EVERETT — Their sleek black cycling jerseys sport the logo of the Archdiocese of Seattle, with sleeves that read “Pedaling the Priesthood” and necklines that look like clerical collars.
If not for those jerseys, these two physically fit priests could have been any hard-core bicycle enthusiasts riding the trails and back roads of Snohomish County.
The Rev. Bryan Dolejsi, director of vocations for the archdiocese, and the Rev. Gary Zender, pastor of the bilingual St. Anthony Parish in Renton, earlier this week rode from the 150 miles Blaine to Renton to encourage young people to enter the ministry.
It’s an annual thing for Dolejsi, 38, who has been a priest for seven years and is casually known as Father Bryan. Last year, the ride was from Forks to Anacortes and next summer it’ll circle around southwest Washington.
Dolejsi sees the bike ride as a way to encourage young men to consider the priesthood. Along the way, Zender and Dolejsi stopped at several Catholic churches to celebrate Mass, answer questions and talk about seminary and what it takes to be a priest.
“The bike ride is a publicity event, sure,” said Dolejsi, pulling off his classic Veloce cycling cap and sunglasses. “But it’s also a way to show people that priests are guys with lives and interests outside of their vocations. Gary and I ride a lot for exercise and relaxation.”
The bike trips also allow the priests a pilgrimage through the archdiocese and the chance to visit brother priests along the way. The archdiocese has about 178 parishes in Western Washington.
Zender, 55, also serves as the chairman of the board of Catholic Community Services in Western Washington. Zender said their stops in Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish counties were encouraging and fun. On Tuesday, they rode the length of the Centennial Trail and the Lowell-Snohomish River Road on their way to St. Mary Magdalen Parish in south Everett.
“It’s been inspiring to see all the good things happening in churches along the way,” Zender said.
So, how is the effort to encourage men to join the priesthood?
“It’s hopeful,” Dolejsi said. “The archdiocese has 31 people in seminary right now, but 45 would be more ideal. Some dioceses do better than others.”
Seminarians come from a broad range of cultural, economic, educational and vocational backgrounds. Ages range from 18 up to about 42, Dolejsi said. “The population of seminaries is representative of the Church itself.”
Encouraging men to consider becoming a priest is a matter of getting them to consider God’s will for their lives, Dolejsi said.
Zender likes to tell the story of Raymond Hunthausen, the well-known former archbishop of Seattle.
“When he was a student at Carroll College in Montana, someone asked him if he knew God’s will for his life and if he had ever considered becoming a priest,” Zender said. “That’s what we are doing, planting a seed so that people will prayerfully consider their calling.”
Dolejsi said he likes to play pickup basketball games with the students at Kennedy Catholic High School in Burien.
“If kids see us doing things outside of celebrating Mass, it becomes easier for them to wrap their heads around the priesthood,” he said. “My goal is to break the stereotype.”
Having a new pope in Rome has been helpful in talking to young people, Zender said.
“Pope Francis clearly cares about the poor and struggling. He speaks the language of the people, and that is attractive to young people who feel called to serve,” he said. “There are lots of kids out there looking to do something heroic for the Lord, the kingdom and God’s people.”
Dolejsi is already planning next summer’s “Pedaling the Priesthood” bike trip.
“Some people think we’re crazy with these trips,” Dolejsi said.
“But,” said Zender, finishing the sentence, “being a priest can be pretty crazy, too.”
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.