National Vocations Awareness Week
Seminarian finds his home in Oakland diocese
"If I weren't a man of faith, this wouldn't make any sense," said John Pietruszka, a "just turned 30" man from Massachusetts who has joined the third-year class at St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park, in formation for the priesthood for the Diocese of Oakland.
The vocation of the young man from Fall River, Massachusetts, was nurtured by his paternal grandmother and by a longtime family friend.
"The priest who really inspired my vocation at 7 years old was Father Charles Porada, OFM, Conv.," said Pietruszka. It was "less what he said, more in being the elderly grandfather," he said of Father Porada, who is deceased.
Pietruszka was graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, 20 minutes from his home, with a degree in history.
In 2008, he entered St. John's Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts, where he began his studies for the priesthood.
During his time there, he met then-Rev. Michael C. Barber, SJ, who was a spiritual director, although not Pietruszka's.
In 2012, Pietruszka took a break from the seminary.
"If you think coming into seminary is hard," he said, "leaving seminary is worse."
Pietruszka found support from Father Barber.
"He was supportive of my vocation then and supportive of my vocation in the years I left," Pietruszka said. "When I was out of formation, "I didn't see a vocation, and he did."
When he learned, from reading posts on Facebook in May 2013 that his friend had been named bishop of Oakland, Pietruszka said to his father, "If I ever go back to seminary, there's always the Diocese of Oakland."
Pietruszka did parish work in Fall River, an hour south of Boston. At Holy Name Parish, he served as sacristan, director of faith formation and religion teacher for 40 to 60 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at the parish school.
"You look at it differently, having seen the pastoral reality," he said.
He decided to re-apply to the seminary, for the neighboring Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts. He asked now-Bishop Barber for a reference, which he gave.
The response from Springfield: "I think you have a vocation, but not here."
Pietruszka sought counsel from Bishop Barber.
Pray, he was advised. Ask the Lord, where do You want me to go?
"I still felt called to the priesthood," Pietruszka said. He also felt called to missionary work, "not foreign, as noble as it is."
Pietruszka is fluent in Spanish, the result of years of classroom study and a program in Mexico during his time at St. John's Seminary.
Last December, he came to visit the Bay Area, with Rev. Neal Clemens, vocations director for the Diocese of Oakland, as his guide.
"I'd never been to California," Pietruszka said.
At the end of the visit, he sat down with Father Clemens.
"I don't want to go home," Pietruszka said. It wasn't that he didn't want to return to his work.
"I felt like this could be home."
After applying to the Oakland diocese, he was accepted and began his studies this fall.
"The way I've settled in is an indication this was meant to be," he said. He said he looked forward to serving at Chautauqua, the December celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Mass on Christmas morning.
As he sees it, the seed of his vocation was planted long ago by Father Charles and the quiet faith of his paternal grandmother, and nourished by people like Bishop Barber.
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