Future priest goes the extra mile to serve God and country
By ANN PIASECKI
ROMEOVILLE, Ill., May 31, 2007 (www.catholicexplorer.com) — Blessed with a deliberate intellect, a proven mastery in the art of maneuvering rough terrain on a cross country route and the determination to battle good and evil with a deep knowledge of the mystery of the cross, soon-to-be priest, Ryan Larson, has set his sites on the church as the place from which to launch a vocation in the priesthood.
An adamant military enthusiast, he earned his stripes defeating Nintendo bad guys from the safety of his parents’ family room. Now, however, the 29-year-old native of Wheaton can point to particular life experiences—including a goal to become an Army chaplain—which resulted in a decision to serve God and country.
In a May 24 interview with the Catholic Explorer, the seminarian said the inspiration of classmates discussing Christianity in an honors philosophy course at Wheaton-Warrenville South High School inspired him to study the Scriptures for the first time. For Larson, the Catholic faith came alive after hearing the “witness of friends” talking about their relationship with Jesus and how it “influenced their lives.”
A member in his youth at St. James the Apostle Parish in Glen Ellyn, Larson admitted that previously the significance of faith had escaped his scrutiny—“they made it real for me.” While in his late teens, the cross-country letterman compartmentalized his interest in military and enthusiasm for the church.
Armed with a love of history and political systems, he was accepted into West Point Military Academy in the summer of 1997. Despite the fact that he could easily chronicle the strategies in the Allied invasion on D-Day, discuss America’s role in Vietnam and detail the tragic consequences of a U.S. military operation gone wrong in the jungles of Somalia in 1993, the mission of the academy didn’t fit. He was conflicted and left the prestigious East Coast institution.
His mother, Joy Larson, said in a May 25 conversation that her son had once dreamed of a military career. But after all the hoopla over an appointment to the prominent, historically-rich New York institution, it fell short of his ideals. “I felt sorry for him. But he just didn’t find it meaningful,” she said of her oldest boy, one of three children in the Larson family.
With only several weeks left before the 1997 fall semester would begin, his mother said he turned his attention toward the study of political science and history and attended Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, where he had earlier captured a scholarship. The pattern of success continued to follow the young man who was the only walk-on to earn a position on the university’s cross-country team.
In 2000, he entered the university’s graduate program in political science. The man with a penchant for metaphorically-thick literature—a favorite is the “Chronicles of Narnia” penned by Christian author C.S. Lewis—he said he began a process of discernment. It led him on a trip to Europe and Asia to trace the steps of the Apostle Paul.
A friend since high school, Paul Rozylowicz, who currently serves in the U.S. Marines, told the Explorer about the inner debate that raged within Larson, who today stands at the ready to battle for the souls of mankind.
Speaking of his friend as a twenty-something college student, Rozylowicz recalled the pair’s discussions about ministry and the priesthood. “He wrestled with the idea of vocations for 12, 18 months, with the idea of sacrifice. And do I want the option to get married and have children some day?”
It’s likely his focus in life grew clearer while in the midst of running a paved track or asphalt road, the wind whipping his face red. The seminarian, who makes a habit of running almost daily as many as eight to 10 miles, described running as a freeing experience.
“When I’m outside running, I’m not praying but it clears my head, relieves stress. Yesterday, I got a fair amount of what I’m saying at my first Mass” while running the path around Lewis University in Romeoville. Somewhere in between the steady slap of soles on pavement and the press of air within his lungs, he finds the “peace of God.”
That sensation of inner calm, he said, is a dominant factor in his decision to fulfill a vowed existence. “There’s calmness about accepting the responsibilities of being a priest, as I try to help others.”
The feeling was powerful, he said. It overcame even the dark shadow that cloaked the Catholic Church when the tragedy of the sex scandal was unveiled. “I was applying to seminary in the midst of the worst sex scandal, 2001-2002 in the winter, when the Boston stuff came out. Really it was kind of a wake up call to the church, seeing that the church needed good priests. … Reacting against that crisis has made me more determined to work for the church,” said Larson.
“A lot of friends and family were concerned about my decision. And did I really understand what I was getting into. I’m not sure if the sex scandal affected the questions. Honestly, what came out from friends was the celibacy thing,” he said.