Fathers Aaron Nowicki and Jernej Šuštar
To see photos from the ordination Mass, visit:
Ordination Mass Clips
Bishop John Doerfler's homily
Learn about the newest priests in a story published just prior to their ordinations:
Deacons Šuštar and Nowicki reflect on the journey to the priesthood
By Jamie Carter
The U.P. Catholic - May 27, 2016 issue
The journey to the priesthood is different for each man. Some hear the call strongly as youth, while others don’t hear it until later on in life. Deacons Aaron Nowicki and Jernej Šuštar have two very different backgrounds, coming from Michigan and Slovenia, respectively. However, what they have in common is both will – God willing – be ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Marquette on June 3. The ordination Mass is scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m. at St. Peter Cathedral in Marquette.
Deacon Jernej Šuštar
Deacon Šuštar’s journey to the priesthood began by him moving to the United States in 2000, though he didn’t realize what God was up to at the time. A native of Videm-Dobrepolje in Slovenia, Deacon Šuštar was on a retreat in Slovenia when a priest he hadn’t met before came up to him and said, “The Lord told me to give you this application for a full time scholarship at Ave Marie College (in Ypsilanti, Mich.), including room and board, and the once a year airfare to go home.”
“I thought to myself, ‘that’s probably one of those things that looks too good to be true.’ But, I filled it out and a sure enough I got an email saying I was accepted. At that point I began to realize that the Lord was up to something,” Deacon Šuštar said.
According to Deacon Šuštar, he was unsure what God was pointing him to, and after almost getting married, obtaining two degrees and trying several jobs he knew he needed to stop to listen closer to what God was telling him.
“The more I was thinking in the direction of being a priest, the more peace I had,” he said. “So much so, that I actually signed up as a commuter student at Sacred Heart. I felt strongly drawn to the priesthood, but I didn’t see myself as a parish priest.”
Deacon Šuštar attended a retreat at the Companions of Christ the Lamb (CCL) in Paradise, Mich., and found the answers he had been searching for.
“It just felt right, nothing else felt so right in my life. I thought about it for a year and moved up there for a year of discernment and I did my novitiate.”
CCL is currently in the process of becoming a religious order. It’s in the third step of the process which makes it a Public Clerical Association. During this stage, all CCL priesthood candidates go through the local diocese.
The charism of the community “is fostering of the interior life and closeness with nature. There is a lot of emphasis in our society on the external, the pragmatic aspect of our lives, on efficiency. We focus on the interior life, on simplicity,” explained Deacon Šuštar.
His year as a novice, he professed his temporary vows with CCL. In 2010 at the age of 32, he returned to Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit as a candidate for the priesthood.
Deacon Šuštar credits much of his priesthood journey to the first bishop of the Diocese of Marquette, Venerable Bishop Frederic Baraga. Deacon Šuštar’s hometown in Slovenia is just across the hill from Bishop Baraga’s native town.
“Bishop Baraga was instrumental, if not an essential element in my calling to the priesthood. Ever since the Jubilee year in 2000 when the Lord brought me to the U.S., I wanted to make a pilgrimage in the footsteps of Bishop Baraga,” he explained. “Eight years later a brother in Christ and I felt called to make this pilgrimage on motorcycles.”
Their pilgrimage began in the lower peninsula of Michigan, went through Wisconsin, the Apostle Islands and ended at the tomb of Bishop Baraga at St. Peter Cathedral.
“The most powerful experience of the pilgrimage was the aftereffect. During the next six months my life changed radically and the call to the priesthood became undeniably loud and clear.”
The influence of Bishop Baraga was evident to Deacon Šuštar following his visit to CCL. “I realized that Bishop Baraga might have been involved from the very beginning of my entire and unusual story of first coming to Michigan, of all places, and then ending up as a religious in the U.P.”
Deacon Šuštar will celebrate a Mass of thanksgiving on Saturday, June 4 at noon in the St. Kateri Tekakwitha Oratory at Companions of Christ the Lamb Retreat Center in Paradise. He will also celebrate Mass in his hometown in Slovenia on July 10.
Deacon Aaron Nowicki
“Some of my first religious memories I have was carrying the family Bible around the living room like the priest or deacon with the Book of the Gospels in procession,” Deacon Nowicki stated. “Around the same time, my brother was born and for his baptism party we borrowed tables from our parish church. I told my dad that we shouldn’t take ‘all’ the tables because the priest wouldn’t be able to say Mass without his table!”
Deacon Nowicki, originally from Cheboygan, Mich., has come a long way in his journey to the priesthood. He saidhe had been asked to consider a vocation to the priesthood while he was in high school, but “really had my mind set on a career in technology and getting married.” Deacon Nowicki attended Michigan Technological University in Houghton, and was left job searching in 2007 after completing his studies.
“I had a few good offers, but nothing overly exciting because they were far away from home and I was caring for my mom at the time. My brother called me with a job opportunity at Northern Michigan University as a resident director in the residence hall,” he said. “With it I found the comfort I was looking for. I could do the work, it would be much closer to home and my mom. And, if I was going to be a priest, I would be closer to Marquette.”
During his time in Marquette is where his serious discernment to the priesthood began. It was in his first year of working at NMU when he deepened his commitment to Jesus. “I began to regularly go to confession again, attended daily Mass, and had a weekly holy hour of adoration. I had always been a Sunday Mass attending Catholic that was looking for more.”
Deacon Nowicki had a handful of conversations with then bishop of Marquette, Bishop Alexander Sample. In addition, during his time at MTU he had built a relationship with Father Larry Van Damme. Throughout their conversations, Father Van Damme suggested he visit Mundelein Seminary for a “Come and See” weekend. It was there he met then Deacons Ben Hasse and Michael Chenier. “I was able to see that those who were studying in the seminary were just like the rest of us, people with hobbies and a deep love for Jesus Christ.”
This visit gave Deacon Nowicki the assurance he needed to enter the seminary and begin spiritual direction with Msgr. Michael Steber. “It was important to understand God’s movement within my heart and what God was calling me to do along with any road blocks that I had set in front of this process,” he explained.
In the fall of 2009, Deacon Nowicki began studying at Sacred Heart Major Seminary and was ordained a “transitional” deacon last May with Deacon Šuštar.
“Each man experiences the seminary in a different way, but ultimately it will lead him to be a man of greater prayer and communion. My favorite moments were spent in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and also in the fraternity with our seminarians from the diocese and my classmates.”
What is Deacon Nowicki looking forward to as he enters his ministry as a priest? “There are many things I look forward to doing as a priest, but without a doubt it will be celebrating the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.”
Deacon Nowicki is the son of Richard Nowicki and the late Mary Kapalla. He also has a younger brother Benjamin, and sister-in-law Katie. He was able to officiate their wedding last year as a deacon, and is looking forward to becoming an uncle this fall. As he stated, “I’m going to be ‘Fruncle Aaron’ pretty soon, I’m pretty excited about that!”
Deacon Nowicki’s Masses of thanksgiving in the diocese are: St. Peter Cathedral, June 4, 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.; St. Mary, Norway, June 11, 4 p.m. and June 12, 10 a.m.; St. Barbara, Vulcan, June 11, 6 p.m. and June 12, 8 a.m.; St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Bark River, June 18, 5 p.m. and June 19, 8 and 10 a.m.; St. Joseph Mission, Foster City, June 19, 11 a.m.