Did you know what you wanted to be when you grew up when you were five-years-old? Not many can say as an adult they followed the kismet of their five-year-old intuition.
But, O’Fallon St. Nicholas Catholic Church’s new associate pastor, the Rev. Brett Judkins, 29, knew exactly what path he was headed down from early childhood.
“It’s kind of tough to explain, honestly. I just knew. When I was five was the first time I knew what was chosen for me,” said Judkins who was ordained to the priesthood on May 14.
It wasn’t until studying in college for a degree in history at St. Louis University that Jenkins, who earlier graduated from Althoff Catholic High School in Belleville, really settled on a plan to make it happen.
In 2009, Judkins graduated with a degree in history, and took a year to decide what he would do.
He would spend six years in seminary learning his ministry at Kenrick Glennon Seminary in St. Louis. Two years studying philosophy and another four concentrating on theology, he said.
“Most who graduate high school and go to seminary spend eight years studying to become a priest, but since I went to college beforehand, it was a little less for me,” said Judkins, the youngest of five Paul and Kathleen Judkins children
Judkins said it used to be far more common for boys graduating the eighth grade to attend high school seminary, but that is close to non-existent in today’s modern society.
“So when you completed the eighth grade if you wanted to join the priesthood, you would attend high school seminary all the way through college,” Judkins said.
Our Sunday Visitor reports there are less than 10 high school or minor seminaries in the United States, and five of eight weren’t formed until after 1980.
According to the 2010 Official Catholic Directory, as of 2009 there are 189 seminaries with 5,131 students in the U.S.; 3,319 diocesan seminarians and 1,812 religious seminarians. By the official 2011 statistics, there are 5,247 seminarians (3,394 diocesan and 1,853 religious) in the U.S. However, it is not stipulated if minor seminaries are included.
“While I was in seminary I noticed there were some who left, and yes the number joining the priesthood is dwindling, especially in our diocese, which has about 75-80 priests, but overall I think the descending trend is reversing itself slowly. Sure it may take some years to catch up per say, but for instance, when it used to be the U.S. sent missionaries to other countries like Nigeria in Africa to spread the word of Christ, now it’s the other way around really. We have far more international priests coming to the states now to help us, it’s interesting,” Judkins said.
Growing up in Collinsville, Judkins said he and his family attended St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church from time to time, but his home parish, where his folks still attend and he was baptized, is St. Stephen Catholic Church in Caseyville.
While there isn’t one person in particular that has acted as a spiritual inspiration growing up, he considers St. Nicholas pastor, Msgr. William Hitpas, his spiritual mentor.
“There are too many to list who I looked up to growing up, but there was certainly many role models in my life, and that list is still growing,” he said.
In the middle edge of his desk for visitors to view is a small bust of St. Pius the X, who Judkins describes as, “a truly holy man from humble, poor beginnings.”
“His name is Giuseppe Sarto, i.e. Joe Taylor, and he was a great defender of faith, especially during the era he lived. The turn of the nineteenth century when the Modernism movement was at it’s peak he was insidious in how he faced those challenges such as denying Christianity and Catholicism. Essentially, modernists emptied faith of its content and he was brave and didn’t shrug away from a fight.”
Although Pius didn’t do away with modernism, “he was a holy priest, a simple man and a tough guy who I think played a role in modernism going underground,” he said.
Judkins’ family has always been very supportive of his intentions and interests in his faith, he said.
“Even when I was younger, and especially through college and seminary school they were my support system, and you don’t always see that with the families of guys wanting to go into the priesthood unfortunately,” Judkins said
Books can only get a person so far when it comes to learning how to apply the catechism to his and others daily lives. So Judkins said he is sponge right now — listening and attaining wisdom through action and observation.
“Being an associate priest is a way to learn, and normally you don’t get a lot of time under someone. It used to be you would get a lot more time to shadow, but now the reality is you may only get two or three years before (going solo),” Judkins said.
O’Fallon is his first assignment after being ordained a priest and beginning his assignment at St. Nicholas in July, he said.
“Now my focus is on being the best priest I can at St. Nick’s and Fr. Hitpas is helping to teach me now, and that is what matters,” Judkins said.
“I find interesting. It deals with the corruption of Chicago politics and a morality that plays out kind of like a Shakespearean tragedy set in a (political climate),” Judkins said.
When he has free-time — not that often — he likes to golf, bowl, watch sports like football and baseball.
“I also play piano, but I’m kind of rusty I admit, so it’s nice having a piano in the rectory to get back into it,” he said.
An average day for the new priest pans out after morning 8:30 a.m. mass to meetings or appointments, but there’s also the unexpected Judkins said he is always prepared for.
“There’s always the possibility of the unexpected happening, but when I’m not in meetings or talking with people who drop in I am out and about visiting those in need in the hospitals or nursing homes,” he said.
Judkins said he looks forward to checking out the local Knights of Columbus, but hasn’t just yet.
“I’m still unpacking boxes in my office, so I’ll visit soon I’m sure,” he said.
Meet Fr. Brett Judkins:
Q: Do you have words to live by?
A: Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.”
Q: What do you do for fun and relaxation?
A: I enjoy playing golf, bowling, listening to music, playing the piano, spending time with friends, and watching sports.
Q: What is the usual state of your desktop?
A: Fairly clean and organized.
Q: What did you want to do career wise when you were growing up?
A: Aside from thinking about the priesthood, I also thought about becoming a police officer, a lawyer, and a history teacher.
Q: What type of music do you listen to?
A: Ray Charles is my favorite artist, so I listen to his music quite a lot.