GETTING TO KNOW FATHER PETER
My name is Fr. Peter VanderWeyst. I am currently serving as the pastor of St. Ann’s (Brandon), Our Lady of Seven Dolors (Millerville), Sacred Heart (Urbank), and St. Williams (Parker’s Prairie). People have asked me to share a bit of my story, so I have sketched out a few thoughts for you to read.
I grew up a couple miles from the small town of St. Stephen, MN, northwest of St. Cloud. My parents still reside on the twenty acres of woods that hold fond memories of building forts and climbing trees. As an artist, I would sometimes climb a large tree to get a better view of the surrounding area. I would then sketch what I saw. Today, I prefer religious artwork, but from time to time, I am still drawn to the woods.
I am the oldest of five children, 4 boys and 1 girl. My sister is second in line. Both of my parents are still living. My mother is happily retired as she is able to enjoy her hobbies and spend time with grandchildren. My father still enjoys working for Coborns. He has been in the grocery business since he was in college.
When I was in the fourth grade my father lost his job and went almost a year without work. This made a big impact on my life and the lives of my family as we learned what it was to get by with less. It is also the reason that I get a little jumpy around money issues. Our family did use the food shelf, but we mostly relied on a large garden that caught the attention of most of our neighbors. Some of my friends referred to it as a small field. My mother would can 200 quarts of green beans, 100 quarts of spaghetti sauce, 100 quarts of other tomato products, along with the corn, carrots, beets, and a variety of jellies. Throw in 500 pounds of potatoes and you can make it through the winter. I made $28 one summer by collecting potato beetles (1 cent) and their eggs (3 cents). My father said it was worth the yield of potatoes. Unfortunately, it didn’t get me out of weeding duties.
One of my favorite childhood hobbies was athletics. I was one of the fastest runners in school, and could hold my own in most sports. My favorite sport was horseshoe pitching. I enjoyed going to tournaments to watch my grandfather, uncle and parents play. I pitched my first tournament when I was 9 years old, averaging 4% ringers. As a young teenager I got to go with Dad to Wednesday evening horseshoe league. My grandfather and one of my uncles also pitched this league. If I was lucky, we would stay after for popcorn. This made for a late night, but it was a lot of fun. By the time I entered seminary I was averaging 60% ringers, and had reached my goal of out pitching my father. You can be good if you practice.
I was only an average student in school. Art class, gym, recess and lunch were my favorites. I also enjoyed acting in the three high school plays that I tried out for. When it came time to get my driver’s license, my father explained the significance of having a 3.0 for insurance reasons. Since I was paying for my own car insurance, I managed to hit the mark. After high school, I went to St. Cloud Technical College to study architectural construction technology. I spent three years working in the construction field before entering seminary. When I finally decided to go back to school, my boss simply replied…”It is amazing what the lumber business can do to a person.”
I first thought about becoming a priest when in was in fourth grade. At that time I was an altar server and even served for weekday Mass. When I served Mass I felt very peaceful, and I knew that God was present. The priest at my parish was a German immigrant who had immigrated to the United States after World War II. Since English wasn’t his first language, he had written some of the prayers the priest says during Mass and placed them on the altar. As I served, I could read these notes and thought to myself, I could do this. It wasn’t until the 7th or 8th grade that I began to doubt my ability in becoming a priest as I learned how much schooling it would take to become a priest.
Even though there was a lot of encouragement between parishioners and other priests who suggested that I might want to consider the priesthood, I didn’t think I could make it until I was in Technology College. It was during this time that I realized that the fear of not being able to handle the academic preparation of becoming a priest began to diminish, though it never totally went away.
Upon graduation, during my first job interview, the question was posed to me: “have you ever thought about doing anything other than working in the construction field?” Immediately priesthood came to mind and I simply replied: “no, nothing else.” Well, I didn’t get that job, but I did get another job in the construction field working for a cabinet company. After a couple of years I began to question why I wasn’t being fulfilled in my work and I began to contemplate other possibilities. At that time I began to turn back to God and tried to understand where God might be calling me as a vocation. I spoke with my parish priest about the possibility of becoming a youth minister. He advised me that youth ministers were a dime a dozen, and I should pray about it for a year and if I still wanted to become a youth minister, then I should come and talk with him. About this same time my mother suggested to me that I should try another job in my field before considering a different vocation.
I went to work at a lumber yard, and maybe a month later I knew that God was calling me back to discernment. After getting accepted to enter seminary, I went to talk to my boss about going back to school. I knew that he was a devoted Catholic and wouldn’t fire me just because I was going into seminary. He paused and said, “It is amazing what the lumber business can do to a person.” He then went on to affirm me and joke a little. He told me that “I was up for a raise, but he couldn’t compete with that benefits package.” So, he kept me on until I went into seminary that fall.
I felt like an old seminarian at age 23, beginning college seminary with a bunch of 18 year olds. Being a college student at the University of St. Thomas was a bit nerve racking. I kept to myself and studied a lot. Surprisingly, I managed to make the dean’s list my first semester. Who would have thought…me and the dean’s list in the same sentence? With each year I grew in confidence and believed that if God was calling me to be a priest, I would make it.
During my seminary time, I had a chance to travel. My first trip was a missionary trip to Guatemala, then a semester abroad in Rome, Italy with a side trip to Germany, then a missionary trip to Mexico, back to Rome for a couple of weeks as a deacon, and finally a missionary trip to Homa Bay, Kenya as a member of a diocesan delegation. With each of these trips I was able to encounter God in different ways, confirming my vocation to the priesthood. I have continued to travel after ordination, June 16, 2007.
My first assignment was as a parochial vicar for the three-parish cluster of St. Anthony, Holy Spirit, and St. John Cantius in the City of St. Cloud. I was then assigned as parochial vicar for Assumption parish in Morris, St. Mary in Chokio, and St. Charles in Herman before becoming pastor of Christ the King parish in Browerville, St. Joseph parish in Clarissa, and St. Joseph parish in Bertha. Today I am happy to serve as pastor of the four parish cluster of St. Ann’s parish in Brandon, Our Lady of Seven Dolors parish in Millerville, Sacred Heart parish in Urbank, and St. Williams parish in Parker’s Prairie.
As a priest I have come to learn the importance of prayer, I have gained a deeper respect for confidentiality, and I have started to learn what love really is. Being a pastor is one of the most challenging things that I have ever entered into, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I have learned a lot about myself, but more importantly, I have learned that I still have a lot to learn. Thank you for allowing me to serve you as your pastor.
We welcome you to our Parish Family!
Sincerely, Father Peter
Over the years, all three parishes has known much transition in pastoral leadership, and has shared pastoral staffing between parishes, but has always retained its close-knit community, a vibrant faith and generous commitment to the mission of the Catholic Church
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