By Kay Cozad
SOUTH BEND — Deacon Andrew Budzinski will soon see the fruits of his labor when on June 26 he will be ordained into the holy Priesthood of the Catholic Church by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades at 10 a.m. at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne. His ordination is the culmination of a long and interesting discernment journey.
Born May 11, 1973, the youngest of Eugene and Carolyn’s two sons, Andrew Budzinski was raised in South Bend. His family’s membership at the Holy Family Parish had him involved in the choir, youth group and as an altar server. His Catholic education began at Holy Family School where brother Bob’s presence, first as custodian, then as social studies teacher, kept the young Andrew in check. “There was no getting into trouble,” he says, “He (Bob) would have known about it!”
The first inkling that there might be a calling to the priesthood occurred in seventh grade when Msgr. Bernard Galic, pastor and director of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend’s Vocation Office, requested that Andrew and a friend assist him with the TV Mass. “Father Galic thought he’d get a vocation out of it, but I became interested in broadcasting,” says Deacon Andrew.
Following graduation from Washington High School in 1991, Deacon Andrew pursued an education at the University of Notre Dame, a dream come true he says, where he not only earned a bachelor’s degree in the arts with a communications major, but enjoyed the rigors of being Notre Dame’s mascot, the famed “Fighting Irish” Leprechaun.
Following his graduation from Notre Dame, Budzinski began his professional career as the night deejay on U93 — WNDV FM radio, South Bend, accumulating all the goods and responsibilities of an upwardly mobile career man.
Four years later he was constructing Web sites as a project manager for the interactive division of Golden Dome Production. The division downsized and eventually closed as part of the restructuring and sale of WNDU-TV. Golden Dome Productions, now know as NewGroup Media, has been serving the diocese for nearly 25 years and continues to produce the Annual Bishops Appeal video. Deacon Andrew was the focus of a segment of the 2009 Annual Bishop’s Appeal.
Surprised and unsettled, Deacon Andrew found himself unemployed at age 25. Fortunately not long after the layoff, he returned to U93 radio, under new ownership, this time as a salesman. During his four years in sales, he kept his hand in broadcasting as co-host of the University of Notre Dame’s football pre-game radio show.
At the same time, Msgr. Galic, determined to renew a vocation interest in Budzinski, invited the young professional to an Andrew Dinner sponsored by the diocese for young men interested in investigating the priesthood. And though Holy Orders had “crossed his mind” periodically, he declined the offer due to his investment in his career.
A renewed interest in his faith, however, found him attending daily Mass and Reconciliation on a regular basis. He began to pray about the priesthood and eventually met with Msgr. Galic to begin the process of discernment. “I took a year to pray on it and talk about it (before entering the seminary),” says Deacon Andrew. “You’re never 100 percent sure. That’s the point of the seminary.”
One major event that triggered his discernment, says Deacon Andrew was 9-11. “I felt like I needed to pray, so I took time off to pray at the grotto. Then I started thinking, ‘What am I doing with my life?’”
During the year of discernment, Deacon Andrew became an RCIA sponsor at St. Pius X in Granger. While at the Easter Vigil when one of the candidates, a young disabled man, was to be baptized, Msgr. William Schooler, pastor of St. Pius X, gathered him into his arms and walked him to the baptismal pool. As he witnessed this act he says, “At that moment I wanted to enter the seminary. A priest takes people into their arms and claims them for Christ. … I thought I’d like to do that.”
So in the fall of 2004, at 30 years of age, Deacon Andrew left his career behind and entered the seminary at Pontifical College Josephinum, in Columbus, Ohio, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 2006 and a master of divinity and a master of arts in theology in 2010.
Of his seminary experience, Deacon Andrew says, “It was a lot of work and a lot of fun too. The fraternity, the community of friends is unlike any other life. … It was a lot more human and normal than I expected.”
Parish assignments during his six years of studies included summer ministries assisting with Mass, hospital visits and sacramental preparation at St. Charles Borromeo, Fort Wayne; Holy Family and St. Matthew Cathedral, South Bend; and St. Mary of the Assumption, Decatur. Following his ordination into the transitional diaconate in April of 2009, Deacon Budzinski preached homilies, and presided Baptisms and Marriages, as well.
