From politics to praise, TOR Mariologist experiences transformation through faith

ELISHA VALLADARES-CORMIER
CATHOLIC VALUES COLUMNIST

Photo by: Patrick Barry

Greeting students with a welcoming smile and a drawn-out “Yeahhhh, man” in his Polish-American accent that’s a mix of St. Maximilian Kolbe and Bill Swerski’s Super Fans, Br. Daniel Maria Klimek, TOR, has quickly become one of the school’s beloved friars.

Known for his engaging lectures that bring out his intellectual and vibrant personality, Klimek has been a fan favorite for his teaching of courses like Mariology and Christian Moral Principles since arriving at Franciscan in January 2018.

Klimek, the university’s second Mariologist, was born in Chicago to Polish immigrants and moved to Poland at just eight months old. He spent his first few years in a small apartment in Krakow with his mother and brother while his father remained in Chicago to save up money for the family’s return. His earliest memories were visiting his uncle’s farm and spending hours gazing at the beautiful Polish countryside.

As Klimek approached kindergarten, his family returned to Chicago, where he would spend the rest of his childhood. Growing up in 1990s Chicago, Klimek was an ardent sports fan, following the perennial champion Chicago Bulls with fervor. Having never attended Bulls games in person, Klimek compensated by playing basketball with his brother in the family’s backyard.

“A lot of those games would end in a fistfight,” Klimek said with a chuckle. “We were very competitive.”

Despite growing up in a typical Polish Catholic family, Klimek didn’t have a very strong faith life and had a lukewarm approach to his faith as he completed high school and began attending DePaul University in Chicago.

While at DePaul, Klimek developed a strong interest in politics. A political science major during the Iraq War, he hosted a weekly political talk radio show and served as a senator for the university’s student government.

A talented writer, Klimek wrote for the student newspaper, The DePaulia, and was interested in the radical creative journalism known as “new journalism,” in which the writers put themselves in the story using fiction writing techniques.

In addition to his major, Klimek, a self-described film buff, picked up a minor in digital cinema, dreaming of using his writing talent to become an independent film maker someday.

However, his primary focus remained politics. Hoping to attend law school after graduating from DePaul, his plan was to become a district attorney. Klimek completed internships for Sen. Richard Durbin in Chicago and ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” in Washington.

Klimek admitted that he was attracted to the superficial attraction of politics and the idea of entering politics one day. That changed during his senior year when he read Wayne Weibel’s book “Medjugorje: The Message” about the alleged Marian apparitions in Medjugorje, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“It was one of those experiences where reading a book just changes your life,” Klimek said. “It almost felt like a spiritual experience where I really felt the love and beauty of God and Mother Mary’s presence. It fostered a sense of mission in me.”

Instead of law school after his 2008 graduation from DePaul, Klimek decided to attend Yale Divinity School and obtained a master’s degree in religion in 2010. Now pursuing academia, he began looking into doctorate programs.

At the same time, Klimek continued to research Medjugorje and the supernatural, a central part of his conversion, and decided it would be the subject of his dissertation. Learning that Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, a recent visitor of Medjugorje, would be speaking at Catholic University of America, Klimek decided to take an overnight bus from New Haven, Connecticut, to hear the cardinal speak and apply to Catholic University’s doctorate programs.

Despite a 3 a.m. bus transfer and not arriving in Washington, D.C., until a few hours before his interview, the trip was a success: Klimek heard about Schönborn’s Medjugorje experience and was accepted by Catholic University as a doctoral candidate beginning in 2010.

Klimek dated while in Washington but began discerning religious life after his interactions with the Franciscan TOR friars, some of whom were his classmates. At one point, he was invited to a prayer meeting of theirs, but having just pulled an all-nighter, he had no intention of going. However, as he was about to get on the bus to go home, he felt a push to keep walking to the church where the meeting was being held.

“I thought it would be the rosary or something, but it was a Catholic charismatic prayer meeting,” Klimek said. “It was my first experience with praise and worship … and hearing people praying in tongues. But I knew these friars. They represented a religious identity that I was very proud of … and so I trusted.”

Soon after, Klimek was baptized in the Spirit, an experience he called his “second conversion,” and he developed a deep charismatic spirituality.

Klimek joined the TORs in 2013 as a postulant and graduated in 2015 with his doctorate in spirituality. He continued at Catholic University as part of his formation and obtained a master’s in divinity in 2018. He is currently awaiting acceptance for solemn vows, which could come as soon as this summer, followed by ordination to the diaconate and priesthood within a year.

Since arriving at Franciscan, Klimek has become quite involved on campus, serving as chaplain to the men’s and women’s tennis teams and, most recently, being inducted into Knights of the Holy Queen Household.

His primary work remains as a professor, which he has thoroughly enjoyed.

“Last semester felt like the most meaningful three months of my life,” Klimek said. “The students are open and sincere in their desire to grow the relationship with God. I know seminarians who don’t speak so boldly and openly about their faith. For me it’s been a good experience (teaching at Franciscan).”

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