Montana-grown sister, priest discuss their vocations and how to attract others
GREAT FALLS, Mont. (The Harvest) - Family, role models, praying the rosary, and teachers are among sources that attracted home-grown vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
VOCATION - Sister Mary Lou Mendel, S.C.L., has been a religious for 55 years.
Here are their stories:
Father Steve Tokarski
Pastor, St. Pius X Church, Billings
“It was a combination of family, parish, school — all of which were Catholic and influential” that helped lead Tokarski to the priesthood.
“Priests were held in high regard and I had some wonderful role models both in parish and in school,” he recalled. “Father Gene Hruska, who was newly ordained and teaching at Billings Central, was a definite role model and influence for me.”
Tokarski was born in Great Falls and grew up in Little Flower Parish in Billings.
“Our family rituals revolved around parish life: the holidays, the liturgical seasons,” he said. “I remember we prayed the family rosary each night after dinner.”
He also remembers attending Mass with his mother at 6:30 a.m. on the weekdays of Lent. And he recalls “being trooped over to church every Friday by the nuns for confession.”
“At the time I took all these and many more rituals and practices as given. Only later did I realize their deeper value and imprint on my life.”
Tokarski attended St. Edward and St. Thomas seminaries in Seattle for college and theologate classes. He spent the summer after being ordained a deacon at St. Mary Parish in Livingston.
Most of his last year in the seminary was spent in an internship at St. Patrick Church in Seattle.
“The Second Vatican Council took place during my years in the seminary, so there was unprecedented change during those eight years,” Tokarski said.
“When I started, the environment had a lot of resemblance to a Marine boot camp with Mass and prayer,” he recalled. “By the end, everything resembled the church we live in today. It was a tumultuous and exciting time in seminaries across the country and around the world.”
Tokarski has been a priest for 39 years. His assignments during that time included teaching at Great Falls Central Catholic High School. He also assisted at St. Joseph Parish and St. Ann Cathedral in Great Falls.
Four years after his ordination, Tokarski went to Catholic University in Washington, D.C., to earn a doctor of ministry degree in pastoral counseling. “I t h e n s e r v e d a s c a m p u s chaplain and theology instructor at the College of Great Falls until 1984,” he said. “I also was vocation director during those years. From 1984 until 1991 I was pastor of St. Leo Parish in Lewistown. Then after a short period at Sacred Heart Parish in Miles City I came to St. Pius X Parish in Billings.”
Tokarski said every day is interesting for him, adding that it is difficult to single out any one experience after almost 40 years.
“Building a new church here at St. Pius X Parish has been probably the most challenging and exciting project I’ve been involved with. It is so much more than constructing a building. It is a spiritual renewal for a parish that deepens the bonds in the community and revitalizes the liturgy. A parish is changed forever after building a new parish, and so is the pastor.”
Tokarski said he finds “great joy in preaching and celebrating the sacraments and the intense involvement that ministry allows in the lives of families and parishioners, especially at moments of both joy and sorrow.”
He added: “A great challenge is the work load, the shortage of priests, and the needs and demands that are almost impossible to respond to.”
Asked about his hopes for the future, Tokarski replied: “I hope for a continuing implementation of the Second Vatican Council in the life of the church. I’ve given my life to this effort and I rejoice to see the renewed liturgy, the explosion of lay ministry, the eagerness with which the laity assume responsibility for the life and guidance of the church. It has been an historical and exciting time to be a priest in the Catholic Church.”
Asked what he brings to his priesthood as a Montanan, Tokarski said “Being a native of Montana is a great advantage to ministering here. At my age I know a lot of history first hand. I know the people and the culture.”
He noted that “I’ve always admired my brother priests who came from Ireland to serve here. They had incredible adjustments to make and it was a great sacrifice for them. Few people probably appreciate what they have done and how we have benefited.”
Tokarski has some suggestions for encouraging other Montanans to become priests.
“I think the best recruitment for the priesthood is good and holy priests who love their priesthood,” he said. “I strive for that. Others can be the judge of how well I do. I also think taking an interest in young people and encouraging them is important, whether they are ...
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