Fr. James Kurzynski

About Fr. James Kurzynski

Fr. James Kurzynski is a priest of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin and a hobby astronomer. Originally from the small town of Amherst in rural central Wisconsin, Fr. James completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point, majoring in Applied Music (Saxophone, Voice, and Composition). After graduating from UW-SP, Fr. James worked at the University of Nebraska at Kearney as a Hall Director and pursued a M.S.ed. in Group Counseling. After a year at UNK, Fr. James left his position to attend the University of Saint Mary of the Lake - Mundelein Seminary to discern his priestly vocation.

Fr. James earned a Bachelor in Sacred Theology, a Master of Divinity, and a License in Sacred Theology. While pursuing these degrees, Fr. James also studied Spiritual Theology with the Institute of Priestly Formation at Creighton University and completed the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Fr. James was ordained a priest June 28, 2003. Fr. James’ first assignment was as an Associate at the Tri-Parishes of St. Mary’s - Durand, Holy Rosary Parish - Lima, and Sacred Heart Parish - Mondovi. After two years, Fr. James was assigned as Chaplain and Instructor of Religion at Regis Middle and High School and was also assigned Associate Vocation Director. In his final year at Regis, Fr. James was also appointed Parochial Administrator of Saint Raymond of Penafort Catholic Church, serving south east Eau Claire County. From 2012-2015, Fr. James served as Pastor of Roncalli Newman Parish, serving the college students of Western Technical College and the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse. In 2015, Fr. James was named Pastor of St. Joseph's Parish in Menomonie, Wisconsin, which also serves St. Joseph's Grade School (3K thru 6) and the Newman Center at the University of Wisconsin - Stout. In 2017, in addition to his responsibilities to St. Joseph Parish and StoutCatholic, Fr. James was also named Pastor of St. Luke Parish in Boyceville, Wisconsin. Fr. James also teaches Introduction to Philosophy for the Diocese of La Crosse’s diaconal formation program.

In regard to his interest in astronomy, Fr. James is a member of both the Chippewa Valley Astronomical Society and the La Crosse Area Astronomical Society. He taught an Introduction to Astronomy course during his time at Regis High School in Eau Claire. Fr. James' first involvement with the Vatican Observatory came when an inquiry led to the development of the first "Faith and Astronomy Workshop" (FAW), designed for parish educators and clergy that are not professional scientists.

Environmental Spirituality: What Is The Meeting Point Between Faith and Creation?

A subject that is rather taboo to bring up while discussing different expressions of Christian spirituality is Environmental Spirituality. As a Catholic who came of age in the late 80’s and early 90’s, the phrase Environmental Spirituality was synonymous with New Age spirituality that views the Earth and everything on it as an object of worship. This spiritual view is contrary to Christianity, condemned in 1864 by Pius IX. Considering this, most mainline Christians have an understandable hesitancy toward any talk of a spirituality in which the environment is the focal point. Nevertheless, the reason why certain teachings over history have come to be condemned is in part because there is something in them that touches upon a profound truth that is in need to be protected and clarified. For example, as I write this piece, I am watching a beautiful sunset from one of my favorite coffee houses in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. When beholding the beauty of sky, sun, … Continue reading

Interpretive Frames In Faith And Science: Is Power A Myth?

Truth is power. This simple phrase was often the topic of discussion for many a theology and philosophy class in seminary. Whether it be Nietzsche or Machiavelli, much of our philosophical studies sought to debunk this secular axiom. Any committed Christian, regardless of denomination, would quickly affirm that authentic faith seeks to be detached from power. Nevertheless, the Christian must also be aware of just how deeply the “truth is power” axiom is presumed in our cultural worldview. The parish of which I serve, St. Joseph Parish in Menomonie, Wisconsin, is currently conducting a book study on Jean Vanier’s work, Drawn in the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John. Jean Vanier is a personal hero of mine for his ministry to those who have developmental disabilities. Through this ministry, Jean Vanier has authored many books and reflections on what it means to be community in light of his experience of founding L’Arche, ecumenical religious communities for the developmentally disabled. In … Continue reading

