The road to the priesthood in Sleepy Eye

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DEACON ZACH PETERSON, who has been working at St. Mary’s since last June, will complete his final year of seminary next year and take his priesthood promises in June of 2011.


By Ben Bradbury, Staff Writer

Sleepy Eye Herald-Dispatch

Thu Jan 07, 2010, 11:48 AM CST

Sleepy Eye, Minn. - After 11.5 years of higher education, Deacon Zach Peterson will be ordained a diocesan priest with the Roman Catholic Church on June 4, 2011.

In preparation for his future life of ministry, Peterson has spent the last seven months living in Sleepy Eye and working at St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

“I’m very much looking forward to being done with college,” he said. “Every day is different, but I love it.”

Peterson grew up in Marshall as the oldest of four children. He attended the local Catholic school from kindergarten through eighth grade and later graduated from Marshall Senior High School. It was during this time that Peterson first began feeling a call toward the priesthood.

Though he began considering a future in ministry, Peterson never really thought this would happen. “I was a very shy guy, I never thought I could get in front of people and preach,” he explained.

Thus, upon graduating high school, Peterson attended college at Southwest Minnesota State University. Not quite sure what he wanted do, it took Peterson 5.5 years to graduate, but he eventually received a degree in elementary education.

Even at this point in his life, Peterson still wondered if priesthood was in his future. However, he decided to teach for awhile to see if it was for him. Peterson taught at Echo Charter School for 1.5 years and during this time, even got back together with an old girlfriend.

The relationship didn’t work out and Peterson felt this situation helped confirm his future life as a priest. “It was really a blessing in disguise,” he said. “I loved teaching, but I wasn’t teaching what was most important to me.”

Now feeling the certain call to the priesthood, Peterson began the long Catholic seminary process. He explained that men desiring to be a priest have several options for their education.

In the case of someone like Peterson who already had a college degree in another field, the process is a bit different. He must first study philosophy for two years and then go on to four years of theology.

For his training in philosophy, Peterson attended Cardinal Muench Seminary in Fargo, N.D. “Two years of Fargo winters – now that’s cold!” he said.

After two years in Fargo, Peterson went down to Indiana to study theology at St. Meinrad Seminary. He has completed three years of this training so far, and his time at St. Mary’s has been between his third and final year of theological education.

Peterson first arrived in Sleepy Eye last June. Because he is planning to serve as a priest with the Diocese of New Ulm, Peterson’s year as a deacon needed to take place somewhere in this area. “Monsignor has really taken me under his wing,” he said.

During his time at St. Mary’s, Peterson has been busy substitute teaching and interacting with students during lunch and free times. “It is very good for a parish to see a seminarian go through the process of becoming a priest,” he said.

Additionally, Peterson has stayed busy teaching public school Confirmation classes on Wednesday evenings and redesigning the church Web site. “People have really reached out and it will be difficult to leave the community,” he said.

Peterson will move back to Indiana at the end of July and resume his final year of education. “It’ll be tough to go back to the classroom after a year of ministry,” he said.

Upon completion of his training, Peterson will take his priesthood promises before Bishop John LeVoir of the Diocese of New Ulm. He believes the Holy Spirit will then change him and make him a priest.

“Being a priest is not something you do, but who you are,” he said.

Looking to the future, Peterson explained that he is excited to impact the lives of church members. “I want to be with people at good times and bad,” he said. “I am graced by God to enter into lives and be welcomed in.”