Newly ordained priest a spiritual — and literal — father

Father Mark Kiszelewski followed an unconventional route to the priesthood

By Kevin Birnbaum

There aren’t a whole lot of priests in the Latin Church with two grown sons, but the Archdiocese of Seattle’s newest priest, Father Mark Kiszelewski, is one of those few.

Father Mark Kiszelewski, who has two grown sons from an annulled marriage, was ordained to the priesthood June 8 by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain. Photo credit: Stephen Brashear
Father Mark Kiszelewski, who has two grown sons from an annulled marriage, was ordained to the priesthood June 8 by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain. Photo credit: Stephen Brashear.

He was ordained to the priesthood June 8 by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain at St. James Cathedral.

From an early age, Father Kiszelewski, now 58, felt a tug toward the priesthood, but his path to ordination was obviously not a direct one.

From seminary to ‘real world’
Growing up in Merrick, N.Y., he admired the priests at Cure of Ars Parish, where he also attended the parish school.

“I oftentimes got called out of the classroom to serve Masses and funerals and things,” he said. “There were a lot of good priests in my parish that were very holy men, and I think they gave good example to a number of us.”

He was soon on track to become one of them. He graduated from Pius X Preparatory Seminary in Uniondale and Cathedral College of the Immaculate Conception in Douglaston, Queens, and even did a year of theology training at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, on Long Island.

But in the post-Vatican II ’70s, many seminarians were encouraged to “step back” and experience the “real world,” he said.

He decided to take some time off, and was soon enjoying the excitement of working and dating in New York City. But “I still thought that I would go back” to the seminary, he said.

He worked in paper sales, and job transfers took him to California, but he always planned to return to the seminary eventually — until he met the woman he would marry.

A divorced priest?
Father Kiszelewski got married in 1984 and had two sons, Alex and Andrew, now 24 and 21, respectively.

More job changes led his family to Seattle, where he worked as a financial adviser and became a member of St. Therese Parish. Eventually, his marriage ended in divorce, and he received an annulment in 2001.

His advocate in the annulment process was his pastor, Father Paul Magnano, now pastor of Christ Our Hope Parish.

“After the annulment was over, (Father Magnano) asked me, ‘So now what?’ And I said, ‘In my prayer, some things keep coming back up about serving the church in some form or another.’ And he said, ‘Well, keep praying about it,’ and I decided to pursue it further.”

In 2007, Father Kiszelewski began the application process to become a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Seattle, but he doubted the archdiocese was ready for a divorced priest.

At the time, he said, “I would have told you to bet on a pig in a greyhound race” before betting on him to actually become a priest.

He said his eldest son, Alex, was baffled by his decision, asking him, “Dad, what are you doing? You have a house, you have a nice job, you’ve got a boat, you have all your friends — why would you want to go off and do this?”

His answer was simple: He felt “a continued desire … to serve God and to serve his church as much as I could.”

‘I’ve been there’
In March of 2008, he was accepted into the program. Because his son Andrew was not yet 18, he was allowed to do his pastoral year, at St. Luke Parish in Shoreline, before heading off to the Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corner, Wis., in the fall of 2009. He graduated May 3.

These days, Father Kiszelewski said, both his sons are supportive and excited about their dad being a priest.

Father Kiszelewski believes his personal history, while unusual for a priest, will be a great asset in his priesthood, helping him relate to the experiences and struggles of his parishioners.

“A lot of people that I talk to say to me, ‘You have a great background, in terms of you’ve done a lot of things. You’ve been married — you know what marriage is about, the pros and the cons, what happens and how things can go wrong. You know what it’s like to try to raise children and the difficulties of parenting children.’”

“I’ve been there,” he continued. “I know what it’s like to be struggling with a teenager who’s rebellious … I’ve experienced a lot of the good and a lot of the tough things, but you get through it. …

“All those experiences give me at least a way of letting people know that I understand what’s going on, and that’s a good thing.”

June 13, 2013