House of discernment

  • Written by Nathan Whalen
  • Published in NW Stories
Father Bryan Dolejsi, vocations director for the Archdiocese of Seattle, chats with Patrick Mbuiyu, who is living at Vianney House in Seattle while discerning a vocation to the priesthood. Photo: Stephen Brashear Father Bryan Dolejsi, vocations director for the Archdiocese of Seattle, chats with Patrick Mbuiyu, who is living at Vianney House in Seattle while discerning a vocation to the priesthood. Photo: Stephen Brashear

Men see fullness of priestly ministry while living at Seattle’s Vianney House

John DePalma was teaching full-time at Seattle University and working part-time as a physical therapist.

But he also was feeling called to the priesthood, even spending two years in the Jesuit novitiate before dropping out. Wanting more guidance, he contacted Father Bryan Dolejsi, vocations director for the Archdiocese of Seattle.

John DePalma
John DePalma

In 2015, Father Dolejsi invited DePalma to be one of the first residents of Vianney House at Seattle’s St. Benedict Parish. It’s a place where men can live in community, grow spiritually and learn more about the life of a priest.

“It kind of seemed like the ideal mixture,” said DePalma, who lived at Vianney House with two other men for about a year and now is in studying at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois. “It helped me reorient myself to be committed.”

The house, which serves as the parish rectory, is named after St. John Vianney, patron saint of priests, Father Dolejsi said. It’s also home to Father Dolejsi, St. Benedict’s parish priest, and Father Patrick Sherrard, priest administrator at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Seattle, and a place for visiting priests to stay.

So men living at Vianney House while discerning a vocation also witness the daily life of a priest — learning about the time management and interpersonal skills needed to be successful, the fraternity between priests and how priests balance their prayer lives with their ministry, Father Dolejsi said.

“I had a much more realistic view of the priesthood when I was there,” said Kyle Rink, who lived at Vianney House for a year with two other men after he earned a civil engineering degree from Boise State University in 2017.

Creating a life plan

Father Dolejsi invites men who are discerning to live at the house; while in residence, they are expected to live like seminarians, including no dating.

Kyle Rink
Kyle Rink

“We set out a plan for life for each guy,” Father Dolejsi said. The year-long plan includes the types of ministries the resident will be involved with while living at the house and working or attending school.

Working at Seattle University, DePalma was able to attend Mass every day, and he helped the homeless at St. James Cathedral’s winter shelter.

Rink found a job at a local civil engineering firm, where he worked on ADA compliance projects. “It worked out perfectly,” he said. During his time at Vianney House, Rink served as a lector and extraordinary minister of holy Communion at St. Benedict and volunteered with N Seattle Catholic Youth, a combined youth ministry of seven parishes.

Rink also accompanied Father Dolejsi to parish council meetings, nursing homes for the anointing of the sick, conferences and visits to the archdiocesan offices.

Spiritual growth is part of the Vianney House experience, and residents are expected to pray the Liturgy of the Hours and attend Mass regularly.

Having a chapel in Vianney House made it “super-easy to pray whenever you want,” said Rink, who grew up attending All Saints Parish in Puyallup and now is studying at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon.

“I always knew I needed to be back before 9 to pray with the guys,” DePalma said. The men had “a really great sense of camaraderie. It was a great way to transition into community life.”

Before moving into Vianney House, DePalma had trepidation about becoming a priest, losing the freedom to go anywhere he wanted at any time. But as he lived at Vianney House, DePalma said, he grew in “a spiritual freedom to trust my relationship with God, Jesus and church.”

Vianney HouseSeminarians Brody Stewart, left, Kyle Rink and Sylvester Chanda (and Rink’s sister, Mikaela Rink) chat at St. Benedict Parish’s Vianney House, where the men lived while discerning vocations to the priesthood. Photo: Stephen Brashear

Discerning a good fit

Houses of discernment like Vianney House can be found in several dioceses around the country, operating at the discretion of the local bishop, according to Rosemary Sullivan, executive director of the National Council of Diocesan Vocation Directors.

Men living in discernment houses are “seeing the ‘everyness’ of the priesthood,” Sullivan said.

“It gives a serious discerner an opportunity to step away from the business of the world and start living the life of a seminarian,” said Father Jeff Eirvin, vocations director for the Archdiocese of Portland, where a discernment house was established five years ago.

Sullivan said discernment houses also provide a chance for a vocations director to discern whether a man is a good fit to become a diocesan priest.

Of the 14 men who have lived at Vianney House, 10 have moved on to other things, Father Dolejsi said. Some ended up getting married, while others are considering a different form of religious life.

If men aren’t called to become priests, “I want them to keep moving forward personally and professionally,” Father Dolejsi said.

Helping men discern the priesthood isn’t just the responsibility of a vocations director like Father Dolejsi, Sullivan said — they need help from priests, chaplains, men and women in the parish, and their families.

“We all have a responsibility holding that vocation up,” she said.

Starting to Discern

The Archdiocese of Seattle offers information, resources and events for men, women and teens thinking about a call to religious life. Visit seattlevocations.com to learn more.

You can hear Father Bryan Dolejsi, vocations director for the Archdiocese of Seattle, preach about vocations March 16–17 at St. Louise de Marillac Parish in Bellevue and May 18–19 at St. Pius X Parish in Mountlake Terrace. Watch his short videos at seattlevocations.com, which cover topics including steps to discernment, blessings of the priesthood and a message for parents.

Screening seminarians

To learn more about the Archdiocese of Seattle’s rigorous screening process and formation program for seminarians, read Father Bryan Dolejsi’s column “Forming our future priests” at NWCatholic.org/formingpriests.

Northwest Catholic - March 2019

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