By NANCY SCHWERIN
Michael J. Oenbrink was born in Annapolis, Md., one of seven children. He graduated from The Citadel, started his own financial planning company, and at 35 entered the seminary — it was time to make a move.
“I thought ‘if I don’t check out now I probably never would,'” he said.
Oenbrink entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in 1993. Since that time he has had three summer assignments; in Corpus Christi with Father Jerome F. Schwab, in Columbia with Msgr. Charles H. Rowland, and in Charleston with Father Joseph F. Hanley.
“I had three great apostolates. They always reaffirmed my vocations call while I was studying,” he said.
“He will make a good, solid Catholic priest because he is willing to help everyone he comes in contact with; he was loved by all our members and helped us here in so many ways,” said Father Schwab.
“From at least 10 years old, I thought I had a vocation, but it was one I really didn’t want to explore. It finally tracked me down,” said Oenbrink, who says he was never an altar server until he entered the seminary.
His story is not unlike other young men who feel a call, but also have an urge to test the American dream. He followed the dream, was successful, but knew there was more.
“The underwriting call that’s our basic purpose is to put God first in marriage, vocation, single life,” said Oenbrink. He plans to take on this task as a diocesan priest.
In South Carolina, where the priest shortage issue remains prominent, “You really have to do it all,” said the deacon. While he enjoys working with young adults, no stone will be unturned in Oenbrink’s wake. He also plans to get the laity more involved in parish groups.
“You have to search out those who are willing to take over,” he said.
“Michael is a young man with many fine gifts who was always ready to serve anyone who came to him, whoever walked through the door he was willing to help. That’s a real gift,” said Msgr. Rowland. “He made the people he encountered feel as if they were the most important person.”
The Oenbrink’s settled in Beaufort in 1974. It was there that Michael met Father Thomas W. Kelley, the then chaplain on Parris Island, who has since retired in the area. “The priest was a constant face, a positive influence,” said Oenbrink, who touts the chaplain as a major influence in his life. “He was a good leader of the church and a holy man.”
Father Martin T. Laughlin was pastor at St. Peter’s in Beaufort until 1993. He, too, continued to encourage the young Oenbrink, who entered The Citadel in 1975 on a Navy scholarship. There he met the former Msgr. Sam Miglarese, who was the pastor at Church of Christ the Divine Teacher. Msgr. Miglarese got Oenbrink involved as a representative for Catholics in Company L for the Knights of Columbus and continued nurturing Oenbrink’s vocation call.
After graduation Oenbrink entered the Navy for two years and considered being a chaplain, but business called. For 12 years, he thrived in the financial planning world, having joined two partners in starting their own company in 1984. Nine years later he began to follow the ever-present tug to the priesthood. He went to visit Msgr. Miglarese, they discussed his vocation, and from that point he said, “I never looked back.”
Before his diaconate ordination last summer, Oenbrink went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, which he said was a peaceful experience going into ordination.
“Blessed Sacrament was enriched all too briefly by Michael’s diaconal ministry. He brings wonderful ability, rich experience and a lively faith to the diocese and to the priesthood,” said Father Hanley.
“I had an excellent diaconate year and am looking forward to priesthood,” said the deacon, who is but a week away from being ordained a priest on June 26. Oenbrink will celebrate his first Mass at 11:30 a.m. at St. Peter’s in Beaufort.
His excitement over ordination aside, he went back on pilgrimage in May 1999, this time to walk the Scripture through Paul in Greece. Such pilgrimages, explained Oenbrink, really help to bring the Scripture alive during the homily.
“The hardest thing is living the faith. We must live an integrated life in faith and in daily living — not separate the two,” he said. “We must show how our faith is making a difference.”