Anita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

When Dcn. Dan Tracy looks at human life, he sees a series of intersecting stories.

“I’ve always been interested in stories,” said the 31-year-old, who is currently completing his studies at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary while preparing for his May 28 ordination to the diocesan priesthood.

In the story of his own life, 2013 was a turning point. Raised by very engaged Catholic parents in Superior, he had fallen away from practicing his faith during college. He was about to graduate in the spring and was questioning whether he even wanted to be Catholic.

“I cannot (over)state how much I was not thinking of priesthood,” he emphasized.

Still, he was seeking God. His New Year’s resolution was to read the Bible, “a means to an end” that ultimately became “an end in itself.”

Reading Scripture every morning with an open heart his senior year, “that’s what really set things in motion,” he added. “Thanks be to God, I returned to the church.”

As well as seeking a path in faith, the transitional deacon was also searching for a path in life. He finished his undergrad degree in journalism and psychology then continued on to graduate school to get a master’s degree in sports management.

He was active with a strong Newman Center group, “riding a wave” of energy that led 17 people to become missionaries with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), an organization that encourages discernment while young adults are serving as campus missionaries.

Although he knew he didn’t want to do more school, “the wave carried me to seminary,” he said. He jokes that he’s finishing “24th grade” and what is “hopefully his last academic semester, but never say never in the church.”

Fr. Andrew Ricci, Dcn. Tracy’s mentor and pastor at the Cathedral of Christ the King, gave a homily last summer on his 25 years in the priesthood and a priest’s role in sharing the stories of people’s lives. His message stuck with Tracy, who was reflecting on it one early May morning a couple weeks before his ordination.

Dcn. Tracy’s first Communion is one of those stories. When Fr. Ricci was prepping him for seminary, the priest reminded him that he’d decided in second grade, with great enthusiasm, that he was going to someday be a Catholic priest. Apparently, he dragged his dad to the sacristy to tell Fr. Ricci, which both his father and the priest confirmed. The deacon said he’s been praying to remember it.

“Fr. Ricci has been a huge mentor of mine,” he said, as well as Fr. John Gerritts, pastor of St. Patrick, Hudson.

Other inspirations include Bl. Solanus Casey, whom Dcn. Tracy studied in seminary – he’s given 14 talks now on the Capuchin friar, a native of the diocese who was beatified in 2017 – and Fr. Leon Gutowski, a diocesan priest who left to return to his native Poland during World War II and died in a concentration camp.

Dcn. Tracy’s first assignment is at St. Patrick in Hudson, and he observed “how amazing and providential” it is to be serving where Solanus Casey had his first Communion. He’s inspired by the saints, a connection he didn’t really feel prior to seminary, as well as the many holy men who have served as priests in the Diocese of Superior.

He has a great love for history – he recounted the story of his chalice (see below), a handmade work of art that belonged to a priest cousin– and the last paper he turned in was on the history of his home parish, the Cathedral of Christ the King. That report will become the first draft of a longer study of the parish’s history to be completed in time for its 2027 centennial celebration.

When Dcn. Tracy, Dcn. Julian Druffner and Dcn. Isaiah Schick are ordained on May 28, it will be the first time three or more men have been ordained at the Cathedral since 1967; after that year, ordinations were held at individual parishes.

“It’s a really neat thing that since the church was rededicated in 2005 that ordinations have come back there,” said Tracy. For him, the Cathedral evokes so many memories – from his own childhood to his grandparents’ funerals to his ordination to the transitional diaconate – that it’s “surreal” knowing he’ll be ordained a priest there.

“It’s overwhelming how special that is,” he said.

As he looks to his future ministry, the deacon has a number of passions he wants to share.

Promoting marriage and family is a top priority. A huge part of his journey has been recognizing the complementarity of the vocations, and he sees a profound “cycle of support” between marriage and vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

Young adult ministry is also near to his heart, especially because he understands the lure of secular culture. At a recent evening Mass attended by a lot of high school kids, he told them they are likely to stray from the faith – statistically many Catholics do – and shared his personal journey.

“There’s a tsunami of non-Christian ideals that are part of the college experience,” he added. We don’t always grasp how powerful that is – which isn’t to say college is bad, but there’s a lot of pressure to conform with “… this wave of just ‘who cares about God? Why care about God? You have all this freedom, this independence … It’s easier to choose something that isn’t God on a college campus.”

A third passion he brings to the priesthood: Vocations. Called North has “been a joy to be part of” he said, and he’s excited to work with young men in St. Croix County as they discern the priesthood. All around the diocese, the Lord is calling men and women to vocations – religious life, priesthood, marriage – and many people are looking to make the gift of self, he said. “That’s where we find ourselves, and that’s where we just absolutely allow God to transform us in that powerful way.”

When Tracy looks at his own journey and the lives of those around him, he sees God’s hand.

“At the end of the day, I think I’m just sitting here in awe of Providence,” he said, clarifying that “not that everything has been easy or positive or clear, but there are so many things that have come together.”

He and his fellow seminarians have been praying the rosary together for vocations for five years now – the Glorious Mysteries. Ordinations “for the longest time” have been the first weekend of June, and after some discussion, they were moved to late May this year. The date marks the conclusion of the Easter season – the Feast of Pentecost.

“We were praying the rosary, and Mary just continued to guide us,” he added. “It’s just been this beautiful bookend” of praying every single week on Wednesday, and then seeing “our own ordinations mirrored in the Glorious Mysteries of the rosary.”

He sees God at work in that.

Dcn. Dan Tracy