By Tony DeGol
When Max Kroell graduated from Bellefonte Area High School in 2019, he knew he didn’t want to completely say goodbye to his alma mater.
So, he decided to run for a seat on the Bellefonte Area School Board for an opportunity to give something back.
“Originally my plans were to study Political Science in college, and I thought the best way to get started in politics was to run for my local school board because I was a student and I understood the student perspective,” he explained. “I wanted to not only get involved in politics but represent my fellow students on the district level and really try to make the school a better place.”
At the age of 18, Kroell won the seat, and began serving.
It was a big step for someone so young, but one he does not regret.
“I feel I’ve been able to voice an opinion on issues that are important and make a difference,” he said.
Now, just shy of his 20th birthday and with two years at Penn State University under his belt, Kroell wants to make a difference in another way.
Trading his campaign signs for a cassock, he will enter Saint Mark’s Seminary in Erie this fall to begin formation for the priesthood in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.
Kroell recalls folks approaching him while he was still in high school and asking if he ever considered the priesthood.
“The answer was usually ‘no,’ but then a couple years ago I started thinking about it more and really praying and discerning,” he stated.
Kroell reached out to Father George Jakopac, Pastor of Saint John the Evangelist Parish in Bellefonte where Kroell is a life-long member. Father Jakopac connected him with Diocesan Director of Vocations Father Peter Crowe for continuing discernment and dialogue and then the application process.
“Here I am today – I was accepted, thanks be to God,” Kroell stated. “As I prayed more and spent more time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, I felt called to this path.”
Surely, many young men can relate to Kroell’s journey so far.
A lot of guys think about becoming a priest, but it is often intimidating to share those feelings with others or to reach out to their pastor or the vocations director.
Kroell is happy he took the first step.
“It was a relief when I finally reached out to my pastor and Father Crowe,” he added. “It was nice to know there was support there. I learned a lot and was more comfortable.”
Kroell realizes that even though he is entering seminary in just a few months, his discernment journey continues.
“I’m looking forward to being able to start learning more about the faith and really diving deep,” he noted. “I also look forward to growing closer to the Lord and spending a lot more time in prayer.”
Kroell now joins the ranks of six other diocesan seminarians – all in various stages of formation. It is a special fraternity – one in which the guys share much in common, not the least of which is a deep love for Jesus Christ and the Church.
“I always tell my friends who are Catholic that the best thing is being Catholic,” he stressed. “All the sacraments are so beautiful. I think Confession is one of the most beautiful things, and I just love that we have the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. How lucky we are to have that every Sunday! I just love every aspect of the faith. It is so beautiful to have Christ here with us and to have wonderful priests ministering to us.”
Just as Kroell appreciated the support of voters at the ballot box, he now welcomes prayers and encouragement from all Catholics here in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.
“I’ll take all the support I can get,” he insisted. “It means a lot that people recognize that the Church needs priests and they support my decision to discern and see if this is where God is calling me. It means a lot to have that support, and it really reaffirms my commitment and my path forward.”
[Photos: (Top) New diocesan seminarian Max Kroell poses in a cassock; (First Inset) Kroell with supporters during his successful school board campaign; (Second Inset) Kroell and his family.]