The youngest of four, Brother Maximilian Toczylowski ’00 was used to being told what to do. Perhaps that’s why, when God started calling him when he was 14, he listened.
He was in the 5th grade when his older (by 15 years) brother started working out in the gym at Priory. He liked what he saw, and recommended to their parents that they consider transferring their youngest son from Meramec Elementary School in the Clayton School District to Priory. “My parents decided to send me to Priory. They told me I was going to interview, and I wasn’t one to ask why, or even wonder. I just agreed.” Brother Maximilian aced his interview and was admitted to Priory. There was only one problem: Meramec only went through 5th grade and Priory doesn’t start until 7th. The solution was simple: he skipped 6th grade and started right away. He temporarily broke the Toczylowski tradition of going to CBC, where his father and brother graduated, and where cousins graduated in 2000 and 2001.
It was a fairly natural transition for Brother Maximilian, who is curious and likes to try new things. “On the surface, everything was different. People dressed differently, it was all boys, the schedule was a lot different and the day was a lot longer,” he said. “When you’re 12, everything is changing quickly anyway, and you just kind of go with it. I was happy. I enjoyed it.”
He participated in sports every trimester, even senior year when he could have opted out. He ran cross country and track, and played intramural soccer in the winter. Instead of choosing between Greek and stained glass, he kept both on his schedule, working on stained glass on the weekends to avoid having to give it up.
When he was about 16, during the course of his junior year, he started thinking seriously about joining the monastery. Even though he had prayed about his vocation when he was 14, he said it didn’t feel immediate or real. As time went on, his calling grew stronger. He grew close to Father Bede, especially outside the classroom. “I only had him in the classroom once, but he was a constant presence in chaplaincy and retreats throughout my time at Priory,” he said. Brother Maximilian also worked with Father Ralph in the Respect Life club, and “Father Laurence taught me just as much as any teacher at Priory. I had him three years of English.”
Upon graduation from Priory, Brother Maximilian matriculated to Notre Dame. He intended to major in a medieval studies interdisciplinary program, until he realized he liked history and the languages but wasn’t wild about the philosophy and theology. He stuck with the history, and ironically wound up studying philosophy and theology later anyway. After two years, he decided he couldn’t ignore God’s call any longer.
“I felt I was at the point where I had to try my vocation, at that age. It was kind of a juncture. I was growing up and it was something I originally thought I could decide later in life, in my 20s, but when I was 19 I thought, ‘I need to sort this out now, figure this out now.’ Others told me that this was a good time to discern, with the hope that it would work out long term but no expectation that it would. I was accepted to start the novitiate that year.”
Brother Maximilian returned to Notre Dame after four years in the monastery: after his novitiate under the tutelage of Novice Master Father Ralph and three years of temporary profession. (He actually had to come home after just two weeks in order to make his solemn profession.) Back at Notre Dame, he lived in the seminary and finished his senior year, graduating with a B.A. in history and philosophy.
After earning his degree, he returned to the abbey to live, and to work at his alma mater. He taught 7th and 8th grade theology and coached a variety of sports, including cross country, soccer, track, tennis, and Ultimate.
After five years, it was time for Brother Maximilian to return to the classroom as a student, and he went to Blackfriars Studium in Oxford for his theological studies. Oxford is a long way to go to study to be a priest, but Brother Maximilian had thought long and hard about it, and had many reasons. Oxford’s mode of academic assessment is different than in the United States. The work is done independently by writing an essay on a weekly basis. Students then discuss that essay with their tutors. “Instruction by the tutor comes after you’ve already done all the reading and written an essay, which appealed to me more than going through more rounds of term papers and exams.”
Brother Maximilian appreciates Oxford’s perspective of theology, the tradition of looking at theology historically, with an emphasis on the historical development of doctrine. He believes that the course of studies he pursue at Blackfriars balanced the historical and systematic approaches. “The Dominicans, who are most of the teachers, tend to look at things more systematically through the influence of Saint Thomas. So you’re learning in both directions.”
He appreciated living in England and learning the tradition of the English Benedictine Congregation, experiencing that tradition first-hand and making important connections. After his second year, he and Father Cuthbert, and an undergraduate student who had just finished, embarked on a pilgrimage along Saint Cuthbert’s Way. After visiting Ampleforth Abbey, Saint Louis Abbey’s motherhouse, for the ordination of a priest they knew from Oxford, they started walking. From Melrose to Lindesfarne Island, they walked for four or five days. The young men slept at guest houses, pubs, and bed and breakfasts. He explained, “It’s a pastime – a nice tradition and custom – for people in England to go on these walking holidays. There are all these public right of ways you can just walk for miles on. In England, when they say they’re going for a walk they mean a good long walk. We’d call it a hike!”
He spent four years at Oxford, returning home every summer and Christmas, and twice for Easter. His family visited him twice, once in his second year and then again in last summer, when he was ordained to the diaconate. He asked for his ordination to happen in England because he was to serve as a deacon at Oxford’s St. Benet’s Hall, and it allowed, with the Abbot’s permission, for a relative who is a bishop in Ireland to ordain him.
Brother Maximilian came home for good at the end of June this year. He’s now busy teaching two sections of 7th grade theology, sophomore theology, 7th grade geography, and, in the spring, a secion of 8th grade government. He also has a Junior School advisory, and he’ll return to coaching Ultimate in the spring.
As if that wasn’t enough, he’ll be ordained to the priesthood on September 24. “It’s gonna be crazy this fall,” he said with a smile when we talked with him over the summer.
“There’s nothing really I can do at this point to prepare for the ordination. It’s a little bit of a waiting game. I’m just trying to rest and be organized and be ready, both for the school year and for the priesthood. Keep up the good habits and be the kind of person I already am, so when that comes it’ll just be an extra grace.”
His favorite baseball team, the St. Louis Cardinals, could use a little of God’s grace this season. “I like following the St. Louis Cardinals. When I watched the game last night, I thought, ‘This is done, we’re done, I’m done.’ I felt this way in 2011 and then they came back and won, so maybe this is a good sign.” He also likes to exercise, but not when it’s hot outside. His favorite thing, though, is to pop into people’s offices for a conversation. “I like to know what’s going on. I wonder what they’re doing over there,” he said with a smile.
He’s realizing that this return to teaching is far different than when he was last in the classroom at Priory. “I know how difficult it is now. When I was younger and naïve and it was my first year teaching, I could make all the mistakes in the world and not even realize it. I could do it confidently. Being aware of all the pitfalls and challenges makes it more difficult, but I know I’ll just have to get through that these first few weeks.”
He knows that he has a strong community to support him. “This aspect of community is what makes us unique. We have a small community that cares, that listens, and that makes a world of difference.” This community, which reached out to him as a child, continues to reach out to his students. “Everyone your child comes into contact with will immediately recognize that boy as an individual, and each person will come to recognize his or her place in the community. That just can’t happen in a bigger place. The Benedictine and Catholic goals of the school foster the sense of looking after and caring for that person as an individual and listening to that person’s concerns, whether that’s the child or parent or faculty or staff member. Parents and kids who come here are able to see that, and that’s what draws them in.”
We invite you, the members of Brother Maximilian’s beloved community, to his ordination to the priesthood on Saturday, Sept. 27 at 9 a.m. in the Abbey Church. He will celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving at 9 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 28.