National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Signs of Christ

BY JOSEPH PRONECHEN

April 30-May 6, 2006 Issue | Posted 5/1/06 at 11:00 AM

 

Young Tom Margevicius dreamed of becoming a priest while growing up in Cleveland. Those dreams appeared dashed when the high-school seminary he attended closed. At that point he changed course and turned to his other love, the great outdoors.

After earning a degree in wildlife biology, he went to work for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Informing the public about nature’s wonders in state parks, he found himself relatively happy — but essentially unfulfilled.

“Working for the government, I couldn’t talk about God,” he recalls. “I preferred to tell people about the Lord.”

Today Father Margevicius (pronounced Mar-GEV-ishis) is able to combine his two great loves. Ordained in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in May 1999, he served for a time as a parish priest and is now a fulltime professor of liturgical theology at the archdiocesan St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity. On weekends he puts his fluency in American Sign Language to the best of uses, ministering to the archdiocesan deaf community at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church.

Sign language and the signs in nature have expanded his ministry, so to speak.

“He brings that love of nature, that respect for God’s created earth, to his priesthood,” says Father Kevin Finnegan, pastor of Divine Mercy Church in Faribault, Minn., who has known Father Margevicius 20 years.

“Father [Margevicius] sees the world as an artist sees the world,” explains Laure Krupp of the Cathedral of St. Paul. “He has a way of drawing the curtain back and showing us that beauty of God like an artist does.

“One thing an artist does is capture an image that the rest of us have walked by a thousand times,” she adds. “In capturing it, they make the world stop and say it is beautiful. That’s what Father Tom does in his liturgy and in the way he lives out his priesthood.”

Hearts Ablaze

For James and Beth Mathewson, the young priest’s way of making the Scriptures come alive fanned their faith into a bonfire.

Neither will forget one homily Father Margevicius gave at Nativity of Our Lord Church on Jesus teaching about those who are drawn to light and those who stay away from it (John 12:35-36).

“He explained it in terms of everyday decisions we make,” says James. “We were practicing Catholics active in the Church, but we had a reawakening of the faith. And that was the homily that started it all.”

“Over the two years Father Tom was [at our parish], our faith just blossomed,” adds James. “Since then, it has taken off.”

James says Father Margevicius has a way of preaching that gets to the heart of the Scriptures, addressing difficulties and making sense of puzzling passages. His explanations, says James, make effective apologists of everyday parishioners.

Not to mention making New Evangelization-minded priests of today’s seminarians.

While himself a seminarian, Father Margevicius looked to Father Bill Kenney, the Twin Cities chaplain to the deaf for 40 years, as a mentor.

Later, while serving at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church — where 40% of the 200 families are deaf or hard of hearing — he decided to study American Sign Language.

Shortly after Father Margevicius was ordained, Father Kenney retired and the younger priest gladly assumed the chaplaincy. Weekends he ministers to the deaf community at the church. And he makes trips to Father Finnegan’s church an hour away to administer the sacrament of reconciliation to the deaf community there.

Father Finnegan believes that his friend’s great love for people and their needs is in part influenced by the fact both his parents immigrated to this country.

“I’ve always noticed that he knows himself, his needs for the sacraments, and his people,” adds Father Finnegan. “I’m always glad because I know he’s a great confessor.”

In Loco Christi

In turn, the deaf have taught Father Margevicius. “Working with the deaf forces me to broaden my perspective,” he says. “They see right through phoniness. They know if I’m sincere or not.”

Then, too, he says, they’re very “incarnational”: They need to see your body language in order to communicate with your heart.

This realization, he says, has helped him improve as a teacher of seminarians. He stresses that reverent posture and movements are important when presiding at the liturgy in order for the truth and beauty of the Mass to come across.

His goal is to have the future priests in his liturgy classes be fiercely loyal to the Church’s liturgy and at the same time be “very human” in being in persona Christi for the faithful.

“When they see Father up front, they need to know they’re not getting an affectation, but the genuine article,” he says. “It’s the Church’s liturgy prayed by a real man. He embodies what the Church expects him to embody.”

Others notice that Father Margevicius practices what he preaches.

 “He’s a true lover of the liturgy,” says Krupp. “It’s like he himself is almost an outflow of it. You forget it’s him. He really does decrease and Christ does increase.”

Joseph Pronechen writes from
Trumbull, Connecticut.