As his June 3 priestly ordination approaches, Toms River native and transitional deacon Rev. Mr. Kevin Hrycenko reflected on the path his vocation took, with roots in a supportive family and parish, and how his discernment led him to dedicate his life to the Church.
Bringing souls to heaven is the goal of soon-to-be priest Kevin Hrycenko
“God calls us in the way that we will respond best,” he pointed out. “My journey may look different from yours, but the result is the same: Follow what God is calling you to do for your life.”
Open to God
Although Rev. Mr. Hrycenko, who was born in 1994, “always had a good relationship with the priests” of his home parish – St. Joseph, Toms River – and attended St. Joseph Grade School and Donovan Catholic High School next door, it wasn’t until his 2016 graduation from The Catholic University of America, Washington, that he began to think seriously about the priesthood.
“I graduated without any real direction,” he admitted, but his contact with a former CUA roommate who had entered the seminary helped plant a seed. “It was a combination of seeing what seminary life was like, teaching religious education at my home parish … and being very open to what God wanted … that led me to apply to be a seminarian for the Diocese.”
Rev. Mr. Hrycenko’s parents, Walter and Loretto Hrycenko, two siblings and extended family remained an influence and encouragement throughout his discernment. “They had many questions about the Catholic faith,” he noted, “and [I was] someone that they personally knew who could answer those questions or lead them to where they could find answers.”
Continually asking God, “Are you sure you want me to be a priest?” gave him further confirmation that he was on the right path. “In fact, what finally convinced me … was looking up my ordination day,” Rev. Mr. Hrycenko said. “June 3 is the Feast of St. Kevin … the same day as a saint I am named after.”
His faith evolved over the years as seminary taught him that “knowing more about God will lead you to desiring to love him more and thus wanting to learn more about him … it is a positive feedback loop of knowing and loving.”
The former Eagle Scout began his seminary studies in the fall of 2017 in Mount St. Mary Seminary, Emmitsburg, where he pursued a master's degree in Church history and a master of divinity degree. He spent his diaconal year in St. Dominic Parish, Brick. His summer parish assignments have included the linked parishes St. James, Pennington; St. George, Titusville, and St. Alphonsus, Hopewell, in 2018; St. Mary of the Lakes, Medford, in 2019; Nativity, Fair Haven, in 2020, and St. Charles Borromeo, Cinnaminson, in 2021. These assignments, Rev. Mr. Hrycenko said, have given him the opportunity to learn from many diocesan priests.
“All of them encouraged me to ask questions about what happens at the parish, the daily life of a priest, or why they celebrate the liturgy a certain way,” he said. “That openness and honesty was tremendously helpful … Although the parishes … are diverse and have different personalities, they are all striving for the same goal: honoring and worshipping God.”
The impact of prayer, Rev. Mr. Hrycenko said, “especially praying a Holy Hour … before the Blessed Sacrament,” was a vital lesson he took from the Mount St. Mary Seminary rector, who encouraged the seminarians “to live our holy hour … [as] the center of not only a priest’s prayer life but also their entire life.”
As for his vocation, Rev. Mr. Hrycenko hopes “to be able to encounter Jesus Christ. My life as a priest has only one goal: to help people get into heaven.”
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