Catching up with Fr. Joseph Kuharski, who recently joined the priest staff at The Saint Paul Seminary

Fr. Joseph Kuharski, left, with seminarian Ryan Sustacek at Saint John Vianney College Seminary. Sustacek is now a transitional deacon at The Saint Paul Seminary, where Kuharski recently joined the staff as a spiritual director and professor.

This year, The Saint Paul Seminary welcomed Fr. Joseph Kuharski to its team of priestly faculty and staff.

Kuharski joins the seminary after having previously worked as a priest instructor and spiritual director at Saint John Vianney College Seminary. During his time there, he was also responsible for teaching the Catechism course to second-year college seminarians.

A 2014 Pontifical North American College graduate and member of the Companions of Christ priestly fraternity, Kuharski brings a variety of ministerial experiences to his position as a spiritual director and professor at The Saint Paul Seminary. His prior roles have included assignments at St. Stephen’s in Anoka and serving as the chaplain at De La Salle High School in Minneapolis. Kuharski holds a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy, a Bachelor of Science in business management, a Baccalaureate in theology and a licentiate in sacred theology of marriage & family.

We caught up with Fr. Kuharski to get to know him a little better.

Question: How did being a high school chaplain prepare you for your work in the seminary world? 

Answer: High school chaplaincy was important in teaching me the importance of the individual. Sometimes, as priests or Church leaders, we can fall into trying to judge our efforts, or even our value, based on the impact, the results we are making. We can tend to “count the sheep” rather than being amazed by what the Lord is doing in the one individual soul right in front of us, even through our meager, imperfect efforts. “God’s thoughts are not our thoughts” (Isaiah 55). High school chaplaincy helped me to see how the Lord can work even more powerfully through a one-on-one relationship than he might through a talk given to thousands.

Q: What’s it been like working with Fr. Kevin Manthey, who was also ordained in 2014 and joined the priest staff this year, too? 

A: It certainly surprised me and excited me to hear that I would be working side-by-side with Fr. Kevin Manthey here at the Saint Paul Seminary, as we had two wonderful years together at St. Stephen’s in Anoka for our first assignments. Just one brief story, if I may: At one point, since we were in the “Halloween Capital of the World” of Anoka, Fr. Kevin pleaded with me to dress up together for Halloween. I finally consented, with the stipulation that I would be the one to approve any costume. With some ingenuity, he gave me a role in which I could still wear most of my regular clothes: I played the masked Westley, and he dressed up as Inigo Montoya, characters from “The Princess Bride.” We decided to make some impromptu visits in the school, only to realize that our costumes might have been a little too believable, and some of our elementary school teachers were a little alarmed when we randomly walked in! Fortunately, no authorities were called, and we could laugh about it later. It is certainly a gift to be back together. Fr. Kevin is a gem of a man who makes me want to be a better, holier, and more joyful priest. It is a gift to be back together, and there have already been a lot of laughs.

Q: Describe your time at Saint John Vianney College Seminary. What was it like helping form young, college-age seminarians? How is it different than the work you’ll be doing at the major seminary? 

A: I often thank God for my time at SJV. At the risk of sounding selfish, I see those five years as instrumental in how the Lord has brought healing and growth in my own spiritual life. In trying to form the men after the heart of the Good Shepherd, I realized early and often how much the Lord needed to form my own heart. The young men were certainly an ongoing inspiration to me to strive after holiness. At times, it was convicting to have them look up to me as a spiritual father when I was well aware of my own struggles in following the Lord’s will.

Here at the major seminary, my work will be similar, but I will be entirely focused on two main things: spiritual direction and teaching a class, both of which I love. At SJV, it was focused more primarily on formation and also my work as director of worship.

Q: You mentioned going to the gym in a recent homily and are in pretty good physical shape. Is working out one of your main pastimes outside of ministry? What other hobbies or activities do you most enjoy? 

A: I’ve always liked working out, and it certainly helps me to relieve stress. Since the beginning of last year, I started working out with a brother priest who works at SJV, which has made it more of a fun and sociable time as well.

Other hobbies I enjoy include: cards with brother priests, mountain biking, frisbee golf and spending time at a coffee shop with a good book.

Q: Your family has been instrumental in your vocation story. How did they prepare you to discern the priesthood, and how did their influence help guide you on the road to becoming a priest? 

A: My parents formed me in a prayer life from an early age, and it was clear to me that for both my mom and my dad, faith was not just an obligation. My mom would spend over an hour each day in prayer after daily Mass, and I remember being struck when I learned that my dad would also go to daily Mass downtown during his lunch break. Faith in the Lord was something personal that affected every aspect of our lives, and my parents modeled a faith that – even while raising 13 kids on a single income – could be lived out joyfully.

At home, my parents would very often invite the local priests over for dinner – so often, in fact, that one of the priests knew that, if he wanted a last minute-dinner, he could walk past our house slowly, and my mom couldn’t possibly turn him down! The experiences with those good priests helped me to see that holiness is normal and that it can be lived out with joy, even for someone called to be a priest. That helped to alleviate my many fears of what the Lord was calling me to.

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