Simply put, Holy Cross Father Dan Ponisciak is a Phoenix transplant with firm Philadelphia roots.
Tracing those roots to the surface means navigating over a decade of Holy Cross life — as priest, seminarian and lay volunteer — four years of elementary school counseling and childhood life as the middle brother of Catholic educator parents, neither of whom he officially had as teachers. The result is a humble priest ready to continue the daily feeding, sheltering, conversing with and otherwise assisting the hundreds of guests André House volunteers and core staff encounter next to Phoenix’s Human Services Campus.
Fr. Ponisciak, who goes by Fr. Dan, officially took over as executive director of André House July 1. He succeeds Fr. Tom Doyle, CSC, who led André House through five years of regular service amid structural improvements such as additional restrooms, showers and a staff/volunteer chapel. Fr. Doyle will remain at André House through December to focus on development of a low barrier shelter.
“The work of André House is a constant. It very much runs itself — the day-to-day stuff,” Fr. Ponisciak said.
Maintaining a solid volunteer base is crucial. While André House has that — 500 meals a night do
esn’t make and serve tsel — Fr. Ponisciak hopes to diversify volunteer age groups by intentionally reaching out to young adults. He has already given a “Flights of Faith” talk at a local bar and invited to check out volunteer opportunities on weeknights or weekends.
Volunteer for nightly meal service or weekend clothes sorting
Organize a drive, particularly for men’s clothing or belts
Keep in prayer Br. Joe DeAgostino, CSC, newly appointed André House pastoral associate, as he prepares for final vows Aug. 31
Those invitations don’t just potentially beef up the volunteer pool. They help his six-member core staff who come from across the country to dedicate a year of service and also came on board in July to branch out and meet fellow Catholics. As someone who spent a year of service through the Holy Cross lay volunteer program, Fr. Ponisciak knows the easy trap of socializing only with your service team.
“My hope for them is that at the end of this year, they will have hearts for ministry,” he said.
Two of last year’s core team are continuing in service. One is in Boston with Healthcare for the Homeless and another in the city of Magdala.
Fr. Ponisciak’s heart for service was nurtured all along through home and parish life, leadership roles in Catholic Campus Ministry while in college and in particular, his year of service. He emerged resolved to a vocation that helps people. He did in the form of elementary school counseling — something he has a master’s in — and youth ministry in Virginia.
“I really discovered a vocation through the relationship with other adult volunteers,” Fr. Ponisciak said. He reconnected with a priest he knew in college who offered objective guidance. After a couple of Moreau Seminary visits and an accepted application, the aspiring priest turned down the offer.
“Whos to say God didn’t want me to go another way,” he thought, particularly after he realized he had a good job with a supportive administration. Some friends didn’t want him to give up the possibility of parenthood either.
Later that year, Fr. Ponisciak said “God came back with a vengeance and made it very clear I needed to think about the priesthood again.” A couple of months later, his mom said, “You know, your father and I thought you would make a great Holy Cross priest.”
The heavens thought so too as Fr. Ponisciak was ordained to the order on what would have been the 103 birthday of his confirmation sponsor, a woman he also called “Grandma
Attend Mass in the André House parking lot and you might catch a glimpse of the chalice of Fr. Cyril Ponisciak, one of two great uncles who also happened to be priests. Fr. Cyril’s last parish refinished it for his great nephew as a gift.
André House is Fr. Ponisciak’s third priestly assignment with his first alongside now Bishop Bill Wack, CSC when he headed an Austin parish. That parish became the first of his foray into launching Theology on Tap and other young adult ministries. He enjoys helping others grow in their relationship with Jesus and said the joy of the Gospel is sharing Christ’s love with all you encounter.
“And that’s what I aim to do at André House,” Fr. Ponisciak said. “The beauty of what we do is we listen. We exercise our ministry of presence. We sit and talk to people and have conversations and treat people as people.”
Outside of André House stuff, expect to see Fr. Ponisciak at young adult events, on a bicycle — once the weather cools — and in the stands any time a Philadelphia sports team plays in the Valley.