The seeds of Deacon Joseph Cwik’s vocation were planted while growing up in his small parish community of Our Lady of the Presentation in Poolesville, Maryland. He was the third person to be baptized in the parish, and will soon become their first priestly vocation, when he is ordained by Archbishop Wilton Gregory as one of 10 new priests for the Archdiocese of Washington on June 15 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

“Poolesville really helped show me what a parish family can be,” he said.

When he was a kid, the parish did not yet have a church, and the community celebrated Mass in the cafeteria of his public elementary school. Deacon Cwik said he is grateful to his family for raising him in the Catholic faith, and to his parish family for teaching him “what it is to be a Christian.”

Deacon Cwik has known all four of the pastors that the parish has had in its history. He noted how Father Paul Herbert, who was the pastor while he was in high school, showed him “what the priesthood meant and how it was lived.”

Father Herbert asked him to be the person to hold the keys to the church and to welcome visiting priests to the parish, which is a responsibility that Deacon Cwik, who was then a teenager, took seriously. He said those moments where he would open the church before anyone else arrived “took my faith to another level,” because although no one else was there, he realized he was not really alone.

Deacon Cwik said that experience involved “entering into that silence and encountering Christ for the first time in a genuine, sincere way.” He thought about the priesthood in high school, but “wasn’t sure want to do with the initial desire and movement.”

He also has a long-standing love for flying, which began when his dad would take him to air shows as a kid. So after high school, he went to the University of Maryland in College Park to pursue that passion by studying aerospace engineering.

While at the University of Maryland, he made friends who encouraged him to attend a retreat with the Catholic Student Center during his junior year. After going to Confession at that retreat, Deacon Cwik returned to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and remembers, “looking at the Lord in the Eucharist, realizing He hadn’t changed, but I had, and I didn’t think He was done yet.”

He returned to campus reinvigorated, and started going to Adoration more frequently. He also met with Father Rob Walsh, the chaplain of the Catholic Student Center, whom he called “a great friend in helping me walk this path.”

He began to think again about the priesthood, and was accepted to the seminary during the summer after his junior year, when he had already registered for classes at Maryland in the fall, and signed a lease for an apartment. He left that all behind and entered the Saint John Paul II Seminary in the fall.

“I could see myself content as a father and an engineer…but something about the priesthood had a stronger degree to it,” he said, adding that after praying about it, he was drawn to the priesthood even more.

It was the same desire he had first experienced in high school, but this time, “I had the resources, community and a stronger relationship with Christ that helped me understand and act on it,” he said. “It led me on this incredible journey I couldn’t have dreamed of or planned myself.”

Even though he left behind his aerospace engineering studies, “you can still see me scanning the skies,” he said, because he did not leave his interest in planes.

Deacon Cwik jokes that he “spent the first year of seminary learning to read again,” and said his professors would often remark that he had literally studied rocket science before starting his philosophy classes at The Catholic University of America. Deacon Cwik told them he is “only three quarters of a rocket scientist.”

During seminary, Deacon Cwik said, “having dedicated time for Christ has helped me grow in understanding of who I am and how He wants us to relate to Him.” It has further allowed him to experience God’s love and mercy, “which as a priest I want to mirror,” he said.

In addition, Deacon Cwik said, “having come to know the love of Christ in my life personally” has helped him go out of his comfort zone to reach out to people “who I normally would have walked by or passed on.”

After spending two years at the Saint John Paul II Seminary in Washington, Deacon Cwik went to Rome to study at the Pontifical North American College. While there, he attended the canonizations of St. Teresa of Calcutta and Saints Louis and Zélie Martin. He said he is grateful for the opportunity to study in that place that has so many connections to saints, which “makes so vivid the life we are supposed to live.”

Deacon Cwik is excited to celebrate Mass as a priest, which he will do for the first time at his home parish of Our Lady of the Presentation in Poolesville on June 16 at 10:45 a.m., and said he recognizes that “what I want to give to others is not mine to give.”

“How beautiful it is to give what is truly not ours – the Body of Christ which is love incarnate,” he said.