By KATHY SCHMUGGE
COLUMBIA — What turns in life could lead a successful Columbia police officer to become a Benedictine monk? In the case of Butch Paczkowski, he would give all the credit to prayer and God’s willingness to give second chances to those who ask.
At one time, Butch was seemingly on top of his game, a successful salesman in South Carolina, with a wife and two children. But with his hunger for continued success, he began spending less time with his family.
“You can’t have two gods. I let money take over,” said Butch. It took the loss of his business, followed by the loss of his marriage to make Butch see that fact.
In need of a job, Butch picked up the pieces and successfully trained to be a police officer and was welcomed on the force. Although he was an asset to the police department, he continued to be haunted by his past mistakes. After a few years, he decided to leave South Carolina and his job to return to his hometown in Richmond, Va., to try to find answers so he could move on from his painful divorce.
As he was gathering his belongings, he discovered a broken rosary. It was the same rosary given to him by his mother for his first Communion. With conviction, Butch, who had loosely held on to Catholicism, now grasped the rosary like a life preserver. He would go and have this rosary repaired, and without knowing it, this quest would help him repair his broken life.
“I remember picking up the rosary and praying it for the first time in so many years,” he recalled how initially he was curious to see if he still knew how to pray it. He ended up praying the whole way to Richmond. He went immediately to the religious store to have the sacramental repaired. A woman working at the store suggested he walk to the neighboring monastery called Our Mother of the Church and pray in its adoration chapel. Little did Butch know that this very monastery would become his home years later.
At the chapel, he met Father Augustine Ludwig, who later became his spiritual advisor. It was through his guidance that Butch was able to return to South Carolina and “take care of unfinished business.” He was offered his job back with the Columbia Police Department. “I went from occasionally going to Mass on Sunday to going to daily Mass,” said Butch, acknowledging how God was working in his life.
The next influential person in his life was Cassie and her husband, Bill, members of the choir at St. Peter Church in Columbia, who befriended him. She suggested that Butch take a trip to Medjugorie, a place where the Blessed Mother has allegedly been appearing for 20 years. He was unable to go the first time with his friends but made the trip the following year.
“I remember saving my money the whole year so I could go and was still $600 short,” he recalled. No sooner did Butch pray for help that an unexpected refund check came in the mail for exactly $600.
During this trip to Medjugorie, Butch believes he was healed from the emotional scars of his past and received his calling to religious life. “I remember going to confession to Father Phillip, an American priest from Chicago. I confessed all the sins of my past. When it was over, I felt as though a 50 pound weight was lifted off my shoulder,” he said.
The priest asked him to hold a crucifix in his hand and repeat the following prayer, Butch continues to say the prayer every morning: “Jesus, I really believe that you are the Son of God and the Son of Mary, the true Christ who came into the world to save sinners. I admit that I am a sinner, and I need you because without you I would have been damned and lost forever. So with Mary as my mother and teacher, I want to magnify you as my God and my Savior. … Take over my life and make me into the person you want me to be. Change me, teach me, protect me so that all my thoughts and words and actions will be done according to your Spirit. Thank you for dying on the cross for me and giving up your virgin-born body and blood so that my sins will be washed away and no more remembered against me. Thank you for promising you will never leave me without the help of your grace. I will never leave you. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Mary.”
Soon after this moving confession, he felt a strong calling to religious life and praying before the Eucharist. There was a local priest named Father Slavko, who was praying in Croatian when suddenly he stopped and said in English, “Let us especially pray for people who are thinking about religious life.”
“That was a confirmation to me,” said Butch with a smile.
Butch applied to the Benedictines and was recently voted in at the monastery in Richmond, Mary, Mother of the Church. He will be in the postulancy for four to six months, then he will enter the novitiate for one year and take a simple vow for three years. He will then take his solemn vows.
He’s entering as a brother for now. If all goes well, he may pursue the priesthood, but “for now let me see if I can be a good brother.”
His advice to others who are contemplating religious life is pray. “Pray the rosary. Pray before the Eucharist. My life was in shambles, but through prayer, I was changed,” he said.
He said that he plans to put Christ first. “God gave me the blessings of a wife and children, and I did not appreciate them until it was too late. He has given me another chance with my life,” said Butch, who anxiously looks forward to becoming a Benedictine monk.
His journey of faith, he said has brought him from being afraid of God and being concerned with his eternal destination, to simply just being in love with God. His life is a testimony that it is never to late to serve God in new ways. For Butch, the hand that once carried a gun to protect his fellow men as a police officer will now carry rosary beads, protecting the world with his constant prayers.