ALLOUEZ — Mark Rydell will soon take another step on a journey that began 20 years ago. On Saturday, Nov. 25, at 10 a.m. Mass, he will be ordained a transitional deacon by Bishop David Ricken at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay.
Rydell is scheduled to be ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Green Bay, along with Deacon Juan-Carlos Altamirano, on May 25, 2024.
Rydell, 38, said that he was first called to the priesthood as a senior in high school.
“I was sitting in Mass with my family and I felt God say to me, ‘Be a priest.’ I wasn’t thinking about the priesthood at that point,” he said. “It hit me hard. I remember having a lot of emotions rushing through me — joy and excitement.”
He recalls that his mother, Joni, sensed that something was happening.
“She asked why I couldn’t sit still at Mass, which was unusual,” he said. “Obviously, I was having this powerful moment.”
Rydell was born in Milwaukee. His family moved to La Crosse when he was 2 years old and then the family moved again to Eden Prairie, Minn., when he was 10. He credits his mother and his father, Edward, for providing him with a foundation of faith. The family belonged to Blessed Sacrament Parish in La Crosse and later Pax Christi Catholic Community in Eden Prairie.
“I remember as a kid, my mother taking me to weekday Masses and learning how to pray the rosary,” said Rydell. “We always had mealtime together, made sure we ate dinner together and prayed before meals.”
Following high school, Rydell attended the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. He focused on earning a degree in history, while continuing to explore the priesthood. While at the university, he became a member of St. Lawrence Newman Center.
Rydell said he considered religious life following his college graduation in 2008.
“I was in contact with the Jesuit vocation director who suggested that I do the Jesuit Volunteer Corps,” said Rydell. “I went to Milwaukee and stayed in the Jesuit Volunteer House. I basically worked full time at St. Rose and St. Leo Catholic urban academies as a teacher assistant. They had me do a lot of different things, from maintenance, moderating a peer mediation program for resolving conflicts.”
Rydell added that he never “felt at peace” with joining a religious community, so he decided to move to La Crosse where his parents were once again residing. He took a job in the memory care unit at a nursing home run by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration where, he said, people around him affirmed his call to the priesthood.
“A lot of non-Catholic coworkers were telling me that I would make a good Catholic priest,” recalled Rydell. “I do believe that God uses human instruments. I thought I would listen to that. The sisters recommended that I join the Diocese of La Crosse (for formation).”
Rydell was a seminarian for the Diocese of La Crosse from 2010 to 2015, but then decided to take a leave of absence. He had previously earned a master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., so he explored teaching positions.
In 2018, Rydell moved to the Diocese of Green Bay for a position at Xavier High School in Appleton.
“I taught freshmen theology for four years and one year of world history. I was attracted to teaching both subjects from my seminary experience and also my history background,” he said.
“One of the years away (from seminary), I was dating,” he continued. “I kept my prayer life strong. I felt like God basically asked me, ‘How can you reconcile this, dating, with your existing call to the priesthood?’ That was very clear to me. There was a time when I wasn’t sure I was taking a step in any direction.”
Rydell said he continued to pray for a desire to return to seminary and credits conversations with his spiritual director in Appleton for guiding him.
His prayers were answered, leading him to the decision to talk with Fr. Mark Mleziva, vocation director for the Diocese of Green Bay, and together they started the application process for Rydell to pursue priesthood for the diocese.
In the fall of 2022, he returned to formation at St. Francis de Sales Seminary near Milwaukee.
“I came back into third theology,” he explained. “I’m very grateful to Bishop Ricken, Fr. Mleziva and everyone else who was part of the decision making. I felt very supported and encouraged. I really felt at home.”
Rydell added that he has also felt at home at St. Mary Parish, Menasha, the faith community he joined when he began teaching at Xavier High School.
“I think it will be a very joyful day,” said Rydell about his ordination to the diaconate.
He will be vested at the Mass by Fr. Adam Bradley, administrator at St. Bernard Parish, Green Bay. They first met at St. Francis de Sales Seminary, where Rydell attended for five weeks for the Diocese of La Crosse before leaving seminary. They later developed a friendship at Xavier High School where Fr. Bradley formerly served as chaplain.
“(Fr. Bradley) would be in my classroom a lot to answer questions for my students,” said Rydell.
He said he is looking forward to his family, including his parents and older brother, Matthew, and people from throughout his journey coming together for his ordination.
“There will be a lot of people from the seminary and all my stops along the way from different places I’ve lived and worked,” said Rydell.
The next day, on Sunday, Nov. 26, he will serve as a homilist at 9 a.m. Mass at St. John Church and at 11 a.m. Mass at St. Mary Church, both in Menasha.
During the spring semester, which will be his final semester at St. Francis de Sales Seminary, he will be assigned to a parish in the Diocese of Green Bay where he will serve as a deacon. Rydell said he is looking forward to preaching opportunities and possibly baptisms, funerals and weddings.
“It’s been a long journey, but I know it’s all been preparation,” said Rydell. “You have formation in seminary, but I think about the life experiences. When I was teaching there was a lot of growth in formation during those years. I’m really happy to be in the Diocese of Green Bay and feel very blessed.”