Brett Judkins knew he wanted to be a Catholic priest since he was a young boy.
“It was something I thought of my whole life,” he said, “Five years old is the first time I thought of being a priest. It continued throughout my life. I was drawn to the priesthood. When I was in college I finally came to that decision to pursue the priesthood.”
It’s hard to describe the call to the priesthood, Judkins said.
“From an early age, I just remember going to Mass with my parents and just being so drawn to the priest and what he was doing,” Judkins said. “For me, it was just going to Mass. ... I felt the call.”
He played Mass as a boy. He would put a cloth over a table and “go through the whole mass,” he said. “I was so drawn to it that’s what I wanted to do. It was more exciting to me than anything else.
“I didn’t think up that myself. It’s how God works. He plants that seed at such an early age,” Judkins said. “It’s kind of incredible.”
Judkins, 29, was ordained as a priest by Bishop Edward Braxton during a Mass at St. Peter's Cathedral in May.
“Words don’t really do it justice. It was the most joyful and exciting moment of my life,” Judkins said. “I was just overjoyed and filled with great gratitude for all the people who prayed for me.”
He also said he felt peace — “the most profound peace that only God can give,” Judkins said. “That peace of soul where you know that you are in the right place; you are serving the Lord as best you can.”
Judkins was recently assigned to St. Nicholas Church in O’Fallon and St. Joseph Church in Lebanon. He will be an associate pastor working alongside Father Bill Hitpas, who is also assigned to both of those churches. Judkins will begin his new assignment July 12. He is currently at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Chester.
The Diocese of Belleville has 49 Diocesan priests and 114 parishes, which means many priests serve more than one parish. Recently, the Rev. Anthony Onyango, who was previously assigned to St. Teresa Church in Belleville and St. Luke Church in Belleville, was appointed temporary administrator of St. Bernard Parish in Albers and St. Damian Parish in Damiansville. Rev. John Joyce, the priest at St. Bernard and St. Damian, died. This change left one priest — Monsignor David Darin — to serve both St. Teresa Church and St. Luke Church, both in Belleville, which meant new Mass schedules at both churches were recently announced.
Braxton said there would be more than 20 parishes in the diocese without priests were it not for the retired priests who continue to serve, the Franciscans and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate who assist the diocese, and the more than 20 missionary priests, who he personally invited to the diocese.
Prior to Judkins’ ordination, the Belleville Diocese had not had a priest ordination since 2012. In a letter, Braxton said Judkins will be the only priest ordained this year and no priests will be ordained next year. He encouraged everyone in the diocese to pray for vocations to the priesthood and asked priests and deacons to visit schools and talk about the ministry of priests.
Currently, eight men from the metro-east are attending seminary school under the sponsorship of the Diocese of Belleville.
“I would ask young men to just give it a thought,” Judkins said. “I think a lot of times men just don’t think about it; nobody asks them about it so they never really consider it.”
He encourages men to “give it a serious thought and prayerfully consider it. It is so important. It’s so essential for the church, for the life of the church, and there really is no greater life I think that you can really live than the life of total service to God and to his people.”
Sometimes young men are concerned about the celibacy requirement or other sacrifices priests are called upon to make. The priesthood is a life of sacrifice, Judkins said.
“It’s giving of yourself to others, an imitation of Jesus,” he said.
Judkins said he hopes to be a “good and holy” priest. “I certainly want to fulfill my role as being another Christ to people, to being an instrument of God’s love and mercy,” he said.
He wants to “bring others to Christ” in every way he can.
Journey to priesthood
Judkins, who grew up in Collinsville, attended Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis. He spent a total of six years there.
“It goes by quick but at the same time you are so ready,” he said.
He described attending the seminary as a “joyous experience.”
“I certainly learned a great deal about the church and the priesthood,” Judkins said. “I also learned about myself and my relationship with God. I had some wonderful professors who were very instrumental on my formation.”
He said he made some friends with the men he studied with.
“I was certainly ready after six years to get into my parish and get into my ministry,” he said.
Prior to seminary school, Judkins, a 2005 graduate of Althoff Catholic High School in Belleville, attended St. Louis University and graduated with a degree in history. At various points in his life, he said he also considered law school or teaching.
After college, he thought about entering the Jesuitas — the Society of Jesus. “As part of my journey to the priesthood, I decided I wasn’t called to be a Jesuit. I decided I should be a Diocesan priest,” Judkins said.
The hardest part of the journey for Judkins, he said, was “getting to a point where I could say ‘yes’ to the priesthood.”
“It’s hard to get to that point and to really kind of embrace it and be completely open to it,” Judkins said, “and not be self-conscious about it.”
A large part of seminary is academics. “It can be somewhat rigorous in some sense at various points,” he said. “It’s all very important for us to learn.”
Prayer is another component of seminary. “We do pray quite a bit in the seminary and learning more about prayer,” Judkins said, “and getting into those habits of prayer that will serve you well as a priest. They always say, ‘how you are at seminary is how you’re going to be as a priest.’”
Seminarians spend time at churches throughout the area. Judkins spent a summer at Sacred Heart Parish in Du Quoin and another summer at St. Mary’s in Mount Vernon. Then he spent last summer and this past year as a deacon at St. Mary’s in Chester.
Judkins said several metro-east priests have been a big influence on him including his pastor at St. Stephen Church in Caseyville — the Rev. Raymond Schultz — and the Rev. Eugene Wojcik at St. Mary’s.
“He’s just been a tremendous source of support,” Judkins said of Wojcik.
The life of a priest can be challenging, Judkins said.
“At the end of the day, it’s totally worth it,” he said. “The sacrifices you make, the work that you put in, the years of prayer discerning, when you finally make it, it’s all worth it. There’s nothing greater to be a priest, a priest of God — to serve him in that way. It’s just absolutely incredible.”
Meet Father Brett Judkins
- Age: 29
- Hometown: Collinsville
- Home parish: St. Stephen Church in Caseyville
- Assigned to: St. Nicholas Church in O’Fallon and St. Joseph Church in Lebanon
- Family: Parents Paul and Kathleen Judkins; two older brothers and two older sisters
- Education: Althoff High School, St. Louis University and Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis