Dr. Knight: You are a lay person who has worked hard for the Church in many different ways. Could you tell us about your work? Especially your work with the RCIA? How has this changed your life?
Dan Plovanich: I have been a member of Queen of Angels Parish in Chicago for almost 30 years and most of the work I have done for the Church has been through my parish.
In addition to coordinating and teaching the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) for 12 years, I have also participated in a number of parish ministries, including Lector and Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion at Sunday mass, organizing Corpus Christi processions and presenting a variety of parish lecture series on Church history and doctrine.
My work with the RCIA has been one of the most remarkable ongoing experiences of my life.
I can’t imagine anything more rewarding than offering the truth of Jesus Christ, found in its fullness only in the Catholic Church, to those who are discerning a path into full communion.
Their hunger for truth inspires me year after year.
When I began with the RCIA there were two parishes in our program but now we have four, Queen of Angels, St. Matthias, Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Mary of the Lake, and I am already excited about beginning the process again in the Fall with a whole new group of people from those parishes.
As we gradually take them through the classes, rites and sacraments of the Church it is wonderful to watch as their recognition of the truth grows with each step we take, and my own faith in and knowledge of our glorious faith has grown as well.
We cannot truly teach others without experiencing the grace of learning ourselves.
Dr. Knight: How did you receive your call to work so completely for the Church? How has this call changed over time?
Dan Plovanich: My initial call from God goes so far back in my life that it would be difficult to explain it in simple terms here and I have never publicly discussed it.
Suffice it to say that God comes to those whom He chooses, at the time, in the place and in the way that He chooses. It is all about Him calling to our heart from His heart of truth and love.
Cor ad cor loquitur.
It is His will at work, but it is then incumbent upon us to respond to God’s call to participate in the profound work of restoring all things in Christ.
I was born and raised Catholic on Chicago’s West Side and I was in 1st grade when my school, Our Lady of the Angels, suffered a terribly tragic fire in which 92 children and three nuns died.
It has taken me many years to understand the impact that event had on my faith, but now I know for certain that in this fallen world, a world we have made for ourselves, at times even with our best efforts, things can go horribly wrong.
However, when tragedies occur God is with us still, comforting those who are frightened, holding up those who have fallen from fear and hopelessness, suffering with all those who are suffering, dying with those who are dying.
When we look to the cross of Christ and look at the body of Christ hanging on that cross we realize we do not believe in a God who stands apart from us, untouched by our sorrow, but in a God who Himself knows the pain of grief and loss.
How can we turn away from such a God who has descended into the very depths of our darkness and sin in order to raise us up to eternal life with Him?
The great Hebrew prayer, Sh'ma Yisra'el, Adonai 'eloheinu, Adonai 'eḥad – “Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One” reminds all of us the importance of listening to the voice of God in all instances and at all times, even when that voice comes to us in the very depths of near despair.
Dr. Knight: I see you are working in the area of music. Could you tell us what that means?
Dan Plovanich: Although I have practiced Traditional Chinese Medicine for 35 years I have also been involved in music throughout my entire life.
In my early twenties I was a student at the Chicago Conservatory College and, later, the American Conservatory of Music where I was a composition major.
In addition to my regular classes, I also had the honor of being tutored in musical composition by William Ferris, the founder of the William Ferris Chorale.
When I was studying with him, I always wondered why he chose to compose only sacred music.
However when my son Charlie was ordained a priest in May 2018, the Queen of Angels parish choir performed a hymn I composed for the event of his first mass, a piece written for piano and choir.
Since that time I feel a greater closeness with Mr. Ferris because now I understand that, like him, I plan on composing sacred music which expresses my faith in God and my love for Him.
Dr. Knight: How about an easy question: what is your favorite film at this time? Book? Have you seen “Unplanned” or “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”
Dan Plovanich: Everyone who knows me knows that my favorite film is Citizen Kane because it explores the complexities of an entire human life from childhood to old age and death. I’m a big fan of Orson Welles, having seen many of his films and having read several books about his life.
My wife and I saw Unplannedin the movie theater and we were deeply moved by it. Our Catholic faith has confirmed for us the value of human life from conception to natural death, views that put us and all devout Catholics at odds with an increasingly secular world in which life has become a thing of only relative importance.
I have not yet seen Won’t You Be My Neighbor but will soon.
I have many favorite books, but a short list would include, Light of the World, an interview with Pope Benedict XVI, A Doctor at Calvaryby Pierre Barbet, The Life of Antony by Athanasius and The Hebrew Christby Claude Tresmontant.
Dr. Knight: Can you tell us how you incorporated the raising of a family with your work at Church?
