylewski, pastor at Assumption BVM, will vest Ripley at the deacon ordination. He looks forward to sharing the day with family and friends, including his parents, grandparents, brother, Kyle; sister-in-law, Karisa; nephew, Joseph; and extended family.

“My mom has five siblings and my dad has eight siblings, so we have a pretty big extended family,” said Ripley. “My parents have been so supportive. I have all four grandparents. They will all be there. I definitely wouldn’t be there without all their support. I’ve had a lot of influences in my life.”