Like many college students, the Rev. Dan Vanyo stopped going to church as a young adult navigating life out on his own.
But despite falling away from his faith for a decade, Vanyo not only found his way back to his Catholic roots, but just last year, was even ordained into the priesthood.
Now, the 44-year-old Vanyo is preparing to take on a new role helping college students build their faith during that challenging period in life where he nearly lost his own.
Vanyo, a priest at Mesa’s Queen of Peace parish and former chaplain at Seton Catholic Preparatory High School in Chandler, has been appointed the chaplain of Arizona’s first Catholic college — Benedictine University at Mesa.
In his new role, Vanyo will lead the spiritual direction of the campus, which is a branch of Benedictine University located near Chicago in Lisle, Ill. The college’s first classes begin in September in downtown Mesa at 225 E. Main St.
“I’m looking forward to this historic moment,” Vanyo said. “I will be here as a priest to nurture spiritual needs and to provide guidance to Catholics and non-Catholics.”
Vanyo, known as “Father Dan,” is a fit energetic man with a warm smile. His conversation style is dotted with serious moments of quiet reflective thought when he the topic of discussion is the church or God. But when the conversation turns to other things — like his interest in strategy games or his fondness for traveling – the high-spirited priest often breaks out in moments of booming, genuine laughter.
“He is very serious about the priesthood, but he is a fun priest,” said Ramona Quihuiz, Queen of Peace liturgy coordinator and lifelong parishioner. “He has grown a lot in his first year as a priest.”
Prior to attending seminary, Vanyo was much like many other Valley residents. He grew up in Woodland Hills, Calif., and attended the University of Arizona, where he majored in Business Administration and Nursing.
Although Vanyo grew up in a Catholic family and attended Catholic school through 12th grade, he grew distant from his faith during college and stopped attending church, aside from a couple times per year. But in 1997, something changed in Vanyo. He made a 10-year confession and began a spiritual journey that ultimately led to where he is today.
“Some people lose everything before they find this,” Vanyo said, “but I was pretty established before I got the call.”
Vanyo was a 32-year old registered nurse who worked for what is now Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center and also for Hospice of the Valley. He owned a home in east Mesa and volunteered with Catholic Retreat for Young Singles and the Cursillo Movement, both through the Diocese of Phoenix.
It was during that time, that he started to think more seriously about his life.
“I was inspired by a friend who was discerning the priesthood and I realized that I had never bothered to ask God what to do with my life,” Vanyo said. “Even when I then went to the seminary, I was only 50/50 about it.”
In his last semester of seminary, Vanyo said that it became “really clear” he would become a priest. He credits the Holy Spirit with his sudden confidence in his decision.
“There’s different ways people ask God, ‘What do you want me to do?’” Vanyo said. “I asked a number of times, ‘Do you want me to go?’ and I never got a ‘Yes,’ so I stayed.
His decision was further validated when he was ordained by Diocese of Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted on June 2, 2012.
In his first year as a priest, Vanyo has learned a lot about the priesthood and has enjoyed his time at Queen of Peace as well as his time as chaplain at Seton Catholic Preparatory High School.
Rob Curtis, campus minister and theology teacher at the high school, said the students were disappointed that Vanyo would no longer be with them, because they liked him and were just getting to know him.
“He is a very faithful priest with a deep love for the church and the sacraments and bringing those to the young people,” Curtis said. “We will definitely miss him this year, but hopefully he can still come by and celebrate a mass or two at the school.”
Curtis said he enjoyed seeing Vanyo grow as a priest in his first year and that the new priest was always approachable and available.
“They prepare a lot in the seminary, but it’s not real until you get ordained and go into the real world,” Curtis said.
The Rev. Thomas Bennet, a priest at Queen of Peace, also commended Vanyo on his first year.
“He has shown great dedication both in service to God and to the people, and as a man who truly understands the needs of his times and is dedicated to service with all of his heart,” Bennet said.
Vanyo said he will miss the students at the high school, but is also looking forward to his new role in continuing to work with young adults.
“It’s so prevalent for kids going to the first year of university to stop going to church,” Vanyo said. “I have confidence that the Lord is going to work through me to help them stay connected to the Catholic faith and to be available to any non-Catholics so that they can become more open to Christ, as they are receptive.”
He added after a moment of reflection, “I don’t have a quota for converts. I just want to be available so that the Lord may work through me.”