What kind of priest does this well-rounded man hope to be? “Having a career and working for a living will have an impact on relating to people who have careers, especially those laid-off.” Because he believes the culture views material wealth as more important than relationships with God and people, Deacon Andrew hopes to teach the youth that material wealth is meaningless without a relationship with God.
Since his graduation from seminary, Deacon Andrew has been on retreat and enjoyed some time off. But he admits he is “excited and anxious to get going.”
Following the ordination in Fort Wayne, where his seven newly ordained classmates from Pontifical College Josephinum will lay hands on him, Father Budzinski will celebrate a Mass of thanksgiving in South Bend on June 27 at 3 p.m. at Holy Family Parish. Msgr. Galic will be the homilist and two grade school friends will proclaim the Word. A Polish-style reception will follow.
The soon-to-be Father Budzinski gratefully acknowledges the people of the diocese who made his seminary training possible by giving so generously to the Annual Bishop’s Appeal. This humble and excited deacon concludes, “To be ordained at the conclusion of the Year for Priests is a tremendous honor. I’m very excited to be a brother priest with Bishop Rhoades and have him as my spiritual father and coworker in this part of this vineyard we call Fort Wayne-South Bend.”
The Leprechan connection …
NOTRE DAME — Leprechaun … Cubs fan … salesperson … disc jockey.
It sure doesn’t seem like an ordinary path to the priesthood. Still, those are all roles Deacon Andrew Budzinski has filled on his way to ordination.
Deacon Andrew served as the leprechaun mascot for the University of Notre Dame from 1993-1995. It’s a role that garnered him national attention, including a picture in Sports Illustrated.
“Andy just had an outgoing personality and a deep love for Notre Dame,” says Irish cheerleading coach Jo Minton. “He always stated at the pep rallies that his blood was blue and gold. He put the university first.”
In his second season as leprechaun, Deacon Andrew was also named a cheerleading team captain. He filled that role well despite an illness of his mother’s, which eventually took her life that year.
“Andy’s mom had been ill for a while,” recalls Minton. “When she passed away, I had a campus bus take the cheer team to be with him at the viewing. He was really touched by all the support.”
What also stood out to Minton was how well Deacon Andrew handled his leprechaun responsibilities while dealing with personal adversity.
“He was a teacher, mentor, friend, leader and leprechaun,” states Minton.
While serving as the leprechaun, Deacon Andrew also interned at WNDV-FM radio, where he would take a job upon graduating. It wasn’t long, though, before Deacon Andrew’s dynamic personality earned him some time on the air.
“He was very passionate about whatever he did,” says Corey Mann, who now hosts the popular “Pulse Morning Jumpstart” on Pulse FM in South Bend. “You can tell when he’s passionate about something, because his words become very clipped and distinct.”
Mann left WNDV to work for a local Protestant church, and that’s when he first learned of Deacon Andrew’s interest in the priesthood.
“When I decided to leave we had a heart-to-heart talk,” reflects Mann. “He told me ‘I really see myself being a priest someday. I feel a calling and I think I would be good at that.’ He seemed to embrace it and have a great love for it.”
As Deacon Andrew branched out into sports programming at the radio station, his love for Notre Dame was never hidden.
“Andy was a natural,” recalls Sean Stires, former sports director at WDND and WNDV. “At that time we did our show from a stage outside the Joyce Center, and he loved to play to the crowd. He had a little Lee Corso in him. He especially loved to throw his Irish-laden opinions at fans of opposing teams.”
Deacon Andrew is also a die-hard Cubs fan. In 2003, Stires gave him a pair of tickets to Game Six of the National League Championship Series, known better as “The Bartman Game.”
“I was talking to him on his cell phone while the whole game was unraveling before his eyes,” remembers Stires. “He went from being as giddy as a kid on Christmas Day to, well … he’s a Cubs fan.”
Despite his rather eclectic background, few people Deacon Andrew has encountered are surprised he is now entering the priesthood.
“Andy was pretty affected by 9/11, and I think that was kind of when he started getting serious about becoming a priest,” reflects Stires. “I just think he felt like God had a plan for him and that he could somehow serve the ‘greater good.’”
“I remember he came to visit me at my office, which was not unusual,” says Minton. “But this time he asked me to write a letter of recommendation for him to become a priest. We talked a long time that evening in my office and I could tell that this is what he really wanted in his heart. He is a fun-loving person, with a great laugh, and the best heart ever. He will be a wonderful priest.”
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