Three transitional deacons to be ordained Print
Around the Diocese
Written by Mary C. Uhler, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, May. 16, 2019 -- 12:00 AM
johnson racanelli valenzuela
Michael Johnson Vincent Racanelli Cristian Valenzuela

MADISON -- Three men will be ordained to the transitional diaconate for the Diocese of Madison on Friday, May 24, during a Mass at 7:30 p.m. at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, 5101 Schofield St., Monona. Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee will preside at the ordination.

The candidates for ordination include Michael Johnson, Vincent Racanelli, and Cristian Valenzuela (from the Society of Jesus Christ the Priest).

Following is information on the three ordinandi:

Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson is the son of Eileen and David Johnson of St. John the Baptist Parish in Waunakee.

He attended Haude Elementary School, Spring, Texas; St. Augustine’s School, Andover, Mass.; and A&M Consolidated High School, College Station, Texas. For college, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas; a Master of Arts degree in history from the University of North Texas, Denton, Texas; and a PhD degree in history from Auburn University, Auburn, Ala., in 2012.

His seminary studies were taken at St. Mary’s Seminary, Houston, Texas (pre-theology) and St. Francis de Sales Seminary, Milwaukee, (theology).

Before entering the seminary, he was involved in various ways with the Catholic Student Organization at Auburn University, including as a cantor for Sunday night Mass for about six years and sacristan for the Thursday night Mass for two years.

“I was discerning for a couple of years as I pursued my career as a history professor. For one year, I was a full-time professor at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Mich., as I actively discerned the priesthood. With the help of my pastor, who served as my spiritual director (Fr. Mike Alber), I realized that I had discerned as much as I could from the outside, and I just had to try it to find out.”

Johnson said that the most important thing influencing the development of his vocation was having a spiritual director and committing to a weekly holy hour at a local Adoration chapel in Grand Rapids. “During that time, a few books that I read also helped with the decision, including Fr. Brett Brannen’s To Save a Thousand Souls and Thomas Kempis’ Imitation of Christ.”

Also influential were his parents, especially his mom, “who have been supporting me and praying for me from day one.”

His seminary experience has helped nurture his vocation to be a priest. “Seminary has helped in so many ways, beyond simply classes,” he said. “One especially important way has been nurturing a love of the liturgy. The seminary has also greatly increased my devotion for prayer, which is essential for the priesthood. The seminary is also helpful in building relationships with other seminarians and our priests who mentor us.”

“One of the most rewarding experiences I have had is helping with a Bible study at Waukesha County Jail for a semester. In addition, in theology we have a teaching parish where we help on weekends, usually twice a month. I have been blessed with spending three years (so far) at St. Joseph in Fort Atkinson.”

In his first summer in the seminary, he attended the Institute of Priestly Formation in Omaha, Neb., which is a summer focused on strengthening spiritual life. The last three summers he has been stationed at his home parish in Madison, St. Bernard on Atwood Ave.

“The summer of 2017, I was blessed with the opportunity of going on a pilgrimage/archaeological dig with the seminary to the Holy Land. Last summer, while serving at St. Bernard’s, I also served as a hospital chaplain at St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison. This summer I have been assigned to St. John Vianney in Janesville.”

About being ordained to the transitional diaconate, Johnson said, “I am excited about the opportunity to serve the Lord’s Church and people in a greater way. Of course, there are the normal nerves that come with taking such a step. While no one is truly ready or worthy of such an honor, I know that my seminary experience has prepared me for this step. I am looking forward to the graces and challenges that will come with serving as a transitional deacon.”

Vincent Racanelli

Vincent Racanelli is the son of Claire and Gino Racanelli of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Jefferson.

He attended East Elementary, Jefferson Middle School, and Jefferson High School, all in Jefferson. He obtained degrees in history and Spanish and certificates in Classical Humanities and European Studies from the University of Wisconsin (UW)-Madison. He received a Bachelor of Philosophy degree from Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Mich.

“When I was growing up, I served at Mass; at UW, I attended daily Mass, joined the Knights of Columbus, served Mass, read at Mass, went on retreats, attended and lead FOCUS Bible studies, went on service trips, and spent a lot of time at the St. Paul University Catholic Center,” he said.

