“Sometimes you need the lightning bolt.”
Rev. Dan Ponisciak, C.S.C., ’14 M.Div. hadn’t planned on becoming a priest. He had a girlfriend and a job he loved. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, lightning struck.
“It was a moment in confessing sins that were completely counter to what God’s will was,” he explains. The priest on the other side of the confessional posed a simple question: “God has forgiven you long ago, but have you forgiven yourself?”
He hadn’t. And that question begot much larger ones inside his head. Was he living the life he should? Was God calling him in a different direction?
Twelve years later, Father Dan, the associate pastor at St. Joseph Catholic Church in South Bend, points to that confession as the turning point, the moment when he consciously began to discern his vocation. But he realizes it was one of many times in his life when providence nudged him forward on the path to discovering his purpose: to serve God and His people.
There was the Google search. Nearing the completion of his undergraduate studies at the University of Richmond, Ponisciak decided to pursue a year of service. His research turned up the Holy Cross Associates program.
There was the Confirmation prep. Ponisciak had said he didn’t want to work with children. But when Holy Cross Associates sent him to Coachella, California to serve the homeless, he also ended up helping young Catholics prepare for their first Reconciliation. It ignited a new passion.
There was the first job. After earning a Master’s degree in counseling, Ponisciak worked as a guidance counselor at a K-8 public school. He was great at it, and his passion to serve grew more intense.
There was the feeling of being home. After his lightning bolt moment, he had considered the Diocese of Richmond, but something didn’t click. Then, he visited Moreau Seminary at Notre Dame. It felt right.
There was the comment from his mother. He was accepted into Moreau but, when doubt crept in, decided not to attend. Months later, his mother turned to him and said, “You know, we really thought you would have made a great Holy Cross priest.” That sentence allowed Ponisciak to verbalize something he’d been feeling inside: He’d made a mistake. He enrolled the next fall.
It wasn’t always obvious at the time, but it’s clear now: These moments and so many more were guiding him to the life he loves today. No day or week at St. Joseph is the same for Father Dan. He celebrates Mass and hears confession. He visits the sick and leads parish commissions on liturgy and community life. He still works with children, teaching classes on discernment at the parish’s grammar school and meeting one-on-one with students in need of counseling. He’s with parishioners at the best moments of their lives and the worst.
“I’ve always just wanted to be with people,” Father Dan says. “The desire has always been: Just let me do ministry with the people of God.”
Father Dan aspires to one day lead a parish as pastor. Yet he knows his vow of obedience and Holy Cross’ diverse array of ministries could land him in a number of different roles.
For now, he’s more than satisfied to continue to do God’s work at St. Joseph and wait to see what providence has in store.