Vocations: Wenke family follows vocational call to priestly, diaconal, religious and lay life
(Part one of a two part story)
To say the Wenke family is faithful would be an understatement. Matthew, the father, is a permanent deacon. Daughter Nora is a contemplative nun. Their oldest son is now Father Emmanuel Wenke, OFM Conv.
The fact that three members of the family were considering their vocations around the same time is quite the coincidence.
“We didn’t talk about it all that much,” said Father Manny, as his family calls him. “One day I kind of announced, all right, mom and dad, this is what I’m going to do. And they’re like, OK, let’s talk about it and we support you.”
That was 2012. His younger sister Nora, now known as Sister Frances Marie, CP, began seriously discerning her call at the same time. “And then she had kind of finished her initial process of deciding at the point when my dad started to first really seriously consider the diaconate,” Father Manny continued. “So, we were in formation, so to speak, in terms of we were all in training together at a different point. But the actual process of us actually deciding this is what I’m going to do was distinctly separate for all of us. My sister and I never really talked about doing this with each other before it actually happened. So, it was interesting how, even though despite being a close family, that particular part of the journey was, I guess, our personal journey with God to try to figure out what we were going to do. And so, it was more of a revelation, I guess, to the others as time went on, rather than having others involved with the process.”
As a kid who loved sports and the outdoors, Father Manny pictured himself having a career in law enforcement or as a forest ranger. As he grew up he became more involved in the parish life of St. Mary’s in his hometown of Olean, taking part in a family prayer group, participating in youth ministry, serving as lector and eucharistic minister.
“I kind of did it all,” he said. “And in that increasing engagement in the parish, I really started to feel a sense of joy and happiness and purpose that I didn’t really feel when I was thinking of other things I could do with my life. So as time went on, I really started to think more about, maybe I should do something for the Church. I wasn’t sure on priesthood or religious life at that point, but it wasn’t until the very end of high school when I started to really think I’m probably going to consider a religious vocation.”
He contacted Father Walter Szczesny, diocesan vocation director at the time, who helped him with reservations and concerns he had.
“Coming from a large family, I really started to feel like I wasn’t particularly keen on living alone in a rectory with maybe a dog. I enjoy being around people. I enjoy the community aspect. So, Father Walt encouraged me to consider religious life, to look at different communities, which I began to do.”
After meeting some Conventual Franciscans who were studying at St. Bonaventure University, he felt a connection. Traveling with them to Madrid for World Youth Day, as well as to Rome and Assisi in Italy sealed the deal.
“I really had a pretty life-changing experience that really motivated me,” he said. “I was really inspired by the example of the friars that I met. I was really moved by Assisi, the place where St. Francis was born and raised and lived. I just felt such a strong sense of God’s presence there and of just the goodness and the simplicity and the joy of the Franciscan vocation.”
He joined the friars in 2012, moving to Baltimore to study. He was ordained this past August.
He now teaches freshman and sophomore religion at Archbishop Curley High School in Baltimore.