Transitional Deacon Bryan Zielenieski's personal journey in faith began as a youth on a dairy farm in Arcade. Now, as he prepares to be ordained into the priesthood on June 7, he is able to reflect on what brought him to this stage, and how he farms and harvests his faith in God by serving others.
Deacon Zielenieski, who turns 35 on June 15, said he decided to become a priest after serving as a pastoral associate at SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Arcade, now known as St. Mary's. He recalled being at a Communion service one day, and decided as he was leaving that "there was no place (he'd) rather be than standing at that altar."
"That was like, my switch moment, where I just sort of surrendered, and said, 'God, this is going to happen; You've got to make this work,'" Deacon Zielenieski said.
Deacon Zielenieski said his experiences growing up on a farm helped shape his faith because many aspects of farming are out of human control, and, as a result, "you learn to trust God." He said after he planted seeds in the ground and had to wait, the process was taken out of his hands, and, with prayer, "you turn it all over to God."
The small-town aspect of his early life also influenced his decision, because being part of a small, tightly-knit community helped to challenge him to leave his comfort zone. On one hand he felt a need to take over his family's farm, and was immersed in the farming lifestyle and culture to which he had become accustomed. On the other, he found that his desire to maintain a sense of community led him to continue in a teaching career, through which he was able to continue giving back.
"I found my passionate energy for youth and working with youth, giving something to the next generation," Deacon Zielenieski said of his experiences teaching agriculture to high school students at Pioneer Central for three years. "I think that tied in with the community, with giving something to the next generation, and then God saying, 'I've got a better plan for you. You're going to give Me to the next generation, in a way you never thought possible.'"
"You work so hard at accomplishing a goal to try and become ordained, and finally it happens, and suddenly you're in a whole new role," Deacon Zielenieski said.
He said God continues to challenge him, and his work with the people of God has allowed him to see how gracious they are.
"It's so inspiring, and it continues to give me light and hope as I become a priest," Deacon Zielenieski said.
Deacon Zielenieski said maintaining a positive relationship with God is the result of both hard work and being honest with himself. This is important when he speaks to others about God. "If I don't have a good relationship, how can I ask other people to?"
Being honest with others is also crucial since a faith journey is not always an easy process. He said being able to share the times he wanted to "scream at God," and the times he felt God was taking care of him "in ways beyond (his) imagination," are both equal parts of this journey.
Deacon Zielenieski faced some challenges on his way to becoming a priest, including being in the seminary for seven years. He said he never fully understood the concept of "not my will, but Your will be done," until he entered Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora. There were moments in his life when he was not willing to let things go. Once he worked through this, he was able to grow and realize that God is leading him in a direction he needs to travel.
Father Arthur Mattulke, pastor of SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Hamburg, said Deacon Zielenieski's ordination will be a "true blessing to the Church," and called him a "guy full of excitement and joy for Christ and for serving the Lord and His people."
Deacon Zielenieski began serving his diaconal assignment at SS. Peter and Paul Parish in 2013. Father Mattulke said Deacon Zielenieski is an individual whom the parishioners "just love" and who "exudes the joy and the compassion of Christ."
"He's got an amazing ability to connect with the people through his preaching," Father Mattulke said. "His preaching has just got to be experienced to be able to enjoy it. I think, ultimately, the answer here is that we are blessed to have been able to walk with him as a parish community on part of his journey."