Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
January 18, 2010
Gurnick wanted to be rich . . . then he met the Franciscians
Mission trip to Peru led him to decide to give it all away
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON - As an ambitious young man, Dan Gurnick's lofty goal was to take the world by storm and retire early. But following his time with the local Franciscans, he has devised a backup plan.
"My whole focus, really, was about making money. People always say Freedom 55. Well, I was going more for Freedom 35," he said with a laugh. "My dream was to be rich, and then I realized that there was more to life than becoming rich."
Gurnick made his solemn vows as a poverty-loving Franciscan last summer and on Jan. 23, he will be ordained to the priesthood at St. Joseph's Basilica.
"I was a very quiet person through my school years, and because of that I worked a lot. At the age of 19 I bought my first home, which I rented out to two other people. Then by the age of 24, it was going well enough that I bought more property," said Gurnick.
He bought another house, then a trailer. He also got involved in a successful paintball business and was a silent partner in a restaurant. Financially, his life was sound.
"But it wasn't going very well. It was about six months later, I had to make some changes in my big conquest to take over the world."
Gurnick, now 36, and his friend, Armand Mercier, were transformed by a mission trip in 2003. They stayed for about six weeks in Moquegua, a city in southern Peru, where the Franciscans were helping to establish an orphanage, which is now operated by Sisters of Our Lady of the Mission.
Franciscan Father Don MacDonald had arranged the trip for the two men to give them a mission experience.
"I think it was a time to see what the religious life was like, and it was at that time we both decided to join the Franciscans here," said Mercier.
For a man whose life had revolved around money, Gurnick was immediately drawn to a much different culture, that of Franciscan poverty - giving up all personal possessions and living communally. He got rid of his house, car and paintball business, and now opts to live very poor following the Franciscan commitment.
The trip to Peru challenged him, he said. "It was something new, something different and something that would challenge my faith."
If God wanted him to be an Oblate or a Redemptorist, Gurnick said that he would have had an encounter with an Oblate or a Redemptorist. Instead, his personal encounter with the Franciscans changed his outlook and their way of life appealed to him.
"I kind of decided that the life of the Franciscans suited my personality, so then I applied after the experience," said Gurnick.
Franciscan Father Dennis Vavrek described Gurnick as a man who likes to keep things simple and always has a smile on his face.
"We have the different areas to pursue, like we have the intellectual traditions. We have guys teaching theology, guys in pastoral ministry, guys in retreat ministry and we can see where Dan's forte is quite easily," said Vavrek.
HELPING THE POOR
Gurnick, he said, has a strong sense of helping the poor, whether through preaching at The Mustard Seed or hauling furniture for the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
Mercier agreed. "He is a very service-oriented person, both in the community and in his ministries. It's a gift to the Church. I think his desire to serve God through the community and his ministry is his main motivation."
In sharp contrast to his earlier ambitions, Gurnick has chosen a simpler life that does not entail the pursuit of wealth.
"He makes some pretty good bread and pizza. He's good with the dough - the other kind of dough," said Vavrek.
Both Gurnick and Mercier made their solemn vows to the Franciscan order last August at St. Mary's Church in Cochrane. They were also ordained transitional deacons at Mount St. Francis Retreat Centre.
Among his Franciscan order, Gurnick will be the first ordained in Western Canada since June 1987. The last man ordained here was Vavrek, who now serves as provincial minister for Western Canada.
"He is a great symbol for us, and we have some great guys coming up," said Vavrek.
The aging Franciscans have six other men in Alberta in various stages of formation en route to ordination.
Gurnick works part-time as a chaplain at two prisons and ministers at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Sherwood Park.
Next year is his 20-year high school reunion, and he's sure that his newfound life choices will shock some people from his past.
CHALLENGE OF CELIBACY
"I was inspired to start this journey eight years ago. There have been a lot of challenges but there has been a lot of joy. The initial challenge was living the celibate lifestyle," he said.
His family has shown tremendous support for his vocation. They deserve credit for their perseverance during his faith journey, he said.
Confident that Gurnick will make a good priest, Vavrek said, "He is very pastoral, and he's there to serve the best he can.
"He knows his limits, what he can and can't do. He is very eager, very enthusiastic in terms of serving in pastoral ways."
Mercier said of his friend, "He has a good heart. He has good common sense wisdom that he can bring to pastoral situations. He is very creative, and he's able to use his creativity well to serve others, and that's what ordained ministry is all about, to help people experience the presence of God."
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