Faith Beyond Words

I used to think that my stutter would limit me, but now I see that it is all a matter of perspective and choosing not to worry.

I was born in Los Angeles, California in February of 1981, the oldest of three boys. Growing up, I loved playing video games on the computer, especially with Dad. We went to computer shows together, walking side by side as we navigated through vendors and learned about exciting new products. I felt at ease with my dad, and likewise, my entire family. Our home was happy, and my parents were supportive. Being Catholic, Mom and Dad were very encouraging of me in my faith. Mostly this was just in little ways, such as praying before meals. Though small, I am so grateful to have learned about God’s love for me so early in my journey, especially because I would have difficulty believing in myself later in life.

I attended a Catholic school in an LA suburb where I discovered that I had a stuttering problem. I had gone to speech therapy before for a lisp, but by sixth grade, communicating became more difficult. Words felt heavy, and my tongue wasn’t strong enough to push them out, so I tried to limit the more difficult pronunciations. However, there would always be certain words that I could not avoid. For instance, my last name “Yevchak.” I always dreaded introductions, especially in group settings where I needed to get up in front of everyone. The general feeling from the onlookers was intimidating. I assumed each person subconsciously finished my sentences for me. My parents signed me up for speech therapy and it was a huge help, giving me ways of coping. I don’t remember any bullying or trauma during my school years, but my stutter still affected my self-confidence.

In 1995, my parents chose an all-boys, Catholic high school for me. By this point, my speech had greatly improved, but many of my problems never completely went away. Still, after I graduated high school, I applied and was accepted into the University of California San Diego for Electrical Engineering.

The closest Catholic church was a 25-minute walk from where I lived, and on top of that, they had introduction time before Mass. I imagined myself standing up, repeating “Yev-Yev-Yev…” while the people around me impatiently tapped their feet. I was so anxious about making others wait that I struggled to go to one of the few places that otherwise brought me peace.

However, I kept studying my faith, especially since my roommate quizzed me regularly on theology. He attended an Assembly of God Church and disagreed with the Catholic Church on many things. To equip myself for our conversations, I poured over the Bible, and read works by prominent Apologists. I never convinced my roommate of anything, but maybe that wasn’t the ultimate purpose. I do know that this period of study made me want to attend Mass more regularly, making me hungrier to learn more.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

In my sophomore year of college, I found a church community at the Newman Center at UCSD and through them, my Catholic faith grew by leaps and bounds. I began attending morning Mass, even on weekdays, and began praying regularly at home. God became someone I could relate to and wanted to have a relationship with. I graduated in 2003 and was accepted into the Master’s program at Santa Clara University in fall the same year. I began attending a new church in Santa Clara in 2004 and found a dynamic group of Catholics who were on fire for their faith. They were willing to wait to hear what I had to say, giving me confidence to explore the voice I had in the church.

By the grace of God, I landed a full-time job in software design while I was completing my degree. Everything was going well until we got a new CEO. Since our company was small, he initiated monthly staff meetings where we would take turns sharing our life story. As you might imagine, simple interactions with coworkers made me panic, let alone this task. I would feel my heart beat faster and I would begin sweating, feeling my anxiety level rising. Unable to leave my work cubicle without experiencing these symptoms, I decided it was time to consult with a doctor. I had developed a social anxiety disorder and was given the proper medication. Finally, I felt like I was able to breathe. With this coping mechanism, I felt ready to go back to speech therapy to review the tools that had helped me before.

For a long time, I was happily single, open to marriage but not pursuing any relationships. But as time passed, and I progressed in my faith, I became interested in the priesthood. I began researching online, ultimately drawn to the prayer life and orthodoxy of a religious order. Still, I wasn’t ready to make a decision. I worried about my past speech issues. How would I be able to speak to a whole church of people and not stutter? I didn’t think that was possible, so I put the idea in the back of my mind.

When one of my friends from my church group asked me, “Do you ever think about becoming a priest?” I told her I had ruled it out because of my speech fluency disorder. “That’s not a very good reason,” she said. I wanted to believe her, but I hadn’t let God into my life enough to believe it was possible.

Image courtesy of Pexels

In September of 2006, I took a giant leap of faith and went on a Catholic retreat where we spent some quality time in meditation that weekend, away from work and day-to-day stresses. In my quiet moments, I realized that God was calling me to be a priest. I can’t explain how; I just felt it in my soul. A month after the retreat, I sold my car, gave my two weeks’ notice at work, and began making plans to enter seminary. I’m sure many people thought I had lost control of my life, completely giving in to a risky journey — and they were right. I didn’t know where God was taking me, I just knew he was calling me to serve elsewhere.

Once I had entered seminary in Washington DC, my life had taken on a new meaning and my speech problems had decreased immensely. Although my anxiety was always present, it was only noticeable to me. I was officially ordained in 2014.

In August of that year, I was sent to Mankato, Minnesota to become the priest of a local church. Mankato was situated in rural Minnesota, much quieter than San Diego and Washington D.C. This new town and new group of people caused apprehension. Not only was I going to be a stranger, but I would have to adjust to slower lifestyle of Mankato and I would have to go through all the “firsts” again of my speech fluency disorder. What I’ve learned since being in the new parish is that I really thrive in the quietness of the town, and that these parishioners have put me at ease time and time again. Together, we have learned to laugh when I mess up, and take it in a stride. I’ve learned to be less sensitive about what others think of me, and not worry so much about the unknown. I believe that God’s opinion of me is all that matters, and his plan for me is perfect.

Me celebrating Mass at my parish in Mankato, 2014.

I am grateful to be a priest and serve God’s people at this time in history, when so many are hurting. If God can use me with my speech fluency disorder, he can use anybody. I tell people to try not to let their perceived failures and struggles overtake them. No matter what has happened or what suffering has been present in your life, I encourage you to let God have the final say in your life. He can use everything for your good.

This is the story of Father Richard Yevchak

Father Richard is currently the parish priest in Mankato, Minnesota. Richard grew up with a speech issue that followed him into adulthood. He wasn’t sure if he would ever be able to become a priest with his stuttering, but he learned that anything is possible if you have a strong faith. He is happy to be a priest and help others on their journeys to finding God. When asked what he likes to do in his free time, Father Richard usually chuckles and explains that he doesn’t have a whole lot of free time. When he isn’t visiting the sick, saying Mass or teaching at the seminary, he enjoys listening to Gregorian chant and taking extra time to pray, especially in adoration. His favorite duty as a priest is celebrating Mass for the parishioners. His favorite food is lasagna, and he still enjoys playing video games with his brothers when he visits his family in California.

Father Richard has recently been asked to return to Washington DC to teach at the major seminary. He believes that this appointment has come during the most challenging of times in the Catholic Church while all the molestation scandals have come to the surface among certain priests. However, Father Richard also believes that this timing is perfect. During this time of deep hurt and reproach, he wishes to create an example of responsibility and safety, and to mentor others to follow a good path.

| Writer: Mary Flanagan | Editors: Kristen Petronio; Colleen Walker |

Life Log #160

This story first touched our hearts on July 10, 2018.

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