By RENEE WEBB
Two seminarians of the Diocese of Sioux City took a step closer to the priesthood when they were ordained transitional deacons in June at the Cathedral of the Epiphany in Sioux City.
Deacon Andrew Galles, a native of Remsen, pointed out he was first attracted to the priesthood when he started serving Mass in the fifth grade at St. Mary Church.
“Later, a few years into college, I began to feel the call to the priesthood much stronger and I decided that I could no longer ignore the ‘still, small voice’ of God,” he said.
The son of Roger and Donna Galles, he noted from there he discerned the possibility of the priesthood for a couple of years while in college and spent much time “soul-searching” in prayer before Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
“In many ways, it was a difficult time, but also a joyful one as the plan of God slowly began to unfold in front of me,” said Galles, a graduate of St. Mary High School in Remsen. “What finally pushed me to make contact with Father Brad Pelzel, the vocation director at the time, was a simple invitation to dinner by my pastor, Father Bill McCarthy.”
Deacon Matthew Solyntjes, a parishioner at St. Andrew Church in Sibley, explained he first thought he heard the call to the priesthood while in his third year at Iowa State University.
“This was shortly after my primary identity as a Catholic man became clear to me,” he said. “I thought, since I am first of all Christian, then God has a purpose for me – what is it? That’s how it began.”
It took about 18 months before Solyntjes contacted the diocesan vocations office. But he stressed the fact that he didn’t stay isolated in his new-found discernment.
“I gradually started talking with friends about it and met other men through a priesthood discernment group hosted by the pastor at St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames,” said Solyntjes, the son of Scott and Shirley Solyntjes. “I got to know a few Dubuque priests during that time who helped me a lot, but I always felt if I were to become a priest, it should be at ‘home’ in northwest Iowa.”
As this Sibley-Ocheyedan High School grad puts it, Solyntjes knows he is “all-in” for the priesthood, but discernment does continue in reflecting upon how God wants to prepare him to be an effective priest.
Joys and struggles on journey
“There are many, many joys in studying for the priesthood, from the fraternity with friends to the growth in relationship with Jesus Christ and the saints,” said Galles, who is completing his seminary studies at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver. “Along with other men studying for the priesthood, there is a great sense of purpose, service and love for the church.”
Solyntjes said he has been surprised by the way God works in the people he has met along the journey.
“There have been times where I didn’t expect to accomplish much in a ministry assignment, or I felt like it would be a terrible experience, but the people there proved me wrong,” he said. “I could be driving home and suddenly realize, ‘Wow, God told me something through what this person said today.’ Whether God challenged me to change or simply showed me something beautiful, those moments God made his presence known spurred me to keep going toward priesthood.”
Some struggles come with the process as well.
For Solyntjes there have been moments when the formation process wasn’t moving forward as he wanted or expected as well as a few setbacks that caused him to ponder if he really was being called.
“These are essential moments for all vocations that can strengthen us in following God’s will no matter what God’s answer might be,” he said.
Struggles, noted Galles, are part of the cross that the Lord asks priests to share.
His third year of seminary, he noted, was a tremendous struggle in discerning whether God called him to the priesthood or marriage.
“This was my spiritual year, a year of deep prayer, discernment and struggle,” Galles said. “On the 30-day silent retreat at the end of that year, clarity and peace came when I made my election to choose the priesthood. Since then, I have moved forward with confidence in my vocation, embracing my call.”
Why say yes
Sure there’s job security in the priesthood, admitted Solyntjes, but there’s also adventure. With the priesthood, he said it’s far more than any career can offer because being a priest is a 24/7 job and unexpected things can come up at any time.
“How will the sacraments I celebrate influence people’s relationships with God? Who will stop me at the gas station and want to talk because I’m wearing a collar? How will the people of God make me a better priest through their examples of holiness? When will I need to drop whatever I’m doing in order to be Christ for a person in need?” Solyntjes asked. “And this could be just one day. Every day will be a unique opportunity to assist and accompany others in the Christian life.”
Two of Galles’ favorite images of Jesus are the Good Shepherd and High Priest.
“What makes me want to say yes to God’s call is the desire to shepherd God’s people to salvation through the sacraments and relationship with them,” Galles said. “As high priest, Jesus is both priest and victim, and I feel a strong desire in my heart to become both priest and victim for the people of God, shepherding them into the mercy and love of God.”
Encouragement and advice
Overall, Galles noted he has experienced overwhelming encouragement and positive reactions to his study for the priesthood.
He has found his parents to be a “constant” and “unwavering” source of encouragement as well as his extended family, friends and members of his hometown.
Solyntjes has found great guidance through spiritual direction he has been receiving at St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in Indiana. He also finds quiet time in prayer as well as spiritual reading such as, Finding God’s Will For You by St. Francis de Sales or The Priest is Not His Own by Bishop Fulton Sheen, to be beneficial.
For those questioning if they are being called to the priesthood, Solyntjes encouraged them to take action. However, that doesn’t mean rushing in to it, he clarified.
“Good discernment takes time and involves other people who can guide you,” said Solyntjes, who suggested they might share their thoughts in confidence with a priest. “Pray about it often. Priests, mentors and friends will accompany you, but they cannot make the decision for you. You’re the one who has to say, ‘yes.’”
Using the words of Pope St. John Paul II, Galles said, “Be not afraid.”
“The first inclinations of a vocation to the priesthood can be frightening and there are many questions, worries and unknowns. Don’t worry – pray and trust that Jesus will lead you where you need to be,” said the seminarian, who suggested asking the Blessed Mother for her intercession. “Don’t keep your vocation a secret, but bring all things into the light.”