May 23, 2014

2014 ordinations: Ready to serve God’s people

Seeds for deacon’s vocation nurtured by loving family, Greenwood parish

Transitional Deacon Benjamin Syberg proclaims the Gospel at the closing Mass for the National Catholic Youth Conference at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Nov. 23, 2013. He will be ordained to the priesthood on June 7 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

Transitional Deacon Benjamin Syberg proclaims the Gospel at the closing Mass for the National Catholic Youth Conference at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Nov. 23, 2013. He will be ordained to the priesthood on June 7 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

Raised in a loving Catholic family and growing up in a vibrant parish that encouraged priestly and religious vocations, transitional Deacon Benjamin Syberg felt confident as a teenager that God was calling him to the priesthood.

He enrolled in 2006 as a freshman at Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis thinking that ordination was just around the corner. He thought that he had “it.”

“I had the gift,” Deacon Syberg said. “I knew what I was getting into. And this whole process was going to be over in a matter of months, not years.”

Deacon Syberg paused for a moment and then added, “That’s not how the seminary works. It’s been a long eight years of real work.”

Over that time, God humbled Deacon Syberg through a challenging time of introspection and prayer. But he came out of this period more secure in his knowledge of himself and his vocation.

He will affirm his call to the priesthood when he and three other men will be ordained priests by Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin on June 7 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.

Seedbeds for a vocation

Deacon Syberg gave credit first for his vocation to his parents, Keith and Kathy Syberg, and his six siblings, including transitional Deacon Andrew Syberg, who is scheduled to be ordained a priest in 2015.

“More than anything, I just had a loving family,” Deacon Benjamin Syberg said. “If that isn’t a good seedbed for a vocation, I’m not totally sure what is.”

Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish and the priests that have served there over the years have also been a loving family of faith.

“It’s been very supportive without being overwhelming or stifling because I think you can almost turn guys off with that,” said Keith Syberg, who, with his wife, Kathy, serves as co-chair of the parish’s vocations committee. “It’s been encouraging in kind of a normal way. You’re not looked at in a cock-eyed way [if you’re thinking about the priesthood].”

From a young age, Deacon Syberg came to know many priests who were invited to his family’s home. As he grew older and became more involved in the parish, he was invited to dinners at parish rectories where several priests attended.

“Even just watching priests interacting and being themselves, I knew that that was what I wanted to be a part of,” Deacon Syberg said.

Learning to be himself

Before he could be part of the brotherhood of priests, Deacon Syberg first had to come know himself better, something he was encouraged to do by Father Robert Robeson, Bishop Bruté’s rector.

“He kind of had this ideal of the priesthood that he was trying to live up to, when really all [he] had to do was to be himself,” said Father Robeson. “The Lord can work through him better as himself than he could if he was trying to live up to some kind of expectation in his mind about what the perfect priest was.”

Although Deacon Syberg had a deep interior journey to complete in his priestly formation, that didn’t keep him from giving of himself to others and bringing people together.

“He’s one of those guys that always kind of makes sure everybody is included,” Father Robeson said. “He enjoys getting everyone involved and pulling people together.”

Deacon Syberg may have entered Bishop Bruté confident that God was calling him to the priesthood. But five years later, in his first year of priestly formation at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad, he began to have doubts.

The next summer, he spent several weeks at the Institute for Priestly Formation at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. He expected to focus on questions about his vocation. He learned in prayer that he needed to focus on something more basic—himself.

“I heard the Lord saying, ‘You don’t even know just what I have in store for you. We need to work on you … ,” Deacon Syberg said.

He emerged out of his difficult time, however, more sure about himself and his vocation.

“As challenging as my prayer life became through spiritual direction and counseling and relationships,” Deacon Syberg said, “I felt much more secure, actually, in moving forward and staying in the seminary.”

Just weeks before being ordained a priest, Deacon Syberg said that the humility he has nurtured in the seminary will be an integral part of his priestly identity. He knows that this identity will be expressed through himself and not just an abstract ideal of the priesthood.

