The John Paul II Institute first appeared on my radar as an undergrad at Franciscan University majoring in philosophy and theology as well as formally discerning the priesthood. My junior year, during a semester abroad at Franciscan’s Austria campus, I had two incredible classes – Christian Marriage and Christian Spirituality – with Dr. Donald Asci, an alumnus of the Institute and moral theologian. Encountering him as a man of great faith, integrity, and intellect both in the classroom and with his family, I quickly came to desire the formation that he received and to do what he did in my own unique way. When I discerned out of the seminary a few years later (I was a seminarian for the Diocese of Phoenix for 3 years immediately after college), I knew the next step was to apply to the Institute, where in the Fall of 2016 I began the M.T.S. program with the concentration in Marriage and Family.
During my time at the Institute, I literally married up – Rachel, whom I had known from our time together at Franciscan, was a year ahead of me and graduated just a few months before our wedding. We now have been blessed with four children: one in heaven, Magdalena Marie, Joseph Anthony, and Chiara Gratia. Upon my graduation from the Institute, we moved across the country to Phoenix, Arizona where I began work at a local parish in Marriage and Family Ministry. Around the same time, Rachel and I began serving the diocese together by teaching marriage prep classes based on the Theology of the Body (written by Institute alumnus, Christopher West) a ministry we are passionate about and continue at present.
In March of 2020, I became the Coordinator of the John Paul II Resource Center for Theology of the Body and Culture – an evangelistic outreach of the Diocese of Phoenix founded by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted in 2006 to honor St. John Paul II and promote his masterwork, the Theology of the Body. FUN FACT: my immediate predecessor and founding coordinator, Katrina Zeno, is also an alumnus of both Franciscan and the Institute.
The mission of the JPII Resource Center is to ignite the hearts of men and women with the Good News of love, sex, marriage, and the body by forming youth, equipping adult leaders, and evangelizing culture. In this vein, our main programs consist of the Catholic Academy for Life Leadership (a three year high school formation program in TOB, pro-life values, sexual morality, and bioethics), our Igniting Hearts Immersion/Encounters (Fall course or day-retreats covering TOB), and our annual Witnesses to Hope Celebration & Fundraiser (where it is our custom to bring in a renowned speaker on JPII/TOB). A unique blessing of this diocesan position in tandem with our collective formation has been that Rachel and I have ample opportunities to evangelize and teach together as a couple.
Even though we recently paid off our student loans (it is possible – and working for the Church at that – with God’s providence, of course!), we still owe a great debt of gratitude to the Institute. I’ve always said to people that my time at Franciscan University and in seminary taught me the beauty of life and our faith – how it all fit together, but my time at the Institute taught me how to really think through the most fundamental questions of life and faith. It’s one thing to learn about the tenets of Catholicism, but to develop the skills to really think through – to adequately wrestle with – the most fundamental questions of life and faith opens up one’s horizons in living out one’s vocation and profession.
Ultimately, when it comes to marriage and family life, maturing in the journey of faith, developing Rachel’s and my apostolate, my current work at the Diocese of Phoenix, and life in general, I constantly find myself drawing especially from my formation at the Institute for guidance. In addition, recall the Institute alumni mentioned above – each of whom have formed me in a significant way. In the Diocese of Phoenix alone, I’ve encountered more alumni and have been greatly inspired by the mature nature of their vocations as well as their leadership in the Church and community. To close, both the Church and society at large need men and women who are able to truly think with the Church about the most fundamental questions, particularly concerning the human person, the meaning of sexuality, and the true drama of human freedom. The John Paul II Institute has formed me and countless others to do just this. I am confident that it will only continue to do so by God’s grace and providence, along with the powerful intercession of our beloved patron.