Dan Plovanich: All three of our sons attended Queen of Angels grade school, the result of a conscious choice on my wife’s and my part. We wanted our sons to have a good, solid Catholic education, to be taught the truths of our faith and to attend mass on Sundays.
As adults they are free to make their own decisions, but their earliest memories of church are all directly related to our family as an example of the love that permeates the heart when parents live out the promise of Christ when he said Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.
The family is the first church, the smallest unit of the faith, and each Catholic family in a parish is a vital piece of the whole. We raised our sons to believe in God, to seek truth and to come to know Christ in all his glory.
Our example of faith certainly had an impact on our son Charlie who is now an ordained priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Dr. Knight: Do you think/feel that the use of social media in our parishes can assist young people to think about knowing/loving/serving God through their ‘cyber-neighbor’?
Dan Plovanich: In the Second Vatican Council document Inter Mirifica
the council fathers addressed the need for the Church and her members to make use of all aspects of social media in order to advance the teachings of the gospel.
Of course there are numerous forms of social media available now that were not even imagined when that document was published in 1963, but since we always profess that God comes us to where we are, we are then required to take the gospel to all people where they are, and in all ways that have been made available to us.
If people, young or old, are on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat or any other social media platform we should be there as well offering the gospel of salvation.
After all, even Pope Francis has a Twitter account.
Dr. Knight: As a lay person you are able to educate and spiritually form many people in the society through your work. What issues are predominantly on your mind and heart?
Dan Plovanich: For some decades after the council the Church lost ground, as Catholic catechesis was not offered with the kind of vigor it deserves. I see the fruits of this failure when I talk about the faith with family and friends who were raised Catholic but are unfamiliar with all that we are required to believe.
Doctrine and dogma are now given only a relative value, one that must compete with the powerful siren call of the secular world that contradicts the Church at every turn.
What we need now is passionate Catholics, Catholics who are on fire with the love of God and 3the message of the salvation of Jesus Christ, and possessing the knowledge and tools required to encourage, educate and catechize the uninformed.
One of my favorite characters from the New Testament is John the Baptist who was completely conformed to God and confirmed in his conviction that God had offered him a unique role in salvation history, that of forerunner of the Messiah.
But all of us have a role that is as unique to us as John’s was to him. Are we willing to speak the truth to power as he did?
Are we willing to make use of our place in the secular world as lay believers who have a sacred charge from Jesus Christ to teach the gospel at all times, both in words and in actions?
This is our time, this is our place and this is our call.
The answer is up to us.
Dr. Knight: There have been very influential Bishops throughout the ages including saints. Who influenced you the most?
Dan Plovanich: I have the highest regard for Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria, the great 4th century promoter of the Nicene Creed and the bane of the Arian heretics. His nickname, Athanasius Contra Mundum, “Athanasius Against the World” says it all.
St Jerome famously wrote, “The whole world groaned and was astonished to find itself Arian”
But Athanasius never quit, and never stopped teaching Catholic truth even though he was exiled five times by four different emperors for refusing to give in to the heresy that was ripping the Church apart.
I have equally high regard for Bishop John Fisher of Rochester, England, the only English bishop who had the courage to remain faithful to the Catholic Church and to resist the power of Henry VIII when Henry tore England from the Church, ultimately inventing his own form of English Protestantism.
Fisher was martyred for his faith exactly two weeks before Thomas More was also martyred for refusing to acquiesce to the growing madness of Henry.
Their shared feast day is June 22nd, the day on which John Fisher was beheaded.
I admire the uncompromising courage of these men. They lost their heads but they saved their souls.
Dr. Knight: What are some of the issues you attend to that show how much you care for your neighbor? How does that fit in with the work of our Holy Father Pope Francis?
Dan Plovanich: Christ calls all of us to be salt and light in this world, preserving truth and acting as enlightened witnesses to the faith, so that the beauty of the Kingdom of God can be seen in our words and our actions. In this way the curtain parts and allows the eternal love of God to shine through to the world as a testimony to the power and reality of faith.
Our Lord said in Revelation, Behold I make all things new. Christ intends to renew and restore the world as the Father always intended it.
We all have a part to play in the restoration of this fallen world, returning it to the dignity that God willed for it from the beginning, and therefore I take seriously my small part in this vast plan that has God as its author.
I always ask myself, Am I being kind to others? Do I care for their material needs and their need to be heard and to be loved? Do I speak the truth to them? Do I encourage them in the faith in every way I can?
In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis wrote, “The risen Christ sent his followers to preach the Gospel in every time and place, so that faith in him might spread to every corner of the earth.”
The old saying about the missionary work of the Church, Some give by going; others go by giving should now, in light of the great loss of faith we are experiencing in the Western world, be completed with the words Others give by staying.
