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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"Deacon Bartulica took the long road"

From The Catholic Key
By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor

Photo at left: Deacon Angelo Bartulica prays in the sanctuary of St. John LaLande Church in Blue Springs. Photo by Kevin Kelly

He is going to be a priest for all the right reasons.
But first, he wanted to be an FBI agent for all the wrong reasons.

"I just wanted to have a cool job and impress people," Deacon Angelo Bartulica said.

So he earned a degree in criminal justice from Missouri Western College in St. Joseph and joined the Knights of Columbus solely to build up his resume to impress the law school he wanted to enter on his way to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

But one of the St. Joseph Knights, Steve Schieber, asked him completely out of left field, "Have you ever thought about being a priest?"

Suddenly, the call he had been hearing since fourth grade came in loud, if not clear.

"It just blew me away," Deacon Bartulica said.

But he still had to take the long, hard road.

At 10 a.m. Dec. 20, a full decade after Schieber popped the question, Deacon Angelo Bartulica, 34, will become Father Angelo Bartulica as Bishop Robert W. Finn ordains him the newest priest of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Under ordinary circumstances, Deacon Bartulica could have finished his seminary education a few years ago.

But Deacon Bartulica was not an ordinary seminarian.

Haunted by his images of all the priests he had ever known growing up - such as Fathers Jerry Waris, Tom Hawkins, Robert Murphy, and Benedictine Father Paschal Thomas who was his confessor at Conception Seminary College - he doubted that he could ever measure up to them.

"We have so many priests in this diocese who have had such an impact on people's lives, that I still worry about my competence to fill their shoes," Deacon Bartulica said. "It was just the joy I saw in them being priests. They are all great priests, and they all bring their gifts to the church."

For the next decade after he entered Conception Seminary College to complete his pre-theology degree, he would bounce in an out of the seminary.

"There was a lot of uncertainty," Deacon Bartulica said. "When you are making a lifetime decision, I wanted as much certainty as possible."

He sought the advice of a longtime Bartulica family friend, Msgr. Lawrence Speichinger, who advised him to relax and stop beating himself up.

"Msgr. Spike told me that I wouldn't know I was called to the priesthood until the bishop put his hands on my head" to ordain him, Deacon Bartulica told The Catholic Key Dec. 2 at St. John LaLande Parish, where he will begin his priestly career.

"Up to that moment, it was a hunch I would have to follow," he recalled the elder priest telling him.

Still, he waited for that "Gethsamene moment," that sure sign from heaven that he was meant to be a priest, the sign that simply wouldn't come.

So he dropped out of the seminary and enrolled in law school for a year. He did well.

"It just wasn't what I felt God was calling me toward," Deacon Bartulica said.

He tried teaching at both his home parish school, St. James in St. Joseph, and at St. Monica School in Kansas City. He loved it.

"Kids are kids. They just want to be loved," he said. "I'd like to believe that I grew in patience with them and tried to make teaching the faith to them more real."

But teaching wasn't it, either.

"Whether I liked it or not, God was calling me to the priesthood, and I am not going to be content until I answer that call," he said.

Only then did he get his "Gethsamame moment."

In the first-week retreat at Mundelein Seminary where he had re-enrolled to complete his last year of seminary preparation, Deacon Bartulica found himself wide awake at 3 a.m. He went to the chapel, knelt before the tabernacle and prayed.

"I told God that I am going to respond to his call, but I am going to depend entirely on him for the graces I need to fulfill it," Deacon Bartulica recalled.

After that moment of surrender to God's will, his self-criticisms vanished into insignificance.

"I am my own worst enemy," he said. "I have always feared failure in the vocation. But I know if I keep up my end of the bargain, I have no reason to believe that God is going to let me down."

For the first time, he felt at peace.

"All the while before, there was something holding me back in all my fears," he said. "I finally gave in and put my trust in God."

Deacon Bartulica, whose brother Matthew is a third-year theology student at North American College in Rome, credits his parents, Nicholas and Bozica Bartulica, not with pushing him into the seminary, but for providing the home life where a call to the priesthood could be heard.

"They may have even prayed that one of their sons would be a priest," Deacon Bartulica said. "But it was never pushed on us. They were influential in that they provided the home life that is necessary to grow in faith."

His advice to other young men feeling that they might have the same call is the same advice given to him years ago by Father Joseph Cisetti, then diocesan associate director of vocations. Follow that feeling. The worst thing that can possibly happen is that you will receive a great education in theology.

"Seminary is really a time of discernment," Deacon Bartulica said. "Some people may think that seminary is the place we go to prepare to be priests. But some go and decide there that it (priesthood) wasn't for them. They will still come out of it better Catholic men."

Though he no longer lets his fear guide him, he remains in awe of the priesthood.

"It's humbling to think I have that call," he said. "In less than three weeks, I am going to be celebrating Mass."

He said he is also looking particularly forward to hearing the Sacrament of Penance. It is there, he said, that he will turn all his human weaknesses, failures and doubts into strengths.

"My strengths are my failures in life," Deacon Bartulica said. "I hope that gives me compassion for people who are struggling."

Even though he took the long road, that path will help him be a better priest, he said.

"When I read the letters of St. Paul, I can now understand what he is talking about," Deacon Bartulica said. "It has become real to me. I believe all those things he wrote about, and I'm not just going to be blowing hot air at people.

"Up to now," he said, "Angelo Bartulica grew up pretty selfish. It was always all about me. Now I pray everyday that I get out of the way and let God work through me."

On his ordination day, Deacon Bartulica said he will have just one regret.

Msgr. Lawrence A. Speichinger won't be there physically. The longtime family friend died Oct. 16, barely two months before Deacon Bartulica's priestly ordination.

"Msgr. Spike told me that no matter what condition he was in, he would be at my ordination," Deacon Bartulica said.

Without a doubt, Msgr. Speichinger will keep his word.

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