God and Grace and Gratitude
I knew for sure that this was it, and that conviction carried me through the remaining five months as a volunteer, a month at home afterwards, the candidacy that summer of 2005, and even through many difficult, obscure, confusing, painful moments during these 11 years of formation. It has been the bedrock of my vocation, a moment for which I cannot but thank God with all my heart.
Is it really possible to construct and live your whole life centered on God? Why would anyone want to live with a vow of obedience? A vow of chastity, really? Isn’t that archaic? These and many others are questions that people have asked me over the last 11 years of seminary and religious life. Oftentimes words simply come up short. When these questions are asked, the interrogator wants to see something more than hear something, wants a witness, a testimony, more than a poignant response.
I am from Richfield, Minnesota, the first suburb on the southern border of Minneapolis. I was raised by Catholic parents, who were themselves raised by Catholics. Sunday Mass was always a non-negotiable. It was actually a fun part of the road trips that were frequently our family vacation when Sunday rolled around and we had to find Mass in the middle of nowhere Colorado or somewhere in the black hills. The family rosary on Sunday evening was also a fixture present in my childhood. I was born on December 8, 1985, the first child of Dan and Mary Jo Rolczynski. My two brothers followed in the years following.
The first movie that I recall seeing in theaters was Aladdin. It was with a neighbor kid when we were up visiting grandma and grandpa’s. That scene at the end when Jafar turns into a snake really freaked me out. I was into country music- that’s pretty much all I remember my mom listening to on the radio in the car. My first experience of copernican revolution came when I was maybe 12-ish years old when I discovered that none of my friends listened to country music. That was it for me and country music for at least a decade. I have made a few exceptions in recent years. As a kid I played on soccer, basketball, and baseball teams. Of course, we always played football for fun. I went to Catholic schools through 6th grade. For 7th-12th grades I transferred to Trinity, a private, christian school that offered a liberal arts approach to education replete with four years of latin and wonderful seminary classes through high school in which we would read and discuss great texts and authors through history. It taught us how to think and discuss in ways we didn’t appreciate, mostly, until years afterwards. I loved playing basketball through high school and remember those years with much gratitude. I am still in touch with many of those friends and two of them were even able to make it to my diaconate ordination. They represented many others who were a very important part of my life during those most interesting years.
When I was in ninth grade a friend of mine invited me and a few others on a weekend retreat with the Legionary brothers. I did not know them but my folks gave me the green light. We had a great time. It was basically sports all day, broken up only by meals, sleep at night, and a series of talks that were offered to us by these “brothers.” It left an impression. I still remember the theme of the retreat: being men of conviction in today’s world. I had never been on a retreat like that where the audience was uniquely adolescents of an age for whom all the talks were tailor-made. It made an impression. There were a few moments during those years when the thought occurred to me: “if God calls me to the priesthood, I would check it out.” Were that hypothetical call to take place, I now had a more concrete direction in which to direct my possible discernment.
I ended up joining the fourth stage of ECYD (because I was already 15) that summer at a week-long camp. The following summer, at 16, I joined Regnum Christi. As far as I know, I was one of two and a half high school age Regnum Christi members in the twin cities. There were others who may have been, but they were mostly in the the Legion’s high school seminary in New Hampshire. I had regularly contact with the Legionaries who would visit our area every month or two. We would meet for spiritual direction and there were camps and other events they put together now and then throughout the year.
My contact with them turned out to be, I am convinced, of vital importance. Sophomore and junior year of high school were years of great change. Thanks be to God for the good friends I had and for the spiritual support I received from the Legionaries and through Regnum Christi. Prior to those years I felt that I knew and could hang out with just about everyone in my class (there were only 70 of us). All of a sudden, during those two years, the landscape changed drastically: people were drinking, others were smoking (tobacco et al.)… some folks were starting to party pretty hard. At that point I always felt like life was plenty enjoyable and wonderful without that stuff and I really saw no need, had no desire to get wasted or high. I did love a good time, though, and I wonder sometimes where I may have ended up had the spiritual reinforcements I received thanks to the Legion and Regnum Christi not been there. I have no doubt that the discipline of regular prayer, the apostolic engagement, and the formation received in this spiritual family of Regnum Christi were invaluable sources of conviction and encouragement during those years of turbulence. It was progress on the spiritual construction whose foundations had been laid by mom and dad. That, together with the wonderful community of friends that I had, helped me to get through those years with no major problems or regrets, but rather with so many wonderful memories and bonds which have lasted to the present day.
