Congratulations to Fr. Mark Olejnik who was ordained a priest on May 18, 2019 at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston.
He is assigned to the Collaborative of Saint Margaret and Saint Malachy Parishes in Burlington.
What are some of the factors that led to your decision to enter the seminary and discern the question of a vocation to the priesthood?
Disenchanted by the culture of self, there was something terribly unsatisfying with it all. Being a seminarian, it is hard to imagine that there was once a point—in a past life— in which I was satisfied with mediocrity: seeking good grades, a good resume, a six-figure paycheck, a beautiful woman, and just wishing to have a bunch of stuff: a stadium full of it, if possible. It was not until college when I began to profoundly examine my life, thanks to my confrontation with love with Father Michael Himes. “Agape,” as Father Himes defines it, “is a Greek word meaning love which is purely other-directed, which seeks no return, love which does not want anything back.” To see this word actually studied in a university boggled my mind. I soon understood that what was at stake was much greater than my own comfort, with the only glimmer of hope— in a world plagued by needless sin and suffering— being consolation in God and the Church.
Who are some of the people who influenced your decision to enter the seminary? What is it about them that assisted you?
I cannot say that there were only one or two people that influenced my decision, as this would do a tremendous disservice to the countless people who had an instrumental role in my decision: my mother, my father, my grandmother, Professor Matthew Mullane, Professor Stephen Pope, Father Raymond Helmick, Father Bruce Morrill, Father Michael Himes, and Father George Carrigg are among a handful that have provided guidance. In regards to my calling towards the diocesan priesthood, I am perhaps most indebted to Father Kumar—a truly wonderful priest from India— whom, with his sheer joy, laughter, and mere presence, is always a pleasure to be around with; if there was any “man fully alive”— as Saint Irenaeus would say— Father Kumar would be certainly one of them. He would drive me wherever I needed to go during the application process, invited me into the rectory for meals, and allowed me to help around the parish, never feeling as though he was burdened with the time he invested into my formation.
What would you say is the role of prayer in the life of a seminarian and what effect does it have on one's ability to see God's call?
All I can say is that I am very grateful for prayer. We are confronted with many choices in life, whether good or evil. With the guidance of the Spirit, prayer allows us to deliberate upon those good choices, while sifting those temptations that cause distress. More profoundly, prayer is a form of communication with God; in fact, if there is any meaningful relationship to be developed, it would only make sense to stop what one is doing and to focus one’s attention unto the Lord.
A last point: prayer gives hope. And I find this most beautifully expressed in the Psalms, which we pray over each day. In the psalms, we often find the people of Israel suffering under profound affliction, petitioning to God for consolation. That petitioning is always tethered to hope— in a hopeful future— in which the tears wrought by suffering and sin would no longer exist. One only wonders: upon being fixed onto a cross—tempted to despair—the only remaining source of hope is prayer. We cannot live without it.
What advice would you give to a man who thinking about his vocation and is considering that God may be calling him to be a priest?
The most important advice that I can give throughout this whole process is twofold. Firstly, I cannot stress how important it is to be authentically yourself! This means being honest with the expression of your genuine character. The Church is not looking for perfect candidates, but rather men who strive towards perfection: who openly admit the various difficulties, circumstances, and sins that they faced (or are facing) in their lives. Secondly, throughout the discernment process, it can be very tempting to develop anxiety and/or fear, not knowing how things may turn out (or perhaps dealing with apprehension during interviews). With what little I can say: place all of your trust and burdens onto God. Know that what is most important is to be a good, authentic Catholic. PLEASE, do not hesitate to come see me if you have ANY question or concern about seminary life (or questions in general). Jesus came to serve, and I am always your servant in Christ!
What do you like most about being a seminarian?
I was praying before the Blessed Sacrament, while meditating upon an answer to this question. Nothing was coming to mind, as there were so many aspects to seminary life that I was contemplating over. I continued thinking as I was kneeling on the floor, and figured that I should take a look at the Roman Missal, specifically to look over the readings for the next day. And, I stumbled upon this verse from the Letter to the Hebrews, “So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees.” It suddenly dawned on me that my knees were agitating me with pain, and I was tempted to sit down on the pew. But with God’s grace, a response came to mind: that what I like most about being a seminarian is no longer belonging to myself but belonging to God Himself. This is what seminary life is all about: the total surrendering of myself to God, which inextricably means for me that I cannot place my own comfort and well-being beyond the sanctity of the Lord. So, I strengthen my weak knees and continued kneeling.
What do you think is the greatest challenge facing a man who is considering the seminary?
Perseverance: you need to be ready to persevere, because once the decision is made to enter the seminary, one’s life no longer becomes one’s own. I’m not—in anyway—trying to frighten or discourage prospective candidates, but I am rather trying to say: this should be a source of great joy! The discipline that must be developed in order to keep pace with the schedule, may seem difficult at first to grapple with—and it takes some readjustment of habits. Moreover, the greater challenge lies in maintaining that discipline throughout the course of six or so years—and more importantly—finding sincere joy within that way of life. For those men considering seminary life, I would like you to keep this in mind. The discernment and application itself is certainly a trial of perseverance, but know that Christ conquered every obstacle set before him, and so can you.
What are some of your hobbies or pastimes? What are some of the things you like to do in your "free" time?
With the little free time that I have as a seminarian, the number one pastime is certainly exercise. There is not a lot of movement throughout the day— whether that may be in the chapel, in the refectory, or studying for our classes. I try, as much as I can, to spend that time exercising outdoors, playing soccer with my Vietnamese brothers (so as to prepare ourselves for intramural soccer against Boston College).
Some additional things, I like to spend some time socializing with the other seminarians, usually in the common room on Thursdays, whether that may be in the form of playing a board game, a game of billiards, or watching a movie together. I’ve also developed an appreciation for singing—which I confess openly I am terrible at (and sometimes very ashamed of)—but I have made tremendous strides in it, while practicing various prayers we sing at the chapel-of course- somewhere outside where only God can listen.
What are some of your favorite authors/books/movies?
Some of my favorite movies include Karol: A Man Who Became Pope, The Mission, Avatar, Romero, Gran Torino, Gandhi, and The Muppet Christmas Carol (hearing the Muppets sing on Christmas Eve is always a pleasure). As for books beside the Bible itself, Rachael and Her Children, Doing the Truth in Love, Heart of Darkness, Plato’s Gorgias and Republic, and St. Augustine’s Confessions are some (of the many books that I would have liked to have listed here) that profoundly influenced me. I have also grown accustomed to reading The Liturgy of the Hours and the Daily Roman Missal, which are not books in the “normal” sense, but rather spiritual nourishment that I regularly read and pray over each day.
What do you think is the best way to encourage vocations to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Boston?
Be a Catholic; be an authentic witness of Christ, particularly in the midst of young men, many of whom are greatly disoriented by their self-indulgent pursuits, having gone adrift in the culture we live in. It is certainly a challenge; but, if men witness the person of Christ expressed through you, then you can very well be planting a mustard seed, which one day—we hope—will blossom into a full-grown tree, so as to bear fruit for God and for humanity.