Where we live and work, that is the mission field and the need to care for our neighbors is as great there, where we are, as it is anywhere else in the world.
Dr. Knight: What other issues do you have as a priority for our work as a society? As assisting the next generation to be followers of Christ?
Dan Plovanich: We need to pray as though everything depends on it, because everything does.
Doing good in the world, living out the social gospel, as necessary as that is, does not replace the universal call to prayer that is found throughout the Bible and in all of the centuries of the Church.
We cannot fully live our lives as Catholics without prayer, indeed, without continuous prayer. Our prayer can and should take many forms but all of them should be directed to the loving will of God, and in fact place us firmly within that will.
In this way, prayer and worship join together as the ultimate acts of humility before Almighty God.
Prayer is the most natural thing we do, as natural and as necessary as inhaling and exhaling, and because of that, developing a full, active and constant prayer life is one of our primary tasks as Catholic Christians.
Prayer is not only an act carried out by the one who prays but by the Holy Spirit of God within.
In his letter to the Romans St. Paul writes, In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
In addition to prayer, the sacraments are essential beyond all things and are in themselves work that we must do in and for society. They transform us day by day and moment by moment, and through us they transform the world.
Since they were instituted by Jesus Christ as profound means of receiving grace from the Father, we must avail ourselves of their power as often as possible so that our work in this world is infused with the passion given to us by those sacraments, a gift that was made possible by Our Lord’s passion on the cross.
The sacraments are loving previews of Heaven and as such they are signs to a world that has sadly forgotten how loved it is. To faithfully participate in the sacraments is to accept the love of God and to love him and our neighbors in return.
And what of love itself? We have been told, perhaps too many times, that God loves us. While this is true, it does not go far enough.
I say that God not only loves us; He is in love with us.
God is madly, passionately, head over heels in love with us. He never stops thinking about us even for the briefest of moments.
Since love is the origin, purpose and goal of all created things, the God who loves us wills that by pursuing His inestimable love we will live lives that are worthy of the gospel of Christ until that time when God has loved us all the way into Heaven.
Finally we must show the greatest reverence for the Blessed Virgin Mary who is the Mother of the Church. If we love Christ and we love his Holy Catholic Church then we must love his mother, because without love for the Mother there can be no true love for the Son.
The English poet William Wordsworth said that the Virgin Mary is Our tainted nature’s solitary boast, remarkable words indeed. She was born and remained pure and undefiled by sin, a grace that is unique throughout all time.
We Catholics are in a unique position to teach the Christian world about the wonders of the Blessed Virgin, especially since so many non-Catholic Christians ignore Mary and misunderstand the dogmatic teachings of the Church about her.
Dr. Knight: Recently, you spent time taking an Italian pilgrimage. What did this mean to you? How did it change your life?
Dan Plovanich: My wife and I and two of our three sons spent two weeks traveling to Rome, Assisi, Florence and then back to Rome.
While it’s a cliché to say it was a trip of a lifetime, it most certainly was, because we went not only as tourists excited to see the amazing cities and architecture left by the ancient Romans and the ancient and Medieval Church, but as pilgrims longing to pray in some of the holiest sites in the Christian world.
We had the great honor of attending Pope Francis’ Wednesday General Audience, sitting up of the vast porch in front of St. Peter’s Basilica with numerous bishops, priests and lay people.
We took the Scavi Tour of the necropolis that lies underneath St. Peter’s, giving us the opportunity to view the original burial site of St. Peter himself.
We visited all four of the Major Basilicas of Rome and on our knees climbed the Scala Sancta, the Holy Stairs which Our Lord ascended as he went up to be tried by Pontius Pilate.
And we had the wondrous opportunity of witnessing or son, Fr. Charlie, celebrate a mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the altar of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Throughout our visit I heard echoes of King David when in Psalm 8 he wrote, What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?
I had to ask myself, over and over again, who am I that I have been given the opportunity to see such wonderful things and experience the presence of God in this way?
In part because of my simple working-class background but also because of my lifelong experiences of the divine, I have never thought very highly of myself in the least, because before God, no one is worthy.
And so I can only imagine that in demonstrating his love for me in the way He did in Italy, God was also allowing me to experience the great humility that accompanies an awareness of the presence and closeness of God.
We can, all of us, only hope that someday Our Lord says to us, as he said to St. Faustina Kowalska, the apostle of Divine Mercy,
Beloved pearl of My Heart, I see your love so pure, purer than that of the angels, and all the more so because you keep fighting. For your sake I bless the world. I see your efforts to please Me, and they delight My Heart.
Dr. Knight: Thank you for doing this interview to help all of us understand your work better and to live a life in Communion with Christ.
Dan Plovanich Thank you for asking me, Eileen. It was truly my pleasure.