Understanding The Interpretive Frame Of Faith And Science

Last Friday, the Diocese of La Crosse was blessed with an all-day inservice with Br. Guy. The day was primarily meant for our Catholic School teachers, but the gathering of over 150 also included diocesan clergy and interested lay people. While listening to Br. Guy’s presentations, my takeaway was of the importance of understanding the interpretive frame that many bring to questions of faith and science. After understanding and establishing a healthy framework, then an honest dialogue of truth can commence. Many of you may be asking, “What does Fr. James mean by an ‘interpretive frame?'” The late Francis Cardinal George once gave a powerful lecture on interpretive frames. The lecture focused on presentations of the Catholic Church in the media and the frustration many feel when the Church is depicted in a negative light. Cardinal George explained that media bases stories upon an interpretive narrative or frame that gives focus to the story. When an interpretive frame is established, … Continue reading

A Look Back: The God Of Surprises.

For those of you who have followed The Catholic Astronomer from the beginning, you know my journey. For those of you who may be new to our blog, you might be wondering, “Why is a non-scientist, Diocesan priest with very little formal training in astronomy writing for an astronomy blog that includes Vatican Observatory scientists, along with brilliant lay women and men who are professional and amateur astronomers (and artists)?” If you’ve ever wondered this, you’re in good company – I’ve often wondered the same thing. The oft-used baseball analogy to give voice to these feeling is that I often feel like I am “swinging out of my league.” Yet, every time I feel a twinge of unworthiness for the gift I have been given, I take this to prayer and sense God simply saying, “Keep swinging!” The reason for this Monday reminisce is that I felt a twinge of nostalgia when reading about the gravity assist received by OSIRIS-REx last … Continue reading

Kurzynski Country’s Response To The Graney Data.

I was delighted when fellow blogger, Chris Graney, floated the idea of the two of us doing a “blog and response” for The Catholic Astronomer. Given our common interest in matters of ecology and care for creation, this challenge seemed to be a perfect fit. When reading Chris’s piece about the climate history of Prairie du Chien over the past 115 years, my first thought was of the fittingness of Chris’s choice of cities. Prairie du Chien is the city where the first parish in our diocese was established with a ministerial pre-history that goes back to the early Jesuit missionaries, Marquette and Joliet, in 1673. My second thought took me back to my grade school science days, recalling the confident prediction from one of my teachers that, by the time I was in my 40’s, Wisconsin’s winters would be like Florida’s winters because of global warming. A few years ago, while shoveling the sidewalk at Roncalli Newman Parish on a … Continue reading

The Self-Gift Of Creation: An Insight Into The Cosmology Of Saint John Paul II

One of my favorite parts of going to local bookstores is stumbling upon an unforeseen literary gem. This past week, I had one of those moments as I found a new book that is a collection of retreat notes from Saint John Paul II titled, In God’s Hands: The Spiritual Diaries of Pope Saint John Paul II. As I paged through the collection of retreat notes, my first thought was, “This will be perfect for someone who wants to understand Saint John Paul II, but has no background in theology!” Unlike Saint John Paul II’s official writings that are heavily influenced by the philosophy of phenomenology and presented in the mystical tone of Saint John of the Cross, these journals contain simpler language that, at times, feels like you are given a glimpse into how Saint John Paul II first worked through his basic ideas in prayer before refining them to be included in his professional writings. My second thought … Continue reading

Why Do We Have A Day Of Prayer For Creation?

On September 1st, Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew issued a joint statement inviting all people of good will to pray for creation. The statement was brief and reiterated major themes that both leaders have emphasized in the past. At my assignment of St. Joseph Parish and School, we commemorated the day by taking a moment of prayer for creation and for the victims of Hurricane Harvey during our school Mass. Our commemoration was simple and brief, but provided an opportunity for all of us to be reminded of our call and responsibility to care for creation. Below is the audio from Vatican Radio that provides a brief summary of the joint statement and reaffirms that this celebration is now normative for both Eastern and Western Christians. For some, the need to care for creation is self-evident. In Sudan and South Sudan, the impact of climate change is rapidly transforming a once vibrant ecology into a land in crisis. When reading … Continue reading

A Plea For Help: A Call To Solidarity With Hurricane And Flood Victims Globally.

