A diverse mix of 35 new apostles of Christ were ordained to the priesthood in California this year, entering ministry to the state’s Catholics.
The newly-ordained priests include men who heard Christ’s call early in their adult lives, but also men who travelled other paths into middle age before hearing the call. Among them are men who had been surfers, financial managers, space researchers, teachers and musicians, to name a few of those who had previous occupations.
Some are native Californians; others were born in other states. Many were born in Mexico.
The largest ordination took place in Los Angeles where Archbishop Jose H. Gomez ordained nine men for the archdiocese. The diversity of the City of Angels is reflected in the men who became Catholic priests there in 2018.
“Our St. John’s Seminary is full with good men and so is our Queen of Angels Center for Priestly Formation,” Gomez said at the ordination. “Every day we are meeting even more who are searching for their path, praying and trying to discern God’s calling in their lives.
“All around I see signs of a new openness to God and to the values that make for human transcendence. There is a new resistance to the ‘false ceiling’ imposed by a society that seeks to close itself off from God. People seem no longer willing to settle for the substitutes and idols, ‘the more of the same’ being offered by a consumer way of life,” Gomez emphasized.
“The priests of this new millennium are a part of this new movement toward God and an authentic humanity.
The new priests in Los Angeles certainly have a wide range of experiences, including finance, education, space research--and surfing!
The oldest new priest in Los Angeles is Fr. Danilo Guinto, 57. His discernment began when he volunteered to feed the homeless with the Missionaries of Charity and eventually to the seminary.
Fr. Guinto simply thanks “the God of Surprises” for calling him to the priesthood.
“Pope Francis told us that ‘mercy is real; it is the first attribute of God,’ ” Fr. Guinto observes. “As a priest, I look forward in making mercy real, palpable and present in the lives of the people.”
Some 26 years his junior is LA’s youngest new priest, Fr. Thomas Roide II, 31. As a student at UC Riverside he joined a generic Christian group on campus.
That left him feeling the “odd Catholic out,” and led him to look deeper into his own Catholic faith. The La Crescenta native says “Inevitably this strengthened my faith, my relationship with Christ and the Church, whose beauty is pure mystery, a contemplation and encounter with God.”
Fr. William Matthew Wheeler takes on his new role with realism and confidence. “There is so much work to do, but not enough time!
“But through our faithfulness to the gospel, I have a sense that God will multiply our time in miraculous ways.”
Yet another Los Angeles priest might be stereotyped as the classic Southern Californian. Fr. William Ian Vincent Hagan, 51, became a Catholic 18 years ago. He was headed to the airport, when he heard God “whisper” to him to go into a nearby church. That quiet call from God ultimately led him to the seminary.
Fr. Hagan fits many of the slots of the SoCal profile--organic vegetable grower, vegan cooking, motorcycles, and--of course--surfing.
In Los Angeles the other men ordained are: Fr. Pedro Saucedo Jr., Fr. John O’Brien, Fr. Spencer Lewerenz, Fr. Gilbert Guzman, and Fr. Egren Gomez.
Beyond the nine ordained in Los Angeles, five dioceses each ordained three men this year: Monterey, Oakland, Sacramento, San Diego and San Jose. Two more were ordained in the Orange diocese.
In three religious orders prominent in California--the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), the Order of Preachers (Dominicans), and the Norbertines--a total of nine more were ordained in the state.
Four new Jesuits were ordained at the parish church in San Ysidro, within sight of the Mexican border. The location was selected to underscore the Church’s powerful concern for people in need.
Four Dominicans were ordained in San Francisco--by a fellow Dominican who himself had just been ordained the city’s auxiliary bishop.
In Oakland, Bishop Michael Barber ordained three men: Fr. Arturo Bazan, Fr. Jimmy Macalinao, and Fr. Mario Rizzo.
Bishop Barber reminded the new priests “the priesthood is not something, it is someONE--Christ!”
The bishop emphasized that they were joining “the ministry of Presence. Ninety percent of successful ministry in the Catholic Church is just showing up, being there.”
When Fr. Rizzo was born his mother was Jewish, his father just nominally Catholic. Growing up in St. Monica parish in suburban Moraga it was his mother, by then a Catholic, whose support was key in encouraging him as he began discernment.
Fr. Rizzo likens his mother’s role to the model St. Monica set, praying for decades for her son, St. Augustine.
“My mother encouraged me. Yet she had no idea it would lead to this!” Fr. Mario muses. “And then my parents became my biggest supporters.”
