Monday, October 26, 2009
The first time I ever saw Father Dave Pivonka, TOR, I was a junior in high school and surrounded by two thousand screaming, sweaty teenagers in a gigantic white tent in a small town outside of Boston. It was 2003 and Father Dave was speaking and celebrating Mass at the first Steubenville East Youth Conference I ever attended. The conference was a high-energy experience centered on the Eucharist and featuring a variety of speakers who witnessed to their love for and commitment to God and the ways in which He worked in their lives. The highlight of the weekend was an intense hour of Eucharistic Adoration on Saturday night where many teens truly encountered Christ for the first time. I was profoundly affected by the conference, and I attended many more, as a particpant, chaperone, and presently as a youth minister and group leader. Over the years, I've heard many different speakers and talks, which eventually all start to run together in my memory, but seven years later, I can still remember Father Dave's homily on Sunday morning of my first conference. I was literally buzzing with a first-timer's retreat-high, ready to conquer the world, convert my family, and live for Jesus! Father Dave's words cut through my euphoria and embedded themselves in my mind. I can't remember exactly what he said, but his homily dealt with how, although the theme of the conference was "Just Live It" and we kept connecting the Christian life to a sports game, the Christian life is anything but a game. If we turn to Christ and give our lives to Him, we will enjoy eternal life. If we turn away from Christ, we lose our very souls. I remember Father Dave standing on the stage/altar, dead-serious, trembling even, his face flushed and his voice cracking as he literally shouted in the microphone. Many speakers shout for effect, but even in my youth and immaturity, I could see without a shred of doubt that Father Dave was mortally afraid for our souls. He knew the temptations and sins that many of the teens before him were facing, and I know that at that moment, he would have given his life to make us understand, to pull us out of Satan's grasp. That conviction and love for his audience completely characterizes Father Dave, as a speaker, as a priest, and as a man of God.
Father Dave Pivonka, TOR is the current director of Post-novitiate Formation for the Sacred Heart Province of Franciscan TORs (Third Order Regular). Previously, he served as the vice president for Mission Effectiveness at Franciscan University of Steubenville, the Director of Franciscan's Austrian Study-Abroad Program, and the director of the Franciscan Youth Outreach Office. He is the author of several books, including "Hiking the Camino: 500 Miles with Jesus" (found here) about his recent experience walking the famous Camino de Santiago in Spain. In his various missions, Father Dave has touched the lives of thousands of people, from the high school students who heard him speak at numerous youth conferences, the students he encountered, lead, and befriended at Franciscan University, and the adults who he lead on pilgrimages throughout the world.
Four years after my youth conference experience, I found myself sitting jet-lagged on a coach bus on the Austrian Autobahn listening again to Father Dave's passionate, engaging voice as he introduced the bus of Steubenville students to the country we would call home for the next four months. During my semester in Austria, I was able to get to know Father Dave personally, hear his homilies on a daily basis, and travel with him to Vienna, Salzburg, Rome, and Assisi. My Austrian experiences served to confirm what I realized about Father Dave four years before; he is an extraordinary priest who is passionately in love with Christ and his Church, and he uses his many gifts to lead people to God through his role as a Catholic speaker, his leadership, and his witness.
I'm very happy for this opportunity to write this blog for "Support a Catholic Speaker Month," sponsored by Matthew Warner's blog FallibleBlogma. See the list of speakers and links to the posts about them here.