I am the fifth of ten children born to Andrew and
Edith Stang, St. Nicholas, MN, dairy farmers near St. Nicholas, MN. I
have always had a difficult time in school, perhaps because in the third
grade I was put back into the first grade for reading. From thence I
really never could comprehend reading material throughout my many years
I loved farming and was totally at ease on the farm
with my father. When I graduated in 1976 from Kimball High School, I
went to study Soil Management and Fertilizer Technology at Camby Area Vocational School in
Minnesota. Then, while I was still a teenager I managed a fertilizer plant near
my home town of Cold Springs, MN. However, my career as a fertilizer plant
manager was short because opportunity knocked when my dad asked me to take over
the family dairy farm.
I farmed with my dad for five years, trying to ignore the
tiny tugs on my heart to an impossible call: the call to the priesthood of Jesus
Christ. I felt certain that God would not really call me: shy, scared of crowds,
too stupid for higher education. I despised any kind of books. Besides, I loved
to farm, and my dad and I made a great team. I wanted to be like dad: get
married and farm and raise a family.
Eventually, after five years of farming and the continuous
tugs at my heartstrings to become a priest, I decided to give the seminary a try
for six months, so I could get it out of my system. Of course, I couldn’t keep
up with my studies and that would end my supposed vocation. Then I could farm
with a good conscience.
I began the four years of college in the winter/spring
semester of 1983, Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary-College, Winona, MN. Classes
were difficult. I remember, several times, walking back from the college to the
seminary, recalling how pleasant life was on the farm, and how difficult and
unappealing were the studies. I begged God to give me a sign that I was not
called to the priesthood. Right about the same time a priest told me how, all
during seminary, he spent an hour a day before the tabernacle, praying. I
decided to do the same, even though I needed all the time for my studies. It was
difficult. Worse, I couldn’t pray. Most of my prayer-time was desolate and
lonesome, with no experience of Jesus’ presence. Often my prayer would be,
simply, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” No bright lights; no answer from
God. All I heard was silence; even so, the next day I returned and did the same.
Throughout the seminary I suffered much desolation. But I
trusted the wisdom of my spiritual directors and the staff at the seminary. I
believed that God does speak through others, especially those who are wise, and
who have already traveled the same road.
My six-month plan to try out the seminary turned to a year,
and then another, and another…The decision was tough, but I sold my half of the
farm back to my dad, and stayed in the struggle.
I completed my undergraduate degree at Immaculate Heart of
Mary Seminary-College in Winona. Then I moved on to
Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in
Emmitsburg, Maryland for the graduate studies required for ordination. The first
year was academically stressful. During the second year I was intellectually so
burned out that I suffered a psychological mind block. I simply could not keep
After two weeks of frustration, I decided to leave the
seminary. Early on a Saturday morning, I was packed and ready to go when I
decided to attend early morning Mass. It was no special Mass, and I was
distracted by thoughts of the first hours of my return home; particularly, I
wanted to visit my brother Mike in New Hampshire. But when I went up for
Communion, as soon as Jesus was placed on my tongue, my legs went out from under
me. They felt like rubber. I stumbled back to my pew, and then saw a vision of
myself vested, offering the holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I cried and asked God:
“What does this mean?” After three hours of intense prayer, I went back to my
room and unpacked my bags, and started my homework once again.
Throughout the seminary my prayer had been: “God, show me
your will. Help me to know your will, and do your will.” That prayer held little
consolation. But I had trusted the wisdom of the seminary staff. I believe God
speaks through others who have developed wisdom by having plodded down the same
One fact I did notice. In my misery, God spoke to me. I
have always struggled with my pride, always wanted to be “the best” at whatever.
Now I discovered this pride obstructed God’s voice in me. I learned this first
from Bishop Dudley of Sioux Falls, SD. He asked us, “Are you weak enough to be a
priest?” I realized that my pride blocked God’s response to my prayer for
guidance. Finally, I grasped an insight foreign to the kind of person I am: When
I am the most poor, the most vulnerable, the weakest – then God speaks to
My prayer became one of humility. I realized that a priest
had to empty himself to become another Christ. I understood that I had to ditch
my pride, creating the opening for God to speak to and for me.