In San Jose, Fr. Edgar Elamparo, Fr. Francis Kalaw and Fr. Eric Piczon were ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Patrick J. McGrath.
The new priests immediately plunged into parish work.
Fr. Elamparo appeals to parents if their child is curious about the priesthood. “If they have a question, please talk to a priest. The number one obstacle for vocations are parents. I encourage everyone to have an open heart and an open mind and support their child.”
Fr. Piczon will be leading the Hispanic community at Saint Leo parish. “It is about how can I make a difference?” he says.
In San Diego, Bishop Robert W. McElroy ordained three new priests for the diocese: Fr. Oscar Lopez, Fr. Antonio Morales and Fr.Eric Tamayo.
In Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto ordained Fr. Jesus Hernandez, Fr. Rene Jauregui and Fr. German Ramos in the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.
All were born in Mexico and began their priestly studies there. Frs. Hernandez and Jauregui completed studies at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park while Fr. Ramos finished his studies at Mount Angel seminary in Oregon.
Bishop Soto said the new priests "have come as pilgrims following the Good Shepherd on a journey of faith over many years.
“From among the many of your immigrant brothers and sisters, he has chosen you with a brother's affection to share in the shepherd's watch over this numerous, restless flock.”
In Monterey, retired Bishop Sylvester Ryan ordained Fr. Dat Dac Nguyen, Fr. David Anthony Ramirez, and Fr. Rodrigo Paredes Cardona and they have moved quickly into parish ministry. Fr. Nguyen, for example, now is the vicar at Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, the historic community founded in 1772 by St. Junipero Serra and today the main parish for the city that still carries its name. (Bishop Richard Garcia, who died in July, was too ill to preside at the ordination.)
In Orange, Bishop Vann ordained Fr. Gaston Mendiola Arroyo and Fr. Aristotle Quan for the diocese.
Fr. Arroyo was born in Veracruz, Mexico and raised as a Jehovah Witness until, he came to the Catholic faith at 16. He moved to Ciudad Juarez, working as a drug counselor, and then to Mexicali, where he entered the seminary.
Fr. Quan was born and raised in a Catholic environment in Orange County. It was on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land that Fr. Quan he felt a longing for the priesthood that led him to the seminary.
Three religious orders also celebrated ordinations in California this year.
Bishop Robert F. Christian, O.P. (Dominicans) had been installed as San Francisco’s auxiliary bishop a few weeks earlier, just named to that position by Pope Francis. So the new Bishop Christian had the unusual opportunity to ordain four as priests in his order.
They include two Californians, Fr. Christopher Wetzel, O.P., of Benicia, and Fr. Pius Youn, O.P., from Anaheim, where he grew up as part of the St. Thomas Korean Catholic Church community. Also ordained were Fr. Bradley Thomas Elliott, O.P., and Fr. Thomas Aquinas Pickett, O.P.
In one way the most unusual ordination took place in San Ysidro’s Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church where San Diego Bishop.W. McElroy ordained four men for the Jesuits West Province, with Jesuit West Provincial Fr. Scott Santarosa, SJ, concelebrating the Mass.
The church was chosen because Tijuana and the world’s largest border crossing are highly visible just a mile away and they wanted to emphasize their connection. All four of the new Jesuits had worked with immigrants as part of their formation: Fr. J.T. Tanner, SJ, Fr. Thomas Flowers, SJ, Fr. Oscar Alejandro Xavier Báez-González, SJ, and Fr. Elías Puentes, SJ. The latter two were born in Mexico.
Another ordinand, Fr. Roberto Carlos Durán, SJ, had to return to El Salvador earlier this year to be ordained after facing difficulties renewing his visa.
The Norbertines, whose community centers on their monastery in the Orange County hills, also added a priest when Bishop Vann ordained Fr. Pio Carlo Vottola, O.Praem, for the order. He is a native of San Pedro.
While the need for more vocations in the American church remains urgent, recent trends indicate some growth, according to the National Religious Vocations Conference.
In 2017 (most recent data) it counted 590 ordinations in the U.S., taking place in 140 dioceses and 32 religious orders. That is nearly 20 per cent more ordinations over 2013 when there were 497 ordinations in 119 dioceses and 30 religious orders.
CCC --2018 ordinations, additional information
https://dioceseofmonterey.org/ then search for: Have You Met Our Seminarians
Dominicans (Order of Preachers)
Jesuits (Society of Jesus)
Norbertines (Order of Canons Regular of Prémontré)