“Humility, if it’s real anyway, opens a lot of doors,” Deacon Syberg said. “I think some of my mannerisms, idiosyncrasies and goofiness might make people think, ‘Wow. He’s a real person.’ I think I might surprise some people by how real I am.”

‘A man of prayer’

Deacon Syberg said that personal prayer was a challenge to him in his early years of priestly formation. But more recently, he has grown closer to Christ through his daily life of prayer.

“The closer I come to Christ in prayer, I say less,” Deacon Syberg said. “In my holy hours, I’ll just repeat, ‘Lord Jesus Christ’ or ‘Lord, have mercy’ and just sit in his presence.

“In the last few years, my love of sacred Scripture has really come on. I don’t really think about prayer without the words of the Lord through the Scriptures.”

He knows that once he begins priestly ministry, maintaining a practice of daily prayer will be vital for him.

“More than anything, a priest has to be a man of prayer,” Deacon Syberg said. “Of all the things that I could be doing, which there are many, my time of prayer—real, hard and fast, every day for me to grow personally closer to the Lord—has got to be the first thing for me as a priest.”

Part of that daily life of prayer as a priest means celebrating the Mass. Deacon Syberg will celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving at 4 p.m. on June 7, his ordination day, at Our Lady of the Greenwood Church. His brother, Deacon Andrew Syberg, will be the homilist at the Mass.

As excited as he is to celebrate his Mass of Thanksgiving, Deacon Benjamin Syberg, true to his humble personality, is keeping it in perspective.

“I’m trying to remember that I’m going to do it again,” he said. “There’s so much that is going into this Mass of Thanksgiving. And I think that’s fair. The people of my parish, the people who have supported me through this, they want what will happen that day to be very special.

“But I’m trying to remember that I’ll do it the next day and the day after and the day after.”

‘Strengthening people in their faith’

Msgr. Mark Svarczkopf became pastor of Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in 2003 while Deacon Syberg was still a student at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis. He still leads the Indianapolis South Deanery faith community.

Over that time, he has observed how Deacon Syberg has grown in his ability to minister to other people.

“He found out at Roncalli that he could explain and promote the Catholic faith to his classmates,” Msgr. Svarczkopf said. “That gave him a lot of confidence to go into the seminary.

“But instead of just defending the faith, I think he is going to be strengthening people in their faith as he himself becomes more involved in ministering to people.”

Kathy Syberg sees those same qualities in her son.

“Ben is sensitive to people,” she said. “He’s very good at listening. I think he’ll have a very pastoral approach to people. He’s a kind person and thoughtful. I think all of those things are appreciated in priests.”

For his own part, Deacon Syberg has a great love of the faithful that he wants to express through living and ministering as a parish priest.

“That’s just all I want, to be in a parish,” Deacon Syberg said. “Parish life is home. The people of God are just so wonderful. They’re just awesome.”

(For more information about a vocation to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, log on to www.HearGodsCall.com.)


More about Deacon Benjamin Syberg

  • Age: 26
  • Parents: Keith and Kathy Syberg
  • Home Parish: Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood
  • Seminary: Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis and Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad
  • Favorite Scripture verse: “The king [David] was shaken, and went up to the room over the city gate to weep. He said as he wept, ‘My son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you, Absalom, my son, my son’ ” (2 Sm 19:1). Deacon Syberg, whose middle name is David, came to value this verse during a time of introspection. “I am David,” Deacon Syberg wrote about this verse. “I am Benjamin. I am Absalom, a wayward and troubled son. And as a priest, I will fulfill the beloved Son, and the King who does die for his children.”
  • Favorite saint: St. John the Apostle
  • Favorite movie: The Big Lebowski
  • Hobbies: Playing piano, reading fiction and theology, collecting and listening to music, drinking coffee, running, exploring and hanging out in big cities, watching sports

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