- Associated Press - Friday, January 29, 2016

DECATUR, Ala. (AP) - The Catholic priest chuckled as he recalled a friend’s reaction to the life-altering news.

“Rick Chenault told me, ‘You may be going to the Eternal City, but you won’t be in God’s country anymore,’ ” the Rev. Kevin Bazzel said with a laugh.

Born and raised in Decatur, Bazzel, who lovingly refers to the River City as “God’s country,” will leave Alabama and his parish in Birmingham for a position 5,000 miles away at the Vatican in Rome - the Eternal City.

The 40-year-old Bazzel, who as a child attended St. Ann’s Catholic Church, now Annunciation of the Lord Catholic Church, will worship under Pope Francis with some of the faith’s top echelon of leaders.

“Out of all the priests in the United States, it’s amazing to me that they picked my son. It’s also not so amazing. He has got a light around him that draws people to him. It has always been that way,” said Bazzel’s mother, Jean Bazzel, of Decatur.

“He is our son, but he is also God’s son and we have always known that we would have to share him with the world.”

Appointed by the Catholic Church, Kevin Bazzel will serve as a member of the Congregation for the Clergy under the leadership of Cardinal Benjamin Stella, of Italy, beginning April 5. The Congregation for the Clergy is one of the Catholic Church’s nine congregations.

Think of the congregations as departments overseeing specific aspects of the church, such as liturgy, sacraments and doctrine. The Congregation for the Clergy assists Pope Francis in promoting the well-being of priests, deacons and seminarians and supports seminaries in the training of men for the priesthood.

For Bazzel, his introduction to the ministry and training for the priesthood started as a child, under the guidance of his parents, grandparents and teachers at St. Ann’s. Every Saturday night, he attended Mass with his maternal grandparents and, every Sunday morning, he worshiped with his father, mother and brother.

Gene and Jean Bazzel always felt God sent their son for a special reason, even during the times they tried, unsuccessfully, to keep him quiet during church.

“When he was really little, he didn’t want to be quiet in church. He wanted to talk to everyone around him. We would have to take him to the cry room because he just would not be quiet,” Jean Bazzel said. “Even then he was drawing people to him.”

As Kevin Bazzel grew up, he soaked up the lessons and scripture. The need to be a part of the teachings led him to serve as an altar boy, read scripture during Mass, participate in youth group and lead sessions on Sunday mornings.

For 18 years, the church’s scriptures and lessons molded and shaped Bazzel, preparing him for the call from God into the priesthood. The call came in 1994, a year into Bazzel’s studies at the University of Alabama in Birmingham.

In need of guidance, Bazzel, who planned on studying medicine, called his great aunt, who served as a nun in Buffalo, New York. He told her of his desires, hesitations and uncertainties. He asked for her guidance.

“She gave me the best advice I have ever received. She said, ‘Why don’t you ask God what He wants you to do,’ ” Bazzel said. “That was my aha moment. It was a very powerful experience. The call was so strong I could not deny it and did not want to deny it.”

From that moment, Bazzel willingly followed where the church led. He attended Saint Meinrad Seminary in Indiana and the Pontifical North American College in Rome. He taught theology at St. John Paul II High School in Huntsville and John Carroll High School in Birmingham. He served as parochial vicar of Huntsville’s Holy Spirit Catholic Church and Birmingham’s St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church.

Every time the church called him to a new position, Bazzel said yes, he would go.

So when his phone rang Dec. 2 and Cardinal David Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., asked him to serve on the Congregation for the Clergy, Bazzel, after taking the weekend to pray about it, said yes.

“Part of being in the priesthood is trusting where God leads you. Every time I’ve said yes, I will go, the Lord has shown me why He asked me to go. I am excited about the opportunity and the challenge of being able to assist the Universal Church,” Bazzel said. “It will be difficult to leave my family and my parish, but if this is God’s will for me, it is also God’s will for my parish, my diocese and my family.”

In Rome, Bazzel will live in an apartment unit 2½ miles from the Vatican.

After spending five years in Rome studying, Bazzel anticipates returning to the city and visiting the tombs and shrines of the saints. He will bring before the saints prayers for his parish, diocese, family, friends and mentors in the faith. He will pray for his parents, who diligently passed on their Catholic faith to him. He will pray for the priests, teachers and volunteers from St. Ann’s. He will pray for Father Michael MacMahon of Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Huntsville, who encouraged Bazzel on his journey into the priesthood. And he will pray for his grandparents, who taught him about living in faith and unconditional love.

“The Vatican has understandably recognized Father Bazzel’s pastoral and administrative abilities in this call to service in the Congregation for the Clergy,” said Bishop Robert Baker, of the Diocese of Birmingham.

“All of us are greatly honored to have one of our own to be invited to put his gifts to use for the Universal Church.”

Bazzel serves as rector of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Birmingham and as the vicar general, chancellor and adjutant judicial vicar of the Diocese of Birmingham and the diocesan Presbyteral Council. He will stay at the post through Holy Week and the ordination of one of the parishioners as a deacon.

“My goal as a priest is two-fold. One, I want to get to Heaven. If I get to Heaven, I know I’ve probably been a successful priest. Secondly, I want to bring as many people to heaven with me by helping them with their faith journey. That’s what my life is all about,” Bazzel said.

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Information from: The Decatur Daily, https://www.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/index.shtml

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