An Interview with Father Ed Nowak, CSP

by Gordon Nary



Gordon: Where did you attend university and what degrees did you earn?


Father Ed: My undergraduate degree in Ceramic Science and Engineering was from Penn State University. After I joined the Paulist Fathers I received a Masters of Divinity degree from The Catholic University of America.


Gordon: When and why did you decide be a Paulist?


Father Ed: During my senior year of studying at Penn State in 1983 is when I discerned priesthood and the Paulist Fathers. Once I discerned God’s call to be a priest the question became what kind of priest did I want to be. I ruled out diocesan priesthood because I felt called to be a missionary. I considered some communities like Mary knoll but I saw the Paulist vocation poster that advertised the Paulists as “Missionaries to North America”. I realized that there was definitely mission territory here as I knew there were many people who did not have any faith tradition and many Catholics who left the church who needed to be invited back. The Paulist Fathers main charism of evangelization, reconciliation and ecumenical and interfaith dialogue were all reasons I wanted to be a priest. The Paulist emphasis on the Holy Spirit guiding each Paulist to use his particular gifts and talents to carry out the Paulist mission also

attracted me. The smaller size of the community was also attractive to me as I could get to know many of my brother Paulists over the years of ministering together.


Gordon: Where did you attend seminary and what was the most interesting course that you took, and why was it so interesting?


Father Ed: I received my Masters of Divinity Degree from The Catholic University of America but lived in our Paulist house of formation in Washington DC. Many of my courses were very interesting but probably the most interesting course was American Catholic Church History taught by Msgr. John Tracy Ellis. By the time I took his course he had lived a lot of that history himself and I believe it was his last time teaching it before he retired. He brought that history alive and I very much enjoyed his class. One of my favorite books that he had us read a few chapters of but I enjoyed reading the whole book was, “At the End of the Sante Fe Trail” by Sr. Blandina Segale. It is a great book and I highly recommend it. Among many of her fascinating experiences the book relates her personal encounter with Billy the Kid.:)


Gordon: What was you first assignment and what did you learn there?


Father Ed: My first assignment was at St. Lawrence Church in Minneapolis, MN right near the University of Minnesota. I was first a transitional deacon there then a priest. I learned I really enjoyed being a priest, celebrating Mass, preaching, enabling people to experience God’s mercy in the sacrament of reconciliation, celebrating weddings and baptisms and being present to people in their grief during funerals. Sharing the faith and welcoming people back to the church were all part of why I wanted to be a priest in the first place.


Gordon: When did you served as director of the University CatholicCenter at the University of Texas at Austin, and what were your primary responsibilities?


Father Ed: I was in Minneapolis for five years and then I was asked to go to our campus ministry in Santa Barbara, CA. I was there for 7 years as an associate and 2 years as the pastor before I was asked to be the Vocation Director for our community. That meant moving from relatively laid back Santa Barbara to the fast pace of downtown New York City where our Paulist Mother Church is located. It was quite a transition but I learned to love New York and I was on the road half of the year as well. After six years as Vocation Director, I was asked to be the Director of the University Catholic Center in Austin, TX. I was there from 2008 to 2016. In addition to all of the usual sacramental responsibilities, my role as Director was to steward our finances and raise money to support our ministry and to guide the growth of our ministry as we looked to evangelize all the students at one of the largest universities in the United States.


There are more Catholics on campus at large universities like the University of Texas and The hio State University than there are at Catholic universities, so we have a lot of Catholics to evangelize let alone all the students without any religious tradition.


Gordon: What are the challenges to religious vocations?


Father Ed: One of the challenges can be celibacy and not being able to raise a family of your own. I have found though that through campus ministry I can pass some words of wisdom and faith along to the next generation and while not the same as being a parent it is fulfilling.


Another challenge is a misconception that you will not be joy filled. As a vocation director I would hear from people sending in a recommendation for a candidate to religious life saying something along the lines like: “Joe is a very happy guy and I would hate to see him change. ”As if in religious life Joe would no longer be happy! The best definition of a vocation I have heard is when your heart’s greatest desire meets the world’s greatest need. Every vocation has its challenges but God calls us to live our hearts greatest desire and when we follow that then we will be living the fullness of life in whatever vocation God calls us to live.


Gordon: When were you appointed director of the St. Thomas More Newman Center and what are your primary responsibilities?


Father Ed: After my time in Texas I took some sabbatical time and did a Spirituality program at the Redemptorist Renewal Center in Tucson Arizona. After that I came to Columbus, OH and for a year and a half assisted my classmate who was director here until he moved on and I took over as director in 2018. My primary responsibilities here are the same as they were in Texas, only more so. Our original building that we have here is 50 years old so we are looking to how we can position ourselves to be the best possible ministry we can be for the next 50 years. To that end, we are doing a lot of planning and dreaming about how we will be able to best meet the current and future needs of our ministry.


Gordon: You conduct missions and retreats and address Spirituality for Evangelization: Living our Baptismal Anointing as a Priestly, Prophetic and Royal People act .Where are some of the places where you have presented?


Father Ed: The parish mission that I give together with a woman mission partner is about living out our baptisms as a priestly, prophetic and royal people. The mission encourages and equips people to share their faith with others. I have presented missions all over the United States. My most interesting place was in St. Michael’s Arizona, a part of the Navajo Nation.


Gordon: There are reports of young people leaving the church. What cam parishes do to reverse this trend?


Father Ed: One thing Catholics can do is support Catholic Campus ministries at colleges around the country. Surveys have shown that students who get involved in the Catholic Campus ministry at their colleges and universities are much more likely to be actively involved and contributors to parishes after they graduate than those who were not connected to Catholic Campus ministry. Campus ministry centers minister to the future of the church and society and any investment in that future will pay off well.


The other thing parishes can do is ask how are young people being invited to be active in their church communities? Is there room for them to take on responsibilities or have the same people been in charge of various parish committees for too many years? Are there any new groups or committees that young people could be encouraged to form? Are there opportunities for intergenerational faith sharing like intergenerational bible studies or small groups? These are just some things to consider. Our Paulist Evangelization Ministries have many other resources and ideas as well.

Gordon: Thank you for an exceptional interview.

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