Father Neil Wack gives insight on his role as vocation director
Graduating from Purdue University with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, Father Neil Wack, CSC, moved down to Indianapolis for work before entering seminary with the Congregation of Holy Cross. After his ordination in 2004, Fr. Wack served at his home parish, Christ the King Parish, here in South Bend for seven years. He then had the opportunity to work as the priest-in-residence in Keough Hall. As of 2015, Father Wack serves as the Vocation Director for the US Province of the Congregation of Holy Cross. He would enjoy leading the Notre Dame band out onto the field.
The Irish Rover: How did your process of discerning towards the priesthood go? Did you always know or was it a process?
Father Wack: I grew up in a Holy Cross Parish, and I had great priests and brothers and sisters of Holy Cross that helped me along the way just to learn the basics, but also to learn about the Lord and to learn about the Church. I didn’t really seriously consider vocation until my brother Bill was ordained a Holy Cross priest. That was right when I was finishing up at Purdue University. […] Bill was ordained in 1994 and so then it just kind of hit me that there might be something there. I still needed to go out into the world, so I worked for four years in Indianapolis. Finally at the end of that, I realized that there [was] something that God [was] pulling me towards, this tug that I [couldn’t] deny so I [had] to go look into it.
Why did you choose to be a Holy Cross priest?
For me that was easy. I mean it was my brother, but it was also my great uncle who taught economics here for a long time—Father Ed Keller, a Holy Cross priest. That was big to see him and his interaction here at the university, the parish, a Holy Cross parish. Even with that exposure, I needed that sense of family, and that is so big in Holy Cross, that idea with the brotherhood that we share—and then what Father Moreau really tried to instill in all of us—was the idea of the Holy Family. The priests, brothers, and sisters being Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. To really imitate and as much as possible really show that for others.
Can you tell us more about your role as Vocations Director here?
My main job is to help mostly young men, obviously, for [the] priesthood or religious brother, but also for women too, to really be able to listen to and know what God’s call is in their life. So to give them tools for prayer, tools for discernment—sometimes just a sounding board. It took me four years to go through this, so I never try to rush people along, and if people feel rushed or feel like, gee, this isn’t what I need, then great, we slow down and we figure it out. To give them the tools that they need to listen for God’s will, that’s really my main job description. Within that, of course, is to talk about Holy Cross, otherwise I’d be out of a job! So to tell them, alright, here’s the charism of Holy Cross, here’s our founder, here’s really what our apostolates are all about. It really does start with that. Give them the tools they need and sometimes point them in another direction and say, gee, it sounds like you’re more interested in monastic life so maybe you might want to consider one of those communities or, gee, it sounds like you really want to be in a parish and you want to stay near a home, that’s more like a diocesan sort of thing, so make sure you contact them.
Would you encourage students to come see you and talk to you about their own vocation?
Absolutely. It’s a joy and a privilege for me. There are so many things you have to do in this job as far as administrative and emails and such, but the joy is to just be able to talk to folks. I think I’m on the list at Notre Dame for Campus Ministry Spiritual Directors. It doesn’t have to be for Holy Cross or religious vocation. We all need to discern God’s call in our lives and be open to what He says, but we have to know how to listen to that and that seems to be the real challenge. Take some time to listen. Go into a chapel and just listen. That seems to be what’s missing. There has to be time to listen, otherwise it’s not a real conversation.
What is your greatest advice for someone who is discerning?
It boils down to these things: make sure you’re praying every day; make sure you are availing yourself of the Sacrament, obviously at Sunday mass, but again on these campuses there are so many opportunities for a daily Mass here or there if possible; the sacrament of Confession, to do that often; to kind of dip your toe in the water … whether it’s volunteer work or being a Eucharistic Minister, lector, or something at Mass, just something to start on the road. That’s kind of the initial building blocks. If someone is like, gee, I’ve been doing those things, what’s next? Well then, the next thing is get a spiritual director to kind of journey on that.
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