While seminary rector Father Scott Traynor has described every man studying for the priesthood as a “mini miracle,” it may be particularly true of Peter Srsich. A little more than three years ago, Srsich, 20, began a fight for his life when he was diagnosed with cancer. Today he reports that he is healthy, happy and in his first year of priestly formation.
“If Peter had his way, he would have entered seminary earlier, but God had a different plan,” Archbishop Samuel Aquila wrote in a recent column.
When finishing his junior year at Mullen High School in May 2011, Srsich didn’t think much of it when he developed a cough. However, when the 6’-6” honor student, lacrosse player, Eagle Scout and Taekwondo black belt began to struggle with exhaustion and “trouble with day-to-day things,” he went for an X-ray. The X-ray revealed a softball-sized tumor in his chest—he had diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, a type of blood cancer.
Because the cancer was so aggressive, it was also treated aggressively, with seven rounds of chemo and 20 days of radiation. From July through November 2011, he spent 65 nights in Children’s Hospital in Aurora. He suffered pain so intense, he sank into depression.
Fast forward to today: a smile rarely left his face as he spent time with classmates on the campus of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary Dec. 3.
“My scans have remained clear and we’re two years out now, which is what they had given us as our timeframe we needed to hit,” Srsich told the Denver Catholic Register. “If (the cancer) was going to come back, doctors said it would come back within two years.”
Though he will continue with scans every six months, he is feeling 100 percent, he said, and doctors are “confident it’s not going to be problem in the future.”
When he was struggling physically, there were also moments when he struggled spiritually. During one of his hospital stays, when a friend from Mullen brought him the Eucharist, he was feeling particularly low and had lost interest in his faith.
“I just didn’t even want to see him right there, especially with the Eucharist,” Srsich recalled.
But when he offered the host and said “Body of Christ,” everything changed.
“Jesus came up to me,” Srsich said. “And he didn’t say everything’s going to be OK, he said he’s going to be with me.”
That moment of comfort and conversion, as well as the overall experience and suffering of dealing with cancer, have played a huge role in his spirituality, he said.
“It’s becoming more clear to me where Jesus was,” he said. “And how he can work through suffering.”
“We’re told (by society) suffering needs to be eradicated at all costs, but suffering brought us our redemption,” Srsich continued. “Suffering has a purpose.”
It’s a message he feels called to share, and “God willing,” if he’s ordained one day, it will influence his priesthood.
“Since we do all suffer,” he said, “it’s something people need to hear.”
Srsich described his first four months at St. John Vianney as “incredible.”
“I really love it,” he said. “Cutting distractions (through technology fasts), spending time in prayer and meditation, and living in community. It’s an incredible time to grow closer to Christ, and really helpful for me in understanding my own suffering in the light of Christ.”
Srsich asked for prayer for himself as well as his fellow first-year seminarians.
”It’s a long road,” he added.