I knew very little about what my future would hold. One thing that I knew for certain, however, was that I wanted- needed!- a sense of purpose and direction. I prayed a lot for guidance and light during senior year. I went on a vocational retreat. And while I prayed and watched for an answer to those prayers, I applied to several colleges. I mean, on the off chance that an answer to those prayers did not come in the timetable I was hoping for, I did not want to be caught unprepared. As I continued praying, time continued passing. The end of the school year came and we went. We signed yearbooks. We graduated. I decided on a university and went through orientation that summer. I was working to save money for college. Then another opportunity came up. In one of my last spiritual directions with Fr. Robert, the Legionary priest in our area at the time, he invited me to visit the Legionary seminary in Cheshire, Connecticut. On the rationale that I wanted to be generous with God I decided to give it a shot. The dates of the trip were August 2-11, 2004. What a week.
I spent the week with the candidates in Cheshire at the time, those who a year later would be welcoming me into the novitiate. It was a nice experience but I cannot say that I felt a call to put on my black tie and join them. God had something else in store. Just by chance (right…) there was a weekend retreat being offered during my visit. The priest offering the retreat, Fr. Eamon, took the time to speak to each of us visitors individually in spiritual direction to see how we were doing and where we were at. When I spoke to him I mentioned that I was open to the priesthood and that, should God call me to that, I would look seriously at the Legionaries. He made a rather off hand comment that had radical repercussions in my life. He simply said, “well, being that you are a Regnum Christi member, why don’t you consider doing a year of volunteer work in the Regnum Christi Mission Corps? That way you can discern and the Legion can see if you could be a candidate for Legionary life.” Now a friend of mine had given a year the year previous to that (my senior year of high school) and he had encouraged me to give a year but it had never really become a real possibility for me. I went to the chapel to pray (the humanities chapel in Cheshire) after talking with Father and it hit me like a ton of bricks.
It was really a special grace. All of a sudden, in that moment of prayer, it was as though everything leading up to that came into focus. I received a call in that moment, a call to give a year. In that moment, in that chapel, it became crystal clear to me that this was God’s invitation to me for the coming year. I knew it because the grace came by way of an absolute certainty. It was an answer to my prayers over the previous year for guidance and light. I knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that I was being invited and called by God to volunteer for the coming year in Regnum Christi. It was a profound, unique, and very special grace. Indeed, it was one of the biggest moments of grace and of experience God’s presence in my life.
The lesson I learned from this was simple. Sometimes we need to invest in our discernment. What I mean is that showing God with our action that we really interested in his will can make a big difference. I had been praying to know his will for a year and He chose to answer that prayer when I got out of my comfort zone and took more concrete steps to discern his will for my life.
This grace left me so convinced (I was absolutely sure!) that I canceled college the next week, two and a half weeks before I was to move into the dorms. I was finally tasting what I so longed for: purpose and clear direction in my life, albeit only for the following year. After cancelling college I then called the director of the volunteer program to sign up. What I did not know was that there a month-long formation course in the summer for the volunteers. I had already completely missed it. When Fr. Michael answered the phone I said, “hi, I’m DJ Rolczynski and I would like to volunteer this year. Is that ok?” His response was brief: “Um, yeah. Who are you?”
I thoroughly enjoyed that year. I was assigned to the Legionary seminary 40 minutes north of New York City. I taught catechism, helped in boy’s clubs for faith formation, and matured a lot.
