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25-YEAR JUBILARIAN: Success in seminary led silver jubilarian to answer God’s call

052022Wozinak

Father James Wozniak 

 

BY MARLENE A. ZLOZA / Northwest Indiana Catholic

 

      CROWN POINT – Father James Wozniak admits he entered seminary expecting to be dismissed long before he reached the priesthood, but when that didn’t happen, “I had to make the decision myself about whether I was being called by God.”

      Thankfully for the Diocese of Gary, Father Wozniak determined he was indeed being called, and this year he celebrates his 25-year jubilee as a Catholic priest.

      “There have been so many joys, but I guess being able to celebrate Mass and forgive people’s sins are the biggest,” said the Hammond native who was baptized at St. Mary in Hammond and confirmed at St. Michael the Archangel in Schererville.

      After graduating from Lake Central High School in St. John, Father Wozniak headed to Purdue University to study nuclear engineering, but soon found the subject unappealing and switched to industrial engineering, graduating in 1992. “I figured that if I didn’t become a priest, I needed a career where I could make good money and be able to raise a family,” he said.

      Still discerning a religious vocation, he headed to Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona, Minn. for a year, then pursued his theology degree at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.

      “I didn’t do anything to try to get thrown out, but I just thought my personality would lead to them kicking me out,” he explained.

      Instead, a glowing formation evaluation left the seminarian in tears. “Now I have to decide if God’s really calling me to be a priest,” he told a friend and classmate, Father David Kime.

      “Father Jim always had great sincerity with his formation directors; he was honest with them,” recalled Father Kime, who remains a close friend.

      Finally embracing his vocation, Father Wozniak was ordained to the priesthood on June 7, 1997 at the Cathedral of the Holy Angels in Gary.

      He served two years as associate pastor at St. Michael the Archangel, also assisting for a year in the diocesan Marriage Tribunal, then spent four years as the associate at St. John the Evangelist in St. John.

      Father Wozniak has been candid about a nine-month sick leave he took in 2003 to get treatment for anxiety and depression. “Keeping my life balanced has been a challenge,” he said. “When I’m doing something, I shut off my emotions so I can function, and afterward I have trouble turning them back on.”

      Returning to the diocese in November 2003, he became associate pastor at St. Mary in Griffith and St. Ann in Gary for eight months, then moved to Nativity of Our Savior in Portage for three years, again as the associate.

      Since July 2007, Father Wozniak has been the pastor at St. Matthias in Crown Point, which celebrated its 50-year anniversary in 2017. Having started with 291 families in 1967, St. Matthias listed 500 families when Father Wozniak was appointed pastor in 2007, burgeoning to 1,200 by 2017.

      “We have great people at St. Matthias, and our staff is wonderful – you have to have a good staff to offer so many activities,” Father Wozniak said. “I would compare my people to any church in the diocese, whether it be their involvement in ministries, helping other people, or helping at Mass.”

      Father Wozniak advises today’s seminarians and young priests to, “Develop a deep prayer life and it will support you during the darkest times. Be yourself – don’t have a model of a priest to follow. If all priests use their gifts we will have good priests.”

      His parish will honor Father Wozniak after all Masses the weekend of June 4-5; 4 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday. Sign up by June 2 on pastorstoolbox.com via the link on the website stmatthiasparish.net.

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