By Theresa Carson
On Aug. 3, six young men professed religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience at Techny, Ill., and became members of the Society of the Divine Word. One has chosen the path of brotherhood formation. The other five are seminarians. All six will begin coursework at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago in the fall. Today, we introduce you to Brian M. Junkes.
A few weeks before professing vows, Brian Junkes, strolled through the Techny campus. He often watched for deer and hawks that frequent the area. That night in the field that once held the Techny tree farm and baseball diamond, he spied hundreds of fireflies.
“I had never seen that many before,” he said. “I was amazed. It touched me very much.”
Deep down he felt an even greater appreciate for God and God’s creations. “I thought of (the papal encyclical) Laudato Si,” said Brian, age 29.
The journey to that place was no small feat. Born and raised in West Palm Beach, Flor., Brian had difficulty speaking when he was a child. In second grade, he began working with a speech pathologist to overcome his learning disability. He adopted learning strategies that he continues to use to this day.
Brian sometimes felt excluded in school, but he found acceptance in his church youth group.
“High school was rough that first year,” he said. “I was bullied and didn’t feel like I fit in. But at church, I was accepted for who I was.”
When Brian was 17, he told his mom that he wanted to be a priest. She was open to the idea and encouraged him to get more life experience before entering the seminary so that he could relate to the adult challenges that faced other people.
He took a job with a swimming pool supply company and worked his way up the ladder. He became a supervisor and thought of making a career of management, but the call to religious life continued to speak to him.
When he started feeling stuck, he prayed for a sign. A pilgrimage to Poland bolstered his desire to become a priest. At St. Mary’s Church in Krakow, he sat in pew towards the back and prayed. After he sat down, a tour guide told him that Saint John Paul II used to sit in the same spot to pray. “For me, this was a sign,” Brian said.
Through an online survey, he became acquainted with the Society of the Divine Word. He sets his sights on attending Divine Word College in Epworth. Before Brian was admitted, he studied at Palm Beach State College and earned an associate degree.
Juggling work and school, he started his day cleaning pools at 6:30 a.m. and finished classes at 9 p.m. Saturday was his only day off. This grueling schedule paid off. He needed a 2.6 grade point average. He achieved a 3.6.
Brian entered Divine Word College in 2014. As an undergraduate, he studied in Mexico for two months to learn the Spanish language.
“I learned to keep working even if I fail,” said Brian as he explained how he learned the language by seeing and hearing the words and then incessantly practicing them.
He graduated in 2018. This past year of novitiate has been a time of self-discovery, he said. He volunteered as a tutor at the Holy Spirit Missionary Sister’s Life Learning Center in Wheeling, Ill.
“This time has helped me understand how certain things in my past have led me to be who I am today,” he said. “It has helped me know I can use [those experiences] to help other people in future ministry.”
Brian is focused on building a closer relationship with God and seeing God in everyday things, a promise that led him on his walks on the Techny property.
“I do believe I’m called,” he said. “I’m not going to let anyone or anything get in the way of what God is calling me to become.”