Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
May 18, 2009
A mother's prayer for a priest was answered
Wondering what to do with his life, Mark Zazula took a nun's advice and became a Basilian novice
WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Fr. Mark Zazula's vocation answered the question he asked at age 7. "What is life about?"
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON – A mother’s prayers play a huge role in charting the course for her child’s future.
Just ask Father Mark Zazula. The Ukrainian Basilian priest spent the first 45 years of his priesthood teaching in Toronto. As of two years ago, he is back in Alberta, at Edmonton’s southside St. Basil’s Parish.
Zazula, 74, is the son of a Ukrainian father and Polish mother, pioneers who arrived in Alberta in 1910. He was the youngest of nine children whose family farmed in the Lamont area.
WHAT IS LIFE ABOUT?
A memorable incident happened at age seven that left a lasting impact. He was jumping around, playing alone on the family homestead, shooting a make-believe bow, pretending that he was in Robin Hood’s band of men.
“Suddenly I stopped in midair. It was like I saw a different plane around me. I looked around and saw the buildings, the large house that my parents lived in, the two barns, all of the machinery. I remember hearing the noise of my dad and one of my brothers building a shed farther down,” said Zazula.
He looked around and asked, “What is life about?”
While his father and older siblings focused on working on the farm, accumulating land and buying more possessions, he realized at that moment that none of those things mattered. Life had to be more meaningful than the pursuit of or hoarding of stuff.
“I don’t want to spend my life acquiring things. I don’t want material things. It was so obvious. I told my family that no matter what happens, I don’t want anything on the farm. I’m going to do something where I’ll be helping people.”
Unknown to him at the time, his mother’s prayers were already at work.
He took his final year of high school at a college in Yorkton, Sask., that catered to Ukrainians. The bishop there asked him if he had ever considered becoming a priest. He had met some priests from Mundare and the priestly life held some appeal for Zazula, then 17.
NO INTEREST AT ALL
Towards the end of the school year, in which Zazula was valedictorian, his classmates were making decisions about post-secondary education and career options. Those friends planned on being teachers, police officers, doctors and various other professions.
“Everybody was getting all of this information about university and getting excited talking about it, yet I had no interest whatsoever,” said Zazula.
“Here I am with just about anything open to me, and I had absolutely no interest.”
Travelling via train one day, he dozed off. When he awoke, a nun from Sacred Heart Academy was standing over him.
“She called me by name and told me that she only had a minute. She wanted to tell me something. I don’t remember her name and maybe I never knew it. She said that I should be a priest,” said Zazula.
Later, he got off the train in Edmonton. Due to the uncertainty about his future, coupled with the advice from the nun, he roamed the streets of the city wondering if the priestly life was for him.
“I hadn’t applied to any universities, colleges. I didn’t have any plans, so I was kind of in turmoil. I remember just walking around and I prayed a bit. By the time I got back on the train I had already composed in my mind a little letter to the master of novices,” said Zazula.
He wrote and sent the letter requesting that he be accepted as a novice into the priesthood. He went to Mundare and joined the Basilian Fathers.
HIS MOTHER WEPT
His mother burst into tears when he told her the news. Not knowing how to interpret this reaction, he asked his mother what was wrong. She told him that they were tears of joy because her whole life she had been asking the Lord for one of her children to be a priest.
“I think that mothers have a lot to do with everything that their children do,” said Zazula. “The power of their prayer, the mothers who really care for their children, with good Christian faith, they really have a tremendous power for the Lord and what happens for their kids.
“In my 47 years of priesthood, I have seen this happen many times. I think that vocations to spiritual life to a large degree are, in my opinion, God’s blessing for a mother’s prayer.”
His mother continued praying for Zazula until her death at age 97.
“I told my mom if she doesn’t pray, I don’t know if I’ll be able to last as a priest. There’s all kinds of problems out there, and sometimes I get discouraged and I need your prayers,” he said.
While admittedly the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience might deter some young men from entering the priesthood, Zazula has no regrets whatsoever. About one in 10 who enter the seminary actually become priests, he estimated.
“There are so many distractions out there, a lot of young men just cannot bring themselves to make the commitment,” he said.
“To live a celibate life and a life of poverty is not easy. We are living in a world where the material, the physical and the sexual things are so widespread, and for a boy to say ‘no’ to all that and be ordained is difficult. The lures are too great for some.”
Of the great need for more priests, Zazula repeated Jesus’ message of workers needed in the vineyard – many are called but few are chosen.
“Maybe they don’t have a mother praying for them like I did.”