The highlight of the year (on several levels) was when they invited all the volunteers that year to visit Rome for two weeks of sightseeing and then the 8-day silent retreat (spiritual exercises). We had to pay our own way to get there, of course, which I was able to do with the last dollars I had saved up for my college fund. The volunteers from Mexico were there, coming out to about 55 jovenes. All the American volunteers were there, too, all 14 of us. Talk about culture shock. I would not know where to begin describing that. I will stick to the script… During our first two weeks there we saw John Paul II 3 times- twice at general audiences and once for Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on new year’s day. Little did we know that he would pass away the following April. After the first general audience the whole group of Regnum Christi volunteers was invited up on the stage for a group photo with the Holy Father. Maybe you can crank up your imagination a few notches to understand, especially now looking back, how incredible that was. St. John Paul II. We visited Florence, Orvieto, Siena, and Assisi. And to cap all this off we had the spiritual exercises retreat at the end.
Going into that retreat I said “look God. We have eight days here. If we can’t settle this open priesthood question in eight solid days together, I mean, just forget about it.” I drew the proverbial (I really wanted to use that word) line in the sand. And guess what? God only took four days. Yep, it happened on day four. It was much like that grace I received when called to the volunteer year. In a moment of prayer it dawned on me (#HolySpirit) that many young men out there never even consider the priesthood. I was as open to the priesthood as I was because, indeed, it was my calling. It was that simple. But when that idea hit me over the head I knew that I had found the precious pearl. I knew that this, again, was God answering my prayers in a big way. There was no second-guessing, no doubt, no room for a misunderstanding. I knew for sure that this was it, and that conviction carried me through the remaining five months as a volunteer, a month at home afterwards, the candidacy that summer of 2005, and even through many difficult, obscure, confusing, painful moments during these 11 years of formation. It has been the bedrock of my vocation, a moment for which I cannot but thank God with all my heart.
The first domino (or two) had fallen. I joined the Legionary seminary in Cheshire and was there for three years studying humanities. I then moved to our seminary in Thornwood where I studied the first year of philosophy and then did a year and a half of full-time apostolic work. I was then transferred to Philadelphia for another year and a half of apostolic work, after which I departed for Rome for my second year of philosophy and then theology. The dominos continue falling…
During the three years of apostolic work and the four afterwards in Rome I forged the strongest friendships from the last decade of my life. Some of those friends are priests, some are in my ordination class, some continue up the ranks behind me, and others discerned that they were not called to the priesthood or religious life. All of these are among my best friends, and it meant so much that so many of them were there on the day I was ordained to the diaconate in northern Indiana.
After living in so many different places, always striving as a sinful man to follow the Lord’s daily call to holiness, and meeting so many people, diaconate ordination, as a conclusion to the long years of formation and preparation, was a conclusion that truly brought me to my knees. The Legionaries in Indiana did such a wonderful job organizing everything and making us feel at home. Bishop Hying (who ordained us) was so gracious, funny, humble, encouraging, and exemplary. I was surrounded by so many people who are so important to me and who have been there through all the stages of my life and growth.
I found myself experiencing one single emotion. I found myself capable of one prayer. I found myself able to say only one phrase: thank you. Thank you, Lord, for the most amazing day of my life. Gratitude is all I have in my heart as I go forward to my new assignment/mission/country. Thank you for so many prayers, for so much love. Thanks to all who have been living expressions of God’s presence in my life, who have shared with me His closeness, correction, and consolation. Please continue to pray for us. Thank you.
Fr. Daniel Rolczynski is from Richfield, Minnesota and was born on December 8, 1985. He joined Regnum Christi when he was 16 and volunteered a year in the Regnum Christi Mission Corps after high school. He joined the novitiate the following year, in 2005, and spent the following three years in Cheshire for novitiate and the study of classical humanities. He then moved to Thornwood, New York to study philosophy. After one year of studies he was asked to begin his apostolic internship as a vocation promotor in New York and New Jersey. He carried out this work for a year and half, at which point he was asked to continue with the same assignement but with Philadelphia as his home base. He promoted vocations there for another year and a half before transferring to Rome for four years to complete his studies. He is now serving in the Regnum Christi youth section in Mexico City.