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A pro-life pilgrimage to the nation’s capital changed Zygmunt Mazanowski’s life in unexpected ways.
In late January of his junior year at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis, he traveled to Washington, D.C., with University of Notre Dame students to participate in the National March for Life and pray for an end to abortion.
That pilgrimage, sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, helped him grow closer to God.
As a high school junior, he heard God calling him to the priesthood while he kneeled on the marble floor of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception during the Mass for Life concelebrated by cardinals, bishops and priests from throughout the United States.
“I was 17,” he recalled. “Part of the trip was going to the Mass at the national shrine. It was very crowded and there were no seats [in the pews] so we had to sit on the floor. I decided that I was going to stand when everyone stood and kneel when people were kneeling or sitting, mainly as a way to sacrifice for the unborn and the mothers of unborn children.”
He quickly discovered that kneeling on the hard marble floor hurt his knees.
“As the Mass went on, that became pretty challenging, to say the least,” he explained. “It was painful. After I went up to receive Communion and came back and knelt down again, I had this experience that I still remember of supernatural joy.
“That’s what I call it,” he said. “I felt God speaking to me in my heart saying, ‘If I call you to be a priest, you will be happy.’ Right then I knew that the joy was coupled with the suffering I had to experience throughout the Mass from kneeling, and that if I embraced this call suffering was going to be a part of it.”
That spiritual message prompted him to begin praying about what to do after graduating from high school.
In January of his senior year, he returned to the nation’s capital with hundreds of teenagers as part of a youth pilgrimage organized by the archdiocesan Office for Pro-Life Ministry with financial assistance from the Knights of Columbus.
Twelve years later, Third Order Regular Franciscan Brother Zygmunt Mazanowski is studying for the priesthood at The Catholic University of America, adjacent to the basilica in Washington.
He has enjoyed the adventures that God has given him since he said yes to religious life nearly three years ago.
“I have experienced so many things,” he said, “and had so many unique opportunities in ministry during prayer experiences, being mentored by spiritual directors, traveling all over the U.S. and meeting … brothers, sisters and priests from many religious communities and dioceses.
“During these last two years, I never would have had a chance to have so many awesome experiences had I not given religious life a try,” Brother Zygmunt said. “I actually believe that living as a Franciscan brother is the most adventurous way I could choose to live.”
He grew up in a loving environment with six siblings. His family is active in the People of Praise charismatic community, and worships at St. Luke Parish in Indianapolis and St. Louis de Montfort Parish in Fishers, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese.
“Through thinking and praying and visiting religious communities, I came to the conclusion that I should look at the Brotherhood of the People of Praise,” he said. “I spent a year right after high school with this small community in Portland, Oregon.
“But I wasn’t ready [for religious life] at that point,” he said. “I was 19 years old, and ended up coming back home and working for a little while then going to Ball State University. The desire was there, but it just wasn’t the right time.”
While studying philosophy at Ball State, he lived with a family that is active in the People of Praise community in his hometown of Muncie, Ind.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, he decided to study theology at Saint Meinrad School of Theology on weekends and during the summer while living with another family in the People of Praise community in Fishers, Ind.
“Growing up in a lay community family environment was an important part of my life,” Brother Zygmunt said. “I was in the community as an adult for seven years, and that experience laid a really good foundation for religious life.”
He graduated from Saint Meinrad’s lay master’s program in the summer of 2004 and—through a lot of prayer and discernment—realized that God was calling him to religious life.
As part of his discernment process, he considered enrolling at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, operated by the Third Order Regular Franciscans.
While continuing his discernment, he traveled to Europe with his sister, Kristin, and visited Rome, St. Francis of Assisi’s home and St. Maximilian Kolbe’s parish in Warsaw, Poland, where the Conventual Franciscan friar served before dying in the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz, Poland.
“That [trip] left a big impression on me,” he said. “I came to the conclusion that the next step for me was to move from Indianapolis to Steubenville for a semester, and I accepted an invitation to pray Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours with the friars.”
He also visited their friary at Loretto, Pa., where the order operates St. Francis University.
“I started going to spiritual direction with a Franciscan priest in Steubenville,” he said. “I experienced a lot of peace as I moved forward with this … and decided to apply to their postulancy program. I was accepted and in August 2004 moved to Loretto to begin postulancy, a nine-month experience of living in the community—being a part of the order and praying with them—and taking classes at the university.”
He decided to continue formation as a novice in May 2005, which involves a year of prayer and study as a Franciscan brother.
“That year went really well and I was impressed with their community life,” Brother Zygmunt said. “I was able to do a lot of ministry at the university. As the year went on, I felt God calling me to continue. I had a lot of peace about it.”
He professed simple vows as a Third Order Regular Franciscan brother on May 26, 2006.
Now 29, Brother Zygmunt is studying for the priesthood at Catholic University and pursuing a sacred theology baccalaureate degree. He also hopes to earn a sacred theology licentiate that will enable him to teach at a university or seminary.
His father, Zygmunt Mazanowski III, is proud of his oldest son.
“I couldn’t be prouder that he is following a path that will allow him to serve the Lord and eventually be a priest,” the elder Mazanowski said. “I’m really happy that he’s happy. I’ve always had confidence that Zyg would discern God’s will and follow it.”
His sister, Kristin Lobodo, the athletic director at Ave Maria University in Naples, Fla., said discerning religious life has been a wonderful journey for him.
“We accepted Christ into our lives at the same time,” she said. “It was really through him and his example that I gave my life to the Lord and started following him and wanted to work for the Church.”
By sharing his story, Brother Zygmunt hopes other young people will step aside from the busyness of daily life to listen for God’s call.
“If you are called by the Holy Spirit to religious life, which may take a little while to figure out, it has been my experience that it is a joyful, peaceful, character-building, sacrificial, exciting and sometimes unimaginable—in a good sense—way to live,” Brother Zygmunt said. “Although you don’t experience physical intimacy like a married couple would, you have the opportunity to experience spiritual intimacy with Jesus and a wide variety of people.
“If living within God’s plan for you includes becoming a brother, sister or priest,” he said, “your life will be more than fulfilled in countless and unexpected ways.” †