Inspired by men in black

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On his journey to the priesthood, Deacon Joe Bergida often was inspired by the clergy around him. At a young age, he would watch priests celebrate liturgies, then would go home and "play Mass." As he grew, he witnessed the camaraderie and the holiness exhibited by young priests at the parishes he attended. And while many future priests grow up not automatically gravitating toward the priesthood, Deacon Bergida was different: From a young age he ached for the sacrament of holy orders.

"There came a point in high school when I thought that maybe the Lord wasn't calling me to it, but I still wanted it," Deacon Bergida said in a recent interview from Rome, where he attends the Pontifical North American College. "I was trying to release that desire. Then the Lord gave it back to me."

It wasn't that he didn't want marriage or a family, Deacon Bergida said, rather, "I always kind of thought it was a greater good to be able to serve all families and to be able to give myself fully to Christ and His bride the Church."

"Seeing the beauty of family life actually strengthened my desire to be a priest," he added. "I saw what beautiful families were like, and I wanted that, yet at the same time I knew in my heart that God was calling me to be a priest."

Deacon Bergida, who is scheduled to be ordained to the priesthood June 9 at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington, was born Sept. 28, 1983, in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn., to Michael and Theresa Bergida. The family, which later would have seven children, of whom Deacon Bergida is the oldest, moved to Virginia when he was 2.They lived in both Herndon and Centreville before settling in Front Royal during the deacon's high-school years.

Growing up, Deacon Bergida said his family did its best to get to daily Mass, outings that had a "huge impact" on his faith.

"The first thing I remember is going home and setting up and playing Mass," he said. "That was where the first intuitions or movements of grace began."

As he got older, Deacon Bergida joined the Junior Legion of Mary, an organization that helped him to seek God's will and holiness in his life. As the family moved around Northern Virginia, Deacon Bergida got to know many priests on whom he began to model his life, he said, including Fathers John H. Melmer, Matthew H. Zuberbueler, Cornelius O'Brien, Alexander R. Drummond, Brian G. Bashista and the late William Ruehl.

"Here they were, young men, and they were giving their lives to the Church, to Christ and they had this great joy about them," he said. "They were funny and you could interact with them … and at the same time they had a great respect for the Eucharist."

Deacon Bergida was homeschooled through high school, after which he attended Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, from 2002-06, where he participated in a pre-theology program. After much discernment, he applied to the seminary his senior year and was accepted, entering St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa., in the fall of 2006.

In 2008, Deacon Bergida transferred to Rome, where he has studied for the last four years.

"It's been great," Deacon Bergida said. "You really get an experience of the Church universal because there are students from all over not only Europe, but Asia, Africa. And the ability to be so close to the Holy Father and the martyrs who gave their lives for the faith here in Rome … has been great."

As a seminarian, Deacon Bergida served at St. Philip Church in Falls Church, St. Teresa Parish in Ashburn and All Saints Parish in Manassas. After his ordination, Deacon Bergida will return to Rome to finish up a degree in liturgy, but for the summer he'll be home at St. John the Baptist Church in Front Royal.

Now, almost a priest himself, Deacon Bergida looks back on the clergy who influenced his life in the hopes of someday having that same influence on others.

Being a priest "really is bringing people to Christ," Deacon Bergida said. And, after all, who would know better than him?

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2012