By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published May 12, 2011
Light streaming from the stained glass windows in the Gothic abbey church of Holy Spirit Monastery made stone in the stark church glow blue.
Friends, colleagues and family filled the wooden stalls used by the Trappist monks during their early morning prayers, as the community of close to 40 monks in black and white habits gathered around the altar Saturday, April 30.
With prayers, ancient rituals, and chants, the monks, several priests from the Atlanta Archdiocese, and friends celebrated the ordination of Brother Augustine Myslinski to the priesthood.
As is the custom in the monastery, Abbot Francis Michael Stiteler presented the monk to be ordained to Auxiliary Bishop Luis R. Zarama. The abbot testified, when asked by the bishop, that Brother Augustine was worthy of ordination to the priesthood.
It was the first ordination since 2002 at the Trappist monastery, some 25 miles east of Atlanta, and the first ordination ever for Bishop Zarama. In his ministry, the new priest, Father Myslinski, will serve his brother monks, whose order is formally known as the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance.
Blessed oils used during the Mass perfumed his hands for days after the ordination ceremony.
“I wanted to keep the oil on me. I just wanted the whole thing to remain,” said Father Myslinski.
At 52 years old, he is lanky, with closely cropped hair and the trim build of a runner. (As a high school standout, his best time was a 4.32 mile.) Raised in Chicago and an admitted Cubs fan, Father Myslinski is one of three children of a father who worked in the food industry and a secretary mother. A 1970 job transfer for his late father, Lawrence, plucked the family out of the Windy City. His mother, Consuela, lives now in Suwanee. The relocation was difficult.
“It was a very big culture shock. Within a couple of blocks, there were all my cousins,” he said of Chicago. “I learned about community when I lived in Chicago and solitude when I moved to Georgia.”
The family settled in Stone Mountain and attended Corpus Christi Church, just as the parish was establishing itself. Mass was celebrated in a cafeteria.
“It smelled like spoiled milk there every Sunday,” he said.
Father Myslinski’s life has had a consistent theme of thoughtful searching. Mike Myslinski, 46, who lives in Johns Creek, said his older brother is strong-willed.
“He is definitely a thinker, with the ability to have deep thoughts, not rush to judgment,” he said. There have been detours, but “God’s grace saw him through,” he said, adding it is also “a testament to his perseverance.”
After college, Father Myslinski studied for three years at the St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in Florida considering the diocesan priesthood. He said he had an “inner sense” he wasn’t going in the right direction, so he left in 1984 as his classmates were being ordained deacons. While he never felt unease about leaving before ordination, he almost immediately felt his vocational calling was to the monastery, a place he visited as a young person.
“I told God to pick on someone else,” he said.
Father Peter Rau, pastor of St. Peter Chanel Church, Roswell, was a classmate of Father Myslinski in Florida. The two met in 1979 at a discernment meeting given by Franciscans.
He said his classmate was very bright, very reflective, which made his decision to leave before ordination a surprise. The two kept in touch off and on through the years.
Father Rau was excited to be invited to the ordination.
“This was such a beautiful experience, to see him there. Everything came full circle,” said Father Rau.
After withdrawing from the seminary, Father Myslinski held a variety of jobs for the next dozen years, from working at a clinic helping abused women to being a house painter and landscaper. He dated women and “just barely” kept attending church.
But eventually, he explored this vocational calling to the monastic life.
“There wasn’t a day that thing didn’t work on me. It didn’t leave me,” he said.
On the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8, 1999, he joined the community of monks. There, after several years of formation, he professed solemn vows as a religious brother. For many monks, this is their life’s vocation. A few discern a further call to the priesthood within the monastery.
Father Augustine Myslinski, OCSO
Date of Birth: July 17, 1958 Hometown: Chicago
Parents: Consuela Myslinski, of Suwanee, and the late Lawrence Myslinski.
Siblings: Mary Jo Taylor, Suwanee; Michael Myslinski, Johns Creek.
Education: Clarkston High School, DeKalb County, Class of 1976; DeKalb College, 1976-1978; The Pontifical College Josephinum, Ohio, 1978-1980, bachelor’s degree in philosophy; St. Vincent de Paul Seminary, Florida, 1981-1984, master’s degree in divinity.
Work Experience: Construction industry; document courier; clinical assistant, Ridgeview Institute, Smyrna; self-employed housing contractor.
Hobbies & Interests: Running, exercise, music, literature, Chicago Cubs.
Favorite Seminary Class: Ecclesiology
Favorite Authors: Leo Tolstoy, James Fenimore Cooper.
Favorite Bands: Pink Floyd, U2, classical music.
Favorite Scripture: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” (John 14:27)
Most Admired Persons: Blessed John Paul II, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.
“I can assure you I didn’t make it on my own. My life has been full of so many twists and turns. We can see who won that battle,” Father Myslinski said.
Indeed, his given name is Mark, but he took on the religious name of Augustine when he became a novice in honor of the famous saint who became a Christian only after years of struggle.
Father Myslinski said living in the monastery may keep him physically separated from loved ones, but in a spiritual sense they are never far from each other.
“We are called to pray for one another, support one another, challenge one another.”
In monastic terms, he is the “cellarer,” which means he serves as a kind of business agent within the monastery, although there is a lay business agent. He’ll sweep the church floor. He’ll mow the lawns.
“We are just like families trying to make ends meet,” he said.
“This is where I live. I live with them, pray with them, work with them and, sometimes, I rub shoulders with them. I will die here,” he said.
In his homily, Bishop Zarama reminded Father Myslinski that Jesus’ mission would take him to uncomfortable places. But you are not there on your own, said the bishop, rather Jesus is working with you to serve people in need and for you to bring his love and healing.
“You surrender yourself; at the same time the Holy Spirit asks you, ‘Give me the freedom to work through you,’” he said.
His new role is as “a physician of the spirit” who heals with God’s love, he said.
“Never, never be afraid, my brother, to let him love you first. Surrender yourself to his love,” said the bishop. “When we say yes, we become fruitful.”
So, after years of searching, Father Myslinski was face down on the hard stone floor as the community prayed for him. Later, Father Myslinski knelt in front of Bishop Zarama and the bishop in silent prayer laid his hands on the monk’s head. During that moment, the church teaches that a man receives the Holy Spirit to serve as a priest.
“May God who has begun the good work in you bring it to fulfillment,” said the bishop.