And yet, I fought the same old battle: I wanted to leave
for home, the farm, raising a family. I know God wants us to be at peace when we
make a life-commitment. This time, God left the decision totally up to me. He
would accompany me either way. The old thoughts kept racing through my mind: you
are not smart enough, not good enough for ordination. Such thoughts, eventually
I realized, did not come from God, so as soon as I recognized them I said, “Be
gone, Satan!” I discovered that commitment to God carries peace.
That February we made our annual retreat. Late one night, I
went into the chapel, knelt before the tabernacle, and gave my whole life to
God: my sexuality, my talents, my everything. Then I prayed that my heart might
be united to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. As I prayed with closed eyes, I got a
vision of a man in a dark abyss: “You can’t ask that; you are not worthy; you
have committed too many sins. “Satan,” I cried out, “Be gone!” Instantly the
darkness was gone and a bright, warm feeling came over me and a Voice that said,
“Do you realize what you are asking?” Somebody else then walked into the chapel.
I moved, still shaking with what was said, and moved to the icon of Mary. I
asked her to take my hand and lead me through whatever God might have planned
Only two weeks later, I found an abnormal lump in my
abdomen. I went to the Mayo Clinic, Rochester. Several doctors studied the lump
and diagnosed malignant lymphoma cancer. During Holy Week the surgeon operated.
On April 26 I started chemotherapy. This treatment usually made me very sick for
about a week.
On June 24 I was ordained a deacon. Then on June 25 the
doctors put me through a CAT scan. It revealed three additional tumors – they
had developed while I was undergoing chemo. The doctors at Mayo said I had
little hope of survival; maybe I had one year left.
The doctors recommended intensive treatment, including bone
marrow transplants and long hospitalization. I needed time to think and find God
in all this.
Next day, before the Blessed Sacrament, I asked God, “What
more do you want? I gave you my all.” God filled the place with his presence,
and I saw Jesus, hands outreached, saying, “Just trust me. I’ll be with you. I
will not let you go.”
The next day the Bishop offered to ordain me one year ahead
of time so that I could reach the priesthood before undergoing the long and
difficult treatment proposed.
At times, I felt abandoned by God, left in total darkness.
However, way off in the distance, I could see a small beacon of light. I believe
that light was Jesus and I had to keep my eyes focused on Him. I felt sad and
scared to leave my family and friends at such a young age.
I saw this cancer as a gift. It gave me the gift of
weakness, and in my weakness I could empty myself, and Jesus could fill me with
Himself. Then it wasn’t Mark Stang being a priest, but Jesus being the Priest in
I asked the doctor to hold the treatment for three months
so that I could prepare for ordination. He refused, saying that my tumors were
growing too fast for long delays. Reluctantly they gave me six weeks, and set up
another CAT scan for August 28th.
I was ordained to the priesthood on August 25th at St. Mary’s
Cathedral in St. Cloud. I celebrated my First Mass at my home parish in St.
Nicholas Church, St. Nicholas, MN. Then I celebrated a private Mass for the
immediate members of my family, and immediately afterwards headed out to the
Mayo Clinic. After a full day of tests, the doctors discovered that the tumors
had disappeared! The doctors could give no explanation. There was a small
plum-sized area the doctors were concerned about. They recommended more
treatment, but I asked that they wait until October. In October, the CAT scan
revealed that the mass had not developed further, but as a precaution, they gave
me chemo for that mass. After two months, they did another CAT scan and found it
the same size. They concluded that they were really treating scar tissue. The
first tumor had been so large it had left a large scar.
So now, I am in total clinical remission of cancer. Will it
come back? Only God knows.
God tries us in various ways -- for me, cancer and reading
problems; for another, alcoholism; for another, life with a handicap, and so on.
I wonder why people treat those who suffer as one who is less of a person when,
in fact, they are more of a person in the eyes of God, particularly if they can
allow God to enter into their pain.
Now I pray with many persons who suffer from all types of
illness and loneliness. Some of these are bitter at God’s will; others abandon
their lives into God’s hands. These latter minister to me. It is my experience
that the many times I struggled with pride, trying to take life into my own
hands, I was like a ball of clay – dry, hard, and crumbling. But when I suffered
the most; when I experienced the depth of my weakness, then my clay became soft
and malleable. Then God could shape and form me into His beautiful instrument
stamped with His own image.
When we are most weak, then God makes us strong.