“After a few years of taking time to pray in silence in front of the Blessed Sacrament and with Scripture, it seemed to me that God was calling me to be a priest.

“The greatest influences for me were Fr. Eric Nielsen and Fr. Eric Sternberg at St. Paul’s.

About his seminary experience, Racanelli said, “My time in the seminary has helped me to grow in trust that Jesus is the ultimate guarantor of His Church, and during my time in seminary, I've been able to grow in understanding of the spirituality of St. John of the Cross, especially as he expresses it in The Ascent of Mt. Carmel. Sacred Heart Major Seminary in particular has a specific emphasis on evangelization.”

His pastoral assignments during his seminary years have included serving as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion to an inner-city nursing home in Detroit; a tutor at the Dominican Literacy Center in Detroit; in hospital ministry with the Spiritual Care departments at St. John’s Macomb and Beaumont Hospitals in the Detroit metro area; as a participant in an Alpha program at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Plymouth, Mich.; and as a participant in St. Paul Street Evangelization at University of Michigan-Dearborn.

His summer pastoral experiences have included being assigned to Holy Family Parish in Waterloo and Marshall in 2015; participating in the Rome Experience and attending World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, with the group from UW-Madison in 2016; Desert Formation Experience (pilgrimage to the Holy Land) and 30-day silent retreat in 2017; assigned to Blessed Trinity Parish in Lodi and Dane in 2018; and being assigned to St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Madison in 2019.

About being ordained to the transitional diaconate, he said, “I am looking forward to it. It has been a long five years. Many thanks to my parents, family, and friends, as well as to the Serra Club and Knights of Columbus, and all others who have supported us through the years of seminary.”

Christian Valenzuela

Christian Valenzuela is the son of Verónica del Carmen Arenas Olivares and Carlos Allan Valenzuela Guzmán, members of Nuestra Señora de Montserrat Church in Puente Alto, Chile.

He attended Colegio Los Andes, Puente Alto (Chile) for elementary school; Shoreless Lake School, Totana (Spain) for middle and high school (this school belongs to the Society of Jesus Christ the Priest); Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED), Madrid, Spain, for a degree in History; and Instituto Teológico San Fulgencio, Murcia, Spain, for a degree in theology. He belongs to the Society of Jesus Christ the Priest, where he has received his seminarian formation.

He said, “I had practically no relation with the Catholic Church before I met Fr. Faustino Ruiz (a Society priest,) who served at the parish (San Esteban) that was near my school. He came to my school to offer catechism for children and prepare them for First Communion. I started to attend to the catechism classes and Holy Mass during the weekend.

“After a year, Father Faustino invited me to the Society’s Formation House, and I decided to try going. Since then, I have always been with the Society of Jesus Christ the Priest, and in its formations houses, first in Chile and then in Spain. When I was studying at the university, the superiors offered me to start the philosophical and theological formation to become a priest. And I agreed, since I had always known that that was my vocation.

“I decided to enter the Society of Jesus Christ the Priest and become a member in it because I thought and felt that it was what the Lord wanted for me. I had watched the Society’s priests when I was in the Church and I always admired their holiness. And I thought that maybe one day I could be as holy and great as the Society’s priests. That is why when Father Faustino invited me to attend the Society’s formation house with others boys, I accepted immediately. Since that day, I had never changed my opinion about the greatness of the priesthood, which I saw in the Society’s priests, and my decision about becoming one of them.

“The holiness of the Society’s priests and the love for Our Lord influenced this decision,” he said. “And there are five priests who directly proved and showed me that to love Our Lord and to be alter Christus is the greatest gift that God may grant: Fr. Faustino Ruiz, Fr. Juan Andrés, Fr. Alfonso (Society’s founder), Fr. Pedro Javier, and Fr. Jared Hood.

“The happiness that I feel about being ordained a deacon is practically indescribable. I have been preparing and have waited for this moment during many years. It is one step closer to being alter Christus; one step from reaching the greatest dream that I think a man may have. As a deacon, I will fully involve my existence in the ministry of charity and my life to the service of Holy Mother the Church. I will serve in chastity and obedience to my bishop in the Church in Madison and its people. All this because I want to do the will of the One I love so deeply.”

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