WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Fr. Ireneus Prystajecky needed time to get his priorities right.
When he heard about the shortage of priests at school in Grade 5, Basilian Father Ireneus Prystajecky asked himself, “Isn’t anybody going to do something about this?”
Then he realized he could be part of the answer and began dreaming about a life as a priest. But the lad lacked desire and kept finding excuses to avoid his vocation.
Finally in 1997 Prystajecky went to the Seminary of Christ the King in Mission, B.C. for two years and in 1999 he joined the Ukrainian Catholic Basilian Fathers. He completed his theological studies at the Basilian House of Studies in Edmonton and at Newman Theological College and was ordained in mid-2007.
Prystajecky, an associate pastor at St. Basil’s Church in south Edmonton and director of Camp St. Basil, spoke about his priestly journey at the Feb. 12 prayer breakfast organized by Catholic Renewal Services, a charismatic group.
More than 100 people attended the event at the Chateau Louis Conference Centre.
“My family background (Ukrainian) and the seriousness with which they took Church must have taken hold of me because the first time I got a hint that maybe I might have a vocation happened when I was in Grade 5 in 1977,” Prystajecky told his audience.
“We had a teacher that would talk to us about the Church and she was the first person from whom I heard there was a Vatican II. She would tell us about how wonderful it was that the windows of the Church were opened.”
But one day, the teacher changed topics and spoke about “this terrible shortage of priests” affecting the Church.
“When I heard that, I got really worried and concerned,” recalled Prystajecky. “This is not right; this is bad. Isn’t somebody going to do something about this?”
He was young then and believed in easy solutions. “When you are 10 years old you believe that if there is a fire you go to the fire station; if there is a crime happening you call the police.
“But when there is a terrible shortage of priests, who do you call? I didn’t know what to do about that.”
Then he realized that he could become a priest himself. “I thought ‘It’s only a drop in the bucket and won’t solve the whole problem but I can help,’” he said to applause from the audience.
When Prystajecky matured a little more, in junior high, he started to go to Confession and Communion regularly and began to pray the rosary.
In high school he started thinking “What am I going to do with my life? It was either doing what my dad did or else do what God wanted me to do.” He ended up doing what his father did and became an electrical engineer.
“I kept on going to Church but my private prayer life stopped. And when it came time to do something about my vocation, which was obvious, I was simply too busy. My priorities were not right.”
Looking back, Prystajecky thinks he had two of the three signs of a vocation: at least average intelligence and at least average moral qualities. What he lacked was the third quality: a desire for it.
“I knew I had the first two and the third one I didn’t know if I had and that’s because if you are in the forest, you can’t see the trees,” he said.
During a trip to Quebec he visited a pilgrimage site and recovered his love for the rosary and renewed his prayer life.
“That actually saved me from a depression, I think. I felt stronger, I felt better inside and I also started going to St. Joseph’s College for Mass and Confession two or three times a week. The idea of the priesthood started to come back.”
In 1995 he left his engineering job to become a priest. Following his resignation, he spent a couple of weeks at the Basilian monastery in Mundare. For the next two years he worked for St. John of God Christian Bookstore and a Christian communications company.
Finally in 1997 Prystajecky went to the Seminary of Christ the King in Mission, B.C., for two years and in 1999 he joined the Basilian Fathers.
Prystajecky has always been conscious that it was God who called him to the priesthood “and it is him who keeps me there now.”