Forty Years of Seed Growth

My journey to priesthood was not a direct one. We frequently hear of young men who feel called to the priesthood early and respond immediately after high school or during college. I was not one of them. I also wasn’t the man in his twenties or thirties who had already started a career and then chose to leave it behind to heed the divine call to priesthood. That wasn’t my story. Although the call came to me in my early childhood, it wasn’t until the age of fifty that I finally responded.

The seed of becoming a priest was planted in me as an altar boy at St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church. I was in elementary school. I mentioned my interest in the priesthood to my father, who sought the advice of Fr. Kao, our pastor, and Fr. John, a visiting priest at our parish and the Director of Vocations at the St. Charles Borromeo seminary. Fr. John invited me to visit the seminary with my father. After our visit, I said I wanted to attend the seminary, but Fr. John said, “Let’s see what you think when you get to high school.”

Years later, as a high school student, I remained an altar boy, yet my aspiration to become a priest was dormant, overshadowed by the allure of sports, academics, dating, and the myriad interests that captivate high schoolers. During my sophomore year, our church youth group went on a retreat to Pecos, Texas. There, Bishop Raymundo Peña led the Mass. In a moment of the prayers of the faithful, as the deacon called for more to join the priesthood, Bishop Peña caught my gaze, pointed at me, and gestured to “sign up.” That night, I engaged in a deep discussion with my youth group leaders about the prospect of entering the seminary, feeling uncertain about my calling to priesthood.

Rather than attending seminary, I pursued college, graduated, and answered a different calling as an educator. Throughout nearly two decades, I dedicated myself to my vocation as a public school educator. Yet occasionally, a passage during Mass or a segment on Catholic radio would stir the thought of priesthood within me.

I began feeling the desire to serve God not as a priest but as an educator. After much hemming and hawing, I took a leap of faith, leaving public schools to obtain a position as principal of St. Dominic Catholic High School. Looking back on this decision, I think
it was a way for God to lead me back to hearing the call to the priesthood. While at Savio, I was immersed in an amazing Catholic environment that I had never experienced before in my life. I came from a strong, Catholic family, active in parish life. Working at Savio offered a unique