by Brian Wilson NEWS EDITOR ….
by Brian Wilson
NEWS EDITOR As saints go, St. Joseph is often overlooked.
Considered the “quiet” saint in the Catholic Church, St. Joseph the Worker is the foster father of Jesus and husband of St. Mary. He was a carpenter and was the provider for his family.
Father Joe Stefancin has always had a special affinity for St. Joseph that goes beyond having him as a namesake and more what it truly means to be a father.
On Sunday, July 19, Stefancin was ordained a priest by Bishop James Powers during a ceremony at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Superior. His journey to becoming a priest was a lengthy one including filling the roles of husband, father and longtime deacon at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Medford.
On Monday, July 20, Stefancin celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving at Holy Rosary. This is traditionally the first mass a priest says after their ordination. For Stefancin, there was little doubt about celebrating that mass in Medford, a community he has called home since moving here in 1999.
Stefancin said his first awareness of being called to the priesthood came in fourth grade. However, he wasn’t ready to answer the call at that time, and as he got older he began to think of other things and the journey to becoming a priest was put off for a while.
He married his wife, Audrey, and instead became a deacon. He notes that August 13 would have been his 25th anniversary of becoming a deacon.
Stefancin said he enjoyed being a deacon, but after Audrey’s death in September 2009, he felt the calling to go forward and become a priest. Stefancin ended up waiting another six years to enter the seminary as his children Amanda and Joey grew up and were on their own.
“That gave me six years to think and pray about it,” Stefancin said. He noted that Father Patrick McConnell, the current pastor at Holy Rosary was “pretty pivitol” in Stefancin’s journey to the priesthood.
Over the time between Audrey’s death and entering the seminary, the diocese vocations director would keep regular tabs on him. “I prayed about it and I asked the Lord to let me know,” Stefancin said.
Like many who choose to begin the path to become a priest, Stefancin questioned if he was qualified for the position but was reassured in remembering, “He doesn’t call the quailified, He qualifies those he calls,” Stefancin said.
“It was a long journey, but it is my journey,” Stefancin said.
Stefancin began to study at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary near Milwaukee.
“Seminary is its own special life,” he said, explaining that each morning would begin with a mostly-optional adoration with another adoration in the afternoon. In between they would have morning prayer, followed by daily mass then in pre-COVID-19 would commute 14 miles to Sacred Heart Monastery for intellectual studies. He and his brothers in the seminary were also assigned to teaching parishes. He was sent St. Joe’s in Wauwatosa. There they learned how the parish works in the community and to understand the ministry better.
The seminarians would have daytime prayers on their own and evening prayers as a group. He explained that everyone in the seminary has a job to do and they would rotate among four work groups cleaning different areas.
When COVID-19 forced seminaries around the world to close their doors, Saint Francis de Sales remained open under strict guidelines of Father John Hemsing, rector of the seminary. “If you didn’t follow the rules you ended up in quarantine,” Stefancin said.
While not able to leave the seminary grounds, Stefancin and his brother seminarians came up with activities to keep them occupied, including setting up an 18-hole indoor put-put course throughout the main building and holding a tournament. “My partner and I came in third,” he said.
Stefancin said he continues to share a special bond with the other members of his class which included four men from Milwaukee, two from La Crosse and one from Madison in addition to himself.
“I miss praying with my brothers immensely. Praying alone is not the same,” he said.
Stefancin completed the seminar in three years. He described it as a year to settle in, a year to enjoy it and that the past year has flown by fast.
His class ended up not having any real graduation and the first members of his class to be ordained were limited to only have 10 people present. For his ceremony, Stefancin was able to invite more people, but was also limited.
When saying his Mass of Thanksgiving in Medford last week, more people were able to attend. He explained that he celebrated the mass in honor of St. Joseph. “He is my go-to saint,” Stefancin said.
“I pray to him every day,” Stefancin said.
The intentions for his ordination service were made for his wife Audrey and the mass intentions for his Thanksgiving Mass were made for his deceased father.
After nearly 25 years as a deacon, 18 and half of them at Medford, Stefancin is still finding an adjustment to being a priest. “I still miss little things,” he admitted, noting that it was an adjustment from the role of a deacon. “It is a little surreal,” he said. “I have been up at the altar a lot as a deacon, now I have to learn another part.
“Yesterday I was a priest for a week and it was awesome,” he said.
“Ordination was given to me, but belongs to everybody.
I am just the guy who holds the gift,” Stefancin said.
While now Father Stefancin to his congregations, Stefancin still remains dad to his children. He noted that both Amanda and Joey have been supportive throughout his journey and believed in him even when he had doubts.
When he entered his journey to become a priest, Stefancin did it not knowing if he would have what it takes to see it through to the end, but knowing that he needed to take the journey. He said that regardless of if he had become a priest or not, he knows that God loves him just as much as He loves everyone else. “And He loves me a lot,” Stefancin said.
Father Joseph Stefancin was assigned to serve in the parish cluster in River Falls that includes St. Brigid in River Falls, Immaculate Conception in Hammond, and Thomas Moore (the Newman Center at UW-River Falls campus). He is looking forward to the students returning to UW-River Falls next month and of the activities planned. “We all have to learn a new normal,” he said of the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions.
Stefancin is looking forward to becoming part of his new parish family, but will never forget his family here in Medford.
“I am really proud to call Medford my home,” he said.
The investiture of vestments to the newly ordained was performed by Father Frederick Brost, retired priest residing in Medford, assisted by current Holy Rosary pastor Father Patrick McConnell. Father Brost, who turned 90 in early July, celebrated 64 years of ordination in May.
Father Joseph Stefancin celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Medford on July 20. It was his first mass since he was ordained.
Joseph Stefancin kneels before Bishop James Powers during the ordination ceremony held at the Cathedral of Christ the Kind in Superior on July 19.
Photos by Karla Frese-Klapataskas/Frese Frame Photography, layout by Mandi Troiber