St. Mary Church in Mokena welcomes its new Parochial Vicar, Father Mark Bernhard. Get to know Father Mark by checking out our interview with him below:
Where Are You From? “My hometown is Elwood, IL. where I grew up on a hog farm started by my grandpa. I have about 60 cousins on my dad’s side who also live near the farm. We have 13,000 hogs, and about 100 pigs are born every day, so there’s enough bacon to go around! It was a great blessing to grow up on a farm and develop a hard work ethic, discipline, and a love for God’s creation.”
Do You Have Any Siblings? “Yes, I have an older brother, a younger sister, and a twin sister. My brother has three children who also live in Elwood, and my twin sister just had her first child (also in Elwood).”
How Long Have You Been a Priest? “3 Years. My first assignment was as Parochial Vicar at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church in Aurora. During this time, I also served as Chaplain at All Saints Catholic Academy in Naperville.”
What Did You Do Before Becoming a Priest? “I earned an accounting degree at Olivet Nazarene University.”
Describe Your Journey to Becoming a Priest. “I grew up in a very Catholic household. My parents would always take my siblings and me to Adoration, and we regularly prayed as a family. Later, my faith was strengthened in college after initially being challenged by my evangelical friends. I learned a lot about my faith by defending it.
“After graduation, I joined the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) as a missionary for two years where I helped college students encounter Jesus Christ and grow as Catholic disciples. It was here that I really grew in my faith and saw how the Lord was working through me to evangelize others. I realized I wanted to do ministry for the rest of my life.
“Over time, the Lord implanted the idea of joining the priesthood into my heart. As much as I tried to shake it and run the other way at first, I realized God was giving me a choice: to get married or join the priesthood. After recognizing this freedom of choice and praying about it, I knew in my heart that I wanted to be a priest.”
How Have Your First Three Years of Being a Priest Shaped You? Any Surprises? “I’m a better man since becoming a priest, especially when it comes to sacrifice. Every vocation requires us to “give of ourselves,” whether you’re married or a priest. Over the past three years, I’ve begun to learn the meaning of those words. I pour my entire self into my vocation, and I feel fully alive, despite all of the difficulties that it brings.
“As a priest, I get to see the tragedy and messiness of humanity every day. I’m able to recognize how this messiness reveals the true beauty of God sending His only son to redeem us by dying on the cross.”
You Are Known For Your Love of Sports. How Have Sports Impacted Your Ministry? “Sports teach us to grow in discipline and strive for excellence. It’s a real virtue-builder. This translates well to our Catholic faith, where we should always strive to improve our relationship with Christ,
“I’ve always used the sports analogy to help evangelize others. When working with college students, I would sometimes challenge them to a basketball game. If they won, I would buy them lunch; if I won, they would have to come to my Bible study. Sports helped me build relationships with others because they saw that, even though I’m a priest, I’m also just a regular guy.”
What is Your Favorite Sports Team? “The Chicago Cubs. I bleed Cubbie Blue. Overall, though, I like all Chicago teams (except the White Sox!)”
You’re Also Active on Facebook, YouTube, and other Social Media Channels. What Role Does That Play in Your Ministry? “Jesus told us to go and make disciples of all nations. Social media is a great, modern tool to spread the Gospel to people, especially during the recent shutdowns.”
What is Most Important to You in a Parish? “For me, the most important thing for a parish is how effective it is in fostering encounters with Jesus Christ and actively making disciples. Everything else is secondary. As a priest, that’s my main focus–to make disciples.”
Had You Heard of St. Mary Church Before? “Yes, when I was in the seminary, I started a sports ministry where seminarians would visit Catholic schools in the diocese and play the Eighth Grade boys’ basketball teams. We played in the St. Mary gym two or three times.”
Do You Know Father Dindo? “I have met him, but I don’t know him very well yet (although, his reputation of owning dogs precedes him!) I’m very happy and excited to be assigned to work with him at St. Mary, especially since there is a school there, and I love teaching kids the faith.”
What Do You Hope to Bring to St. Mary? “I hope to bring a deeper level of intimacy with Jesus to the parishioners and encourage them to grow in their faith.”
Will Parishioners See You Around Town? Where Do You Like to Eat? “I love walking and jogging outside, so parishioners will definitely see me exercising around town. I don’t eat out at restaurants a lot. Usually, I’ll cook a whole batch of chicken or something else at one time and freeze it so I have quick meals during the week. Since being on my own, one thing I’ve realized is that cooking takes a long time!”