Mount Carmel, Yale star now a Carmelite priest

March 25, 2012 |

By Casey Toner, staff writer, Southtown/Star newspapers

His high school feats included graduating third in his class at Mount Carmel and being a captain as a senior for a football powerhouse that was in a run of winning four straight state championships.

But there was even more to come for Tony Mazurkiewicz.
Enrollment at Yale University. Again being named a football captain. Reported membership in the Skull and Bones, a very elite Yale-based “secret society” whose members are believed to include former U.S. presidents William Taft, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
A degree in history from the Ivy League school. Mazurkiewicz managed all these accomplishments as a young man.

But there can be more to life than a career of power and prestige in political or business or athletic circles. Just ask the man now better known by many simply as “Father Tony.”
The blond, broad-shouldered Mazurkiewicz is a Carmelite priest teaching at Mount Carmel, and like many clergy, he is not concerned with those things. He has taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Mazurkiewicz, 36, instead finds peace in daily prayer, the brotherhood of the Carmelites, teaching students and serving others. “It’s like weaving our lives with God,” he said. “It’s like a big sewing machine.” In August, he started teaching morality to juniors at Mount Carmel – in the same classrooms where he started his own spiritual journey.

The teenage years
Mazurkiewicz grew up in Glenwood, where he lived with parents Larry and Laura and his sister, Tina. While he was in eighth grade, he decided to attend Mount Carmel after watching a varsity football game. Once he started high school in 1988, Mazurkiewicz quickly demonstrated his talents in both academics and football. His Spanish teacher, Father “Padre” Benjamin Aguilar – now a fellow Carmelite – said Mazurkiewicz aced his daily quizzes. Aguilar also noted Mazurkiewicz’s interest in religion and suggested he think about becoming a priest.

“I think I saw that he was just a very disciplined young man,” Aguilar said. “He had a lot of energy as well, a lot of passion. “Whenever I spoke about a religious topic or an ethical topic or a moral topic, he was always all ears. He was like a sponge.”

But this wasn’t yet the time for Mazurkiewicz to hear his calling. He was focused on his studies and winning football games. During his freshman and sophomore seasons, he played defensive back and running back for the Caravan. When he moved up to the varsity, he played safety.

“At the time, I loved the hitting,” Mazurkiewicz said. “The physical side of the game was good for me to let go of the energy.” Mount Carmel alumni director Jim Civik said Mazurkiewicz was a starter on the 1989 and 1990 state championship teams. His teammates named him a captain for his senior year. School officials said he recorded 115 tackles and eight interceptions during his varsity career.

Don Sebestyen, a former Mount Carmel defensive backs coach who is the principal at Providence Catholic High School, called Mazurkiewicz one of the smartest kids he coached.
“He had a killer instinct,” Sebestyen said. “He knew how to use it and bring it on, and you got to game day and he’d turn it loose – I’m glad I wasn’t playing against him.”
Although he was a hitter on the field, it soon hit Mazurkiewicz that there was a bigger picture. He said his senior year retreat, Kairos, played a pivotal role in his spiritual life.

“It was an eye-opening experience with God,” he said. “(But) I wouldn’t have considered myself a ‘holy roller’ then and not even now.” Mazurkiewicz graduated from Mount Carmel in 1991. He was third in his class – behind two valedictorians – and he was accepted into Yale University.

The Yale years
The success Mazurkiewicz had in high school continued at Yale. He majored in history and played strong safety for the Bulldogs.

The teams were less successful than he was used to at Mount Carmel, going 3-7 his sophomore year, 5-5 his junior year and 3-7 his senior year. But Yale sports publicity director Steve Conn said Mazurkiewicz was a team captain there his senior year and he led the defense with 41 solo tackles, 56 assisted tackles and three interceptions.

Throughout his football career, he attended church every Sunday, football wounds and all.
“We’d have running, and then we’d go to Mass,” he said. “You’d see a row of guys with ice bags going to Mass.”

Mazurkiewicz graduated from college in 1996 with a degree in history. Spurred by his father, a Vietnam veteran, he wrote his senior thesis about the Vietnam War. The paper detailed the Tet Offensive’s effect on Marines’ morale.

Not knowing what to do upon graduation, he signed up for the Peace Corps. But he didn’t follow through, instead accepting a teaching gig at Mount Carmel in 1997. Later that year, a full-time teaching job opened up for him on the East Coast. He taught Spanish, English and history in Boston in a sixth- through eighth-grade public school run by the Edison Project, a for-profit education firm run by a former Yale president.

While in Boston, he applied to and was accepted into the master’s program at Harvard University’s School of Education. “I was looking online at the classes, and most of them were theology classes,” he said. “Any conversation about God seemed interesting to me.”

Journey to the priesthood
Mazurkiewicz returned to Mount Carmel Hi gh School in 2000 after Aguilar reached out to him. His former teacher suggested he might want to live with the Carmelites for a year in the campus priory – with no obligation.

“The Carmelites have a combination of community life, prayer life and ministry,” Mazurkiewicz said. “I had been in so many communities, and this seemed to fit.”
Mazurkiewicz wrote a letter asking the Carmelites if he could live with them for a year, and they agreed to it. Once again, he taught at the school and coached baseball and football.
Mazurkiewicz said his parents were surprised by his decision, but they wanted him to be happy. In fact, his mother now works as the secretary to Mount Carmel president Father Carl Markelz.

“My dad was looking for an early retirement with the Yale degree,” Mazurkiewicz quipped.
As part of his path to becoming a Carmelite, Mazurkiewicz lived from 2001 to 2002 in a Carmelite home in Houston, living a life of daily prayer and communion.
The following year, he lived, prayed and meditated in a Carmelite home in Middleton, N.Y. He spent six months at Crespi Carmelite High School in Encino, Calif., then worked at St. Agnes, in Phoenix, Ariz., from 2003 to 2005.

Mazurkiewicz enrolled at Washington (D.C.) Theological Union in 2005, earning degrees in philosophy and theology in 2009. In May 2009, Mazurkiewicz became an ordained priest. He served his first year at St. Raphael Parish in the predominately Latino South Central neighborhood of Los Angeles.

As of August, he is back at Mount Carmel, teaching morality to three junior classes and making recruiting visits to elementary schools. Outside his job, he likes playing basketball, skiing and fly fishing when he can. An avid reader, Mazurkiewicz enjoys historical books, as well as the works of Hermann Hesse, who authored Siddhartha, which is about a boy’s spiritual journey.

Typical of his order, Mazurkiewicz is a humble man. He had reservations about being featured in a story, wanting the focus to be on his Carmelite brothers. Mazurkiewicz lives with them in a Carmelite house at 54th Street and University Avenue in Chicago’s Hyde Park community.
Every morning, the Carmelites awaken at 6 a.m. for prayer, silence, Mass and the singing of psalms. The evenings end more or less the same way.

“This has happened for centuries on centuries,” Mazurkiewicz said. “To continue that commitment to prayer has been life-giving.”

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