Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

Describing himself as somebody who likes to have a plan, transitional Dcn. Julian Druffner felt frustrated not having a clear answer when, as a young teen, he wasn’t hearing God’s answer to his daily prayer.

“Lord, what am I supposed to be doing with my life in the future?” he would pray nightly before going to bed. He would pray before a stained-glass image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus – from the old St. Patrick’s Church in Hudson – that the family had found at a garage sale and installed in their home.

One night during his eighth-grade year, the answer came. “I want you to be a priest. I want you to be a priest. It came to me clear as day,” Dcn. Druffner recalled. “There was an immense amount of peace that came over me, and I said ‘yes.’”

Raised in a devout Catholic home where priests would come for dinner and the vocation was well-respected, Druffner was homeschooled through middle school and feels fortunate to have been taught the faith by his parents through more than example. He sees those developmental years as crucial to the formation of his Christian identity and overall believes it was just what he needed to build a firm foundation.

For high school, he attended a Christian classical school, which “set me up perfect for the seminary,” he said. He appreciates the friendships he developed, participation in a cooking club and involvement with sports in ways that he might not have had in homeschool.

His junior year of high school brought about a period of more intentionally discerning what the next step would look like. The Druffner family’s heavy involvement with mission work in Africa – including the children’s experience and growing love of serving others – led him feeling drawn toward the possibility of a vocation to religious life alongside his priesthood.

He visited a few orders; once he visited the Congregation of the Holy Cross at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, he “immediately fell in love and felt at home.”

The smaller community’s focus on community life and mission as well as education fit the young man’s personality and passions very well. He thrived on the daily routine and all the formative aspects of life at the minor seminary while studying his first years of college.

Druffner said that adoration and prayer before the Blessed Sacrament was a crucial element during that period of his life. “It was a staple. Every morning it was the first thing we would do… It held me and kept me rooted in my vocation,” he said. “I would’ve felt pretty lost without that groundedness.”

Although after graduation he continued on to Holy Cross’s Moreau Seminary at Notre Dame and his intention was to follow that path towards religious life and mission work, over time he came to discover that his priestly call was not fitting with a call to be a Holy Cross religious. This interior conflict was addressed openly with his superiors and spiritual directors. In total, Druffner spent eight years with Holy Cross and took temporary vows during the process.

“I couldn’t begin to tell you how much Holy Cross has shaped me and formed me… I thank the Lord every day for the ways in which he formed in that time,” Druffner asserted. “I would never change that time because he provided many gifts.”

What he was not expecting, but “came as a great joy,” was the call to actualize his priesthood as a diocesan priest for the Diocese of Superior. That came after about a full year of processing before he could have taken final vows with Holy Cross.

Similar to his restless days of prayer in middle school, he was bringing the same frustrations and questions to God. Druffner placed himself in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament once again. Over and over and over, the Diocese of Superior was being placed on his heart, and he is convinced that the prayers for vocations within the diocese played a definite role.

“I didn’t know what to think of it,” he said. The only family member living within the diocese at the time was one brother who lives in Rice Lake and belongs to Our Lady of Lourdes in Dobie.

At first, he thought maybe he was supposed to be praying for their vocations, too. Bringing it to his spiritual director, who was helping him discern, Druffner was encouraged to connect with the vocations team.

The only priest he knew from the Superior diocese – from his time in Hudson – was Fr. Patrick McConnell. They spent an hour on the phone as Druffner walked outside around the lakes at Notre Dame. A meeting was set up with Fr. Thompson in Cumberland, and things started moving forward quickly for his transfer.

“I was very confident in the call,” he added and showed up at seminary in Milwaukee to unpack and move in for his last two full years of seminary.

“I was trusting where the Lord was leading me. I had spent the time to discern, and I knew that he would lead and guide me through the transition,” he said. “It’s amazing how well I clicked with the seminarians Isaiah and Dan. They have been a huge support for me and are just an awesome group of guys.”

He admitted the transition had its difficulties for his parents. Holy Cross had become a family for them, too, but he has seen God’s hand all along.

Druffner’s time at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary has helped him develop a greater sense of what the diocesan priesthood looks like and how it is lived out, and he is very appreciative for his formators there. He noted in particular their witness and desire to celebrate the liturgy well as “uplifting.”

Since he had completed a Master of Divinity degree with Holy Cross, Bishop Powers asked him to get a Master of Arts in Theology these last two years. He recently presented his master’s thesis, “Veneremur Cernui,” which means “let us venerate with bowed heads.” The phrase comes from the “Tantum Ergo,” a Medieval Latin hymn; the subtitle for the work is “Bridging Eucharistic Devotion and Reception.”

The theme was an easy choice for Druffner, whose own devotion had been so prominent from childhood.

“The presence of the Blessed Sacrament had been there at every milestone in my vocation and had always been a central part of my way of encountering the Lord,” stated Dcn. Druffner. “I was constantly surprised by the transformation that was taking place in people’s relationship with the Lord just by spending time before the Blessed Sacrament.”

In the thesis, he explores the history and systematic theology behind how Eucharistic adoration came about and what it means to the church today. He connects this to Scripture, the church fathers and saints’ experience of adoration, including one of his favorites, St. Peter Eymard, drawing on some of his spirituality.

What the deacon wanted to do was to “bridge adoration – something that takes place outside of the Mass – to the reception of Holy Communion in Mass. To show that there’s a strong relationship because Jesus is present in both places … but also to show how devotion to the Blessed Sacrament increases and sustains our faith in the true presence of Christ outside of Mass, so that when we go to Mass we can receive with real trust and faith that the Lord is truly present.”

He looks forward to preaching and generating a greater attentiveness and more faithful devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and adoration in his ministry in the diocese.

“I devoted the thesis to a greater respect and profound reverence to the Eucharist in the diocese of Superior,” he said.

Asked what he is most looking forward to as his priestly ministry begins, Druffner responded, “Celebrating the sacraments, that’s number one. Just being able to say Mass, hear confessions and work with people one-on-one. Just being able to offer the gifts God has given me to the people of God … This is something I’ve been looking forward to for 10 years.

“Just being able to be a priest and give my life to the Lord each and every day in any situation that he presents me with,” he added. “I’m just excited to live into that vocation and to contribute building up the church where I will be assigned … and to grow relationships with the people there. A greater faith and love for the Lord. I just can’t wait to be a priest.”

Dcn. Julian Druffner