ALLOUEZ — Fr. Adam Bradley received some good advice at a National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors. A priest at the conference asked him, “What do you want your presbyterate to look like?”
“Good fraternity, accountability, a loving brotherhood that helps you be the best person you can be,” replied Fr. Bradley, assistant vocation director for the Diocese of Green Bay.
“That’s how you have to form these guys (in discernment for the priesthood),” said the other priest. “They are the future of the presbyterate. If you want them to start their formation that way, you have to put them on the right foot.”
That’s what the diocese hopes to do through its “Kairos Year,” also known as a propaedeutic year of formation. The word kairos is Greek for “an appointed time.” On Sept. 8, five men, each discerning a call to the priesthood, moved into the Holy Name of Jesus House of Formation, located in Allouez on the St. Matthew church property.
“This year is meant to be a period of time for these men to grow in discipleship, to begin a more intentional discernment towards the priesthood,” said Fr. Bradley. “They are not considered seminarians. They are considered ‘men on the Kairos Year.’ We hope that all of them do go on to seminary.”
The men, ranging in age from 18 to 23, begin each day with at least a half hour of prayer in community, in front of the Blessed Sacrament, before Mass. Breakfast follows, prior to an hour and a half of recollection time.
“They can pray, read; it’s just a quiet time in the house to reflect,” said Fr. Bradley, who directs the Kairos Year program. “If they want, they can get in a quick workout. They start class at 10 a.m. and go to 11:30 a.m.”
Taylor Geiger, vocation coordinator for the diocese, teaches part one of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. He will also teach part three, while Fr. Bradley will provide instruction for parts two and four. Fr. Mark Mleziva, vocation director, teaches a class that focuses on the history and culture of the Diocese of Green Bay. Mother Mary Catherine of Missionaries of the Word also teaches a class once a week. Fr. Quinn Mann provides spiritual direction for the men every other week.
“Fr. Adam has allowed me to teach a history of the diocese to the guys, which includes lectures and field trips to important sites within the diocese,” explained Fr. Mleziva. “I pray this is also helping them to fall in love with this area and the faithful here as well.
“My hope is that they come away with a love for the diocese, and in particular, for the people of the parishes,” he added. “As diocesan priests, we are called to minister to the faithful within the 16 counties of NE Wisconsin, and by talking and praying with them on the weekends, my hope is that it instills a love for them and motivates them to continue to be formed into good, holy, and faithful priests, which the faithful need and deserve.”
Twice a week, the men — Jacob Bovee, Joseph Cherney, Nicholas Huza, Michael Janczakowski and Nicholas Vande Hey — volunteer at the Micah Center in Green Bay, which serves as a daytime resource center for men and women who are experiencing homelessness or at risk for homelessness. The men in the Kairos Year also have household duties.
A partial media fast is in place at the house of formation. There are no mobile phones, laptops, e-readers or television. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons, the men may connect with family members on the two house phones. They can also use a house computer for email or to look up information. No social media is permitted.
“This year is about holiness. We live in a very distracted culture right now,” said Fr. Bradley. “Essentially, this year is functioning sort of like a diocesan novitiate. They divest themselves of all these things in order to pay attention to God and his love and action in their lives.
“It helps the young man to encounter God and root themselves in becoming a beloved son of God,” he added. “They are beginning to work on things that need to be worked on in seminary. They will have an established prayer life when they go to seminary. They don’t have to start to learn how to pray.”
The men will read the entire Bible and the entire catechism and be introduced to other documents of the church. They will know how to be an altar server and a sacristan through the program, and how to pray the liturgy of the hours (Breviary).
A number of priests have visited the house to provide formation, including Fr. Edward Looney, who spoke about the rosary. Fr. Scott Valentyn shared insights about practical things to expect in seminary.
“Fr. (John) Girotti has talked about different things,” said Fr. Bradley. “We have Fr. José López lined up. The priests are giving their time to meet with the guys and be with them.”
The men are able to visit faith communities in the diocese. They travel with Frs. Bradley and Mleziva when they celebrate Masses at parishes on weekends.
“Each of them has to take a turn when we go out to different parishes,” explained Fr. Bradley. “After the prayer following Communion, one of them goes up to talk about the Kairos Year. They have one to three minutes to do it. They explain what they are doing and ask for prayers. It gets them used to speaking in front of a large group.
“Some of the guys, at first, kind of struggled,” he added. “It’s great to see them grow, get some of the kinksworked out in a place where they are loved and where people want them to succeed, so when they go to seminary, they can grow even more.”
Fr. Bradley serves as chaplain at Xavier High School in Appleton. The Kairos Year men accompany him to the school to learn how to minister to students. The men were recently on retreat for three days at Catholic Youth Expeditions in Door County. An eight-day retreat is scheduled in 2021. Fr. Bradley said that he consistently asks the men three questions about their ministry and formation: “How did it go? What could have gone better? Where is Jesus?”
The five men quickly formed a community in the house, he added. Fr. Bradley compares them to brothers.
“It’s not a perfect community,” he said. “They find the good and bad in each other, helping each other to grow. There are times where there is friction; times where you can’t get them to stop laughing because they have such a good fraternity. It’s really beautiful to see.”
The house includes a chapel, sitting room and classroom. A recreation area in the basement features ping pong and foosball. Every two weeks, they enjoy a movie night.
“The house is such a gift through some very generous donors,” said Fr. Bradley. “We were able to remodel the chapel. That’s coming to completion. We’ve been able to buy things for the house to update it through the very generous people of God.”
The men will have holiday breaks, including a month for Christmas. Fr. Bradley said that they should maintain some structure at home through attending Mass, prayer and the Breviary. He credits the men’s families for their sacrifices during the Kairos Year.
“Their parents have been incredibly generous and supportive,” he said. “They’ve shown their care for their sons while they are doing something new. All the parents have shown an openness and receptivity to it.”
The five men in discernment are not the only ones experiencing growth at the house.
“As they grow, Fr. Mark and I grow,” said Fr. Bradley. “Where do I need to be a better priest for these guys? Where do I need to grow in charity for these guys? They bring it out of you. We are forming a brotherhood and this year is about that.”
For information about vocations, visit gbvocations.org.