For Bambenek, priesthood 'happens in God's time' Print E-mail
By Pat Norby   
Tuesday, 18 May 2010
Deacon Joe Bambenek, 40, said it took him a couple of decades to accept the call to priesthood.


Deacon Joe Bambenek

Age: 40

Hometown:  Hastings

Home parish: St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Hastings

Parents: Mary Ann and Jerome Bambenek

Education: Bachelor’s degree in physics, Northeast Missouri State University, 1993; Master’s degree in nuclear engineering and in technology and policy, M.I.T., 2006; Bachelor’s degree in philosophy, Ave Maria College, 2006

Former career: Manager and senior adviser at Michi­gan Electric Tran­s­mission Company, negotiating transmission pricing rights and developing policies and strategies

Teaching parish: All Saints, Lakeville

Pastoral internship experiences: Clinical pastoral experience at St. Louis University Hospital; Hispanic ministry at Our Lady of Gua­dalupe, St. Paul; diaconate  placement at St. Peter, Forest Lake

Hobbies: Rollerblading, kicking foot­balls, photography, traveling

Favorite books: “Tale of Two Cities” and “The Aeneid.”

Favorite band: Chicago

Favorite restaurant: Olive Garden

Favorite movie: “Field of Dreams.”

Person he most admires:
Pope John Paul II

Thanksgiving Masses:

» 4:30 p.m. Saturday, May 29, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Hastings

» 11 a.m. Sunday, May 30, All Saints, Lakeville

» 10 a.m. Monday, May 31, Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Paul

» 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 2, St. Peter’s in the Loop, Chicago

» 5:30 p.m. Saturday, June 5, St. Mary’s Star of the Sea, Jackson, Mich

» Noon Sunday, June 6, Queen of the Miraculous Medal, Jackson

» 9 a.m. Friday, June 11, Regina Hospital Chapel, Hastings

» 8:30 a.m. Saturday, June 12, St. Joseph, Jackson

» 4:30 p.m. June 12, Christ the King, Ann Arbor, Mich

» 11 a.m. Sunday, June 13, St. Peter, Forest Lake
He first thought about the priesthood in first grade, when he portrayed St. Joseph in a Christmas pageant at the former St. Boniface in Has­tings, which merged with the former Guardian Angels to become St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Later, during confirmation, he said he felt a burning in his heart.

Priesthood took on another level of seriousness while he was participating in a REFRESH retreat group and working in the energy industry in Michigan after graduating from the Massa­chu­setts Insti­tute of Tech­no­logy. Then, over a couple of years, Deacon Bambenek said he accompanied his boss, Chuck Waits, through his wife’s death from cancer.

“There was more personal satisfaction in that than in what I was doing for work,” Deacon Bambenek said. “At the time I was secretly churning all this thing through, I had about 30 people tell me on their own initiative that I should be a priest, ranging from people who barely knew me to people who knew me well.”

During his career at Michigan Elec­­tric Transmission Company (pre­­viously Consumers Energy Com­pany), he attended hundreds of meetings in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere to negotiate how utility companies could work together. He gained valuable experience in bringing people to­geth­er to deal with complex issues and make decisions about the future, he said.

Those years were also a time of “purgation,” he said. “Traveling on one’s own can be lonely. It was a time of going from loneliness to being at peace with solitariness.”

A gradual awareness

His decision to enter the seminary was part of a gradual awareness and the influence of many people, beginning with his family, friends, co-workers and priests.

In 2002, Deacon Bambenek talked with Father Tom Wilson about the possibility of entering St. Paul Semi­nary. Despite eight years of higher education, he learned that he needed to complete studies in philosophy and pre-theology. About that time, the company changed names and the offices moved to within a few hours from Ave Maria College in Ypsilanti, Mich., where he attended classes and continued to work­ part time, thanks to the help of his supervisors.

“I think these things happen in God’s time,” Deacon Bambenek said. “I realized that coming out of school at age 18 . . . I would have been a very holy priest, but not a particularly compassionate priest. With some of these encounters I have had, I will be able to serve God’s people much better.”

The greatest lesson Deacon Bam­benek said he learned in his teaching parish at All Saints in Lakeville with Bishop Lee Piché (then Father Piché) was that it is his job to bring Jesus to the people, not to be a “fix-it man.”

“With an engineering bent . . . I have a strong desire to make things better,” he said. “That can easily translate to wanting to fix things.”

Serving as a deacon has been the “best year of my life,” Deacon Bambenek said. “There’s incredible joy when doing what God made you to do. . . . When we surrender our life to God, we can have adventures we never imagined.”