A diocesan priest with deep roots in the East Bay will pack his possessions into two pieces of luggage (maximum 50 pounds), and a backpack, and head to Peru, where, with the blessing of Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, he will spend three years as a missionary, fulfilling a calling he began to discern about 15 years ago.
In his discernment, he sought intercessions during pilgrimages. In leading a pilgrimage in the footsteps of St. Paul in Greece and Turkey, he asked, "Am I supposed to do missionary work?"
On a pilgrimage in India, at the body of St. Francis Xavier, patron of missionaries, he asked for the saint's intercession.
He spoke of the calling to three bishops, he said, planting the seed that, when the time was right, he was hoping to fulfill the call to missionary work.
On Jan. 31, Father Prochaska will say farewell to his parishioners at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Fremont, where a little more than a year ago, the church that unites the former St. Leonard and Santa Paula parishes was dedicated.
Father Prochaska will preach at each Mass Jan. 30-31, his last days as pastor.
Father Prochaska grew up in Pleasant Hill, one of eight children. He was graduated from Christ the King School in Pleasant Hill and De La Salle High School in Concord. He spent two years at Diablo Valley College before transferring to UC-Santa Barbara — his only time living away from the Bay Area — where he graduated with a degree in chemical engineering. He was in the field for five years before entering St. Patrick's Seminary at the age of 27.
He was ordained May 29, 1993, and has served at St. Joseph Parish in Pinole and St. Leander Parish in San Leandro before coming to Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish a dozen years ago.
After a brief time off to visit family members in other states, he will go Peru next month to begin work with the Boston-based Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle. His assignment will take him to the Diocese of Sicuani, with about a quarter-million Catholics at an elevation of 11,600 feet in the Andes Mountains.
"I love the mountains," said Father Prochaska, who has been to the top of Mount Whitney (14,505 feet). "St. James Society has two ministries in Peru: one in the shantytowns of Lima, and in the Diocese of Sicuani, which is where I'm going."
Working in Father Prochaska's favor is that he is a backpacker and, after 23 years, he considers himself "functional" in Spanish. "Part of my hope is that if I'm immersed in it maybe I can become fluent," he said.
At 56, he's a little older than the average missionary. But his blessing of good health, high-elevation experience and Spanish proficiency should serve him well.
The missionary society usually requires a five-year commitment, but his application for a three-year assignment, endorsed by the bishop, has been approved by the society.
He does not yet know his exact assignment. He will begin by spending time in Lima getting to know his brother missionaries before traveling to Sicuani, which has just eight diocesan priests.
After a couple of weeks in Lima, he will fly to Cuzco, Peru. He won't be stopping at Machu Picchu, the Incan ruins designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
His backpacking group — which includes a trio of diocesan priests, Revs. Lawrence D'Anjou of St. Raymond Parish in Dublin, Mathew Vellankal of Holy Spirit Parish in Fremont and Paulson Mundanmani of Christ the King Parish in Pleasant Hill — plan to meet him there during his mission years.
How Father Prochaska will make the trip from Cuzco to Sicuani is to be determined; he does know he will have a vehicle to get around to his parish or parishes.
The uncertainty doesn't appear to faze him.
He has pared down his possessions, planning to take with him "some clothes, one icon, a backpack, sleeping bag and tent."
"I don't want to take too much," he said, adding that he'll buy what he needs there "and support the economy there."
The sole book he is planning to take is his Spanish Bible.
He will also bring his laptop, and send occasional dispatches to The Catholic Voice, so parishioners in the Diocese of Oakland can learn about his missionary work.
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