These past two weeks, we in the United States have witnessed the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. With images of Texas that are reminiscent of the “100 Year Storm” called Hurricane Katrina from 2005, the devastation provokes two thoughts: Are 100 year storms now going be 12 year storms and how can we help the people of Texas? Outside of the United States, devastating floods are ravaging other parts of the world. In Bangladesh, the death toll is over 130 with millions of people being displaced. In Nepal, the death toll is over 140, while extreme flooding in different regions of India have caused over 500 deaths. In Sierra Leone, the presumed death toll due to floods will be more than 1,000 people. This Friday, Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew will be making a joint statement on the need to care for creation. In light of this, I will save my thoughts on our current ecological crisis for Monday. Today, let us pray for the victims of … Continue reading

Experiencing God In Totality: Reflections On How The Solar Eclipse Stirred Religious Experience.

The other day, I called a good friend of mine with some “priest business.” The call had nothing to do with astronomy or the eclipse, but the first words out of Brian’s mouth were, “James! I was in totality!!” The statement surprised me on two levels. One, I didn’t know he was going on a road trip, and, two, he really isn’t into astronomy. It turns out that Brian had a “happy accident,” to quote Bob Ross, having planned a trip to Lincoln, Nebraska earlier this year to visit some of his classmates from seminary. When he began to get things ready to leave on his trip, it dawned on him that the dates of his visit coincided with the solar eclipse. When I asked Brian what he thought of the eclipse, I was equally surprised at his response, telling me that it was, for him, a religious experience. Now, some of you may wonder why it would be out … Continue reading

From Eclipse Hangover to Eclipse Bliss! Enjoying The Saint Joseph Parish Eclipse Party.

I must admit that I was feeling a little “eclipse hangover” this morning. After interviews, questions, and more questions, my morning walk was dominated by two thoughts: I hope these clouds break and I really wouldn’t mind if nobody asked me about eclipses today! In the end, God provided both beautiful weather and a rejuvenated spirit as many of my parishioners came out for our solar eclipse party! Below are some of the pics I took of our event. My favorite pictures are of the shadows on the sidewalk. I love how one of the effects of a solar eclipse is seeing the event projected on the ground through the shadows of leaves. I’ll let one of our more scientific types explain the science behind it. In the best homemade viewing device category, I would have to say we had a tie between a shoe box turned into an eclipse projector and someone who watched the event through seven holes on her Ritz Cracker. … Continue reading

Rediscovering The Vibrant Contrast Of Creation In A Monochrome Society (Part Two)

Do you see yourself as a liturgy? Do you see yourself as a sacred text? Do you see yourself as a cosmos of wonder and awe? Though I would not blame any of you for wondering what trendy, self-help guru I have been reading to get such flowery questions from, the source of these ideas is the seventh century spiritual master Maximus the Confessor. Last week, we explored Maximus’ vision of the Church as a community of vibrant contrast, seeing a necessary diversity in the Church in contrast to a monochromatic view of the Church that is narrow in spectrum, focusing only upon its structural elements. This week, we will explore how this vision of a vibrant contrast extends not only to the Church, but how we view ourselves as people. We will discover a vision of the person that is not reduced to a monochromatic understanding of flesh and bone, but a textured spirituality of depth, mystery, and beauty. Key to this exploration … Continue reading

Rediscovering The Vibrant Contrast Of Creation In A Monochrome Society (Part One)

One of the core paradoxes of being a hobby astronomer is that in order to see the light of stars, planets, moons, and the many wondrous objects of the heavens, we must have a dark night. If the darkness is hindered by light pollution, the sky ceases to be a wondrous tapestry of distant worlds and galaxies. At worst, the right amount of light pollution can turn the sky into a type of murky annoyance, offering no reason for the passerby to stop and gaze upon the heavens. To enjoy the vibrancy of the sky, one needs clear contrast. This thought came to me as I was revisiting one of the classics of spiritual literature, The Church’s Mystagogy by Saint Maximus the Confessor. I pulled this classic penned by the seventh-century spiritual master from my shelf to help prep for my Confirmation class this year. The term “Mystagogy” is a technical term for the process of growing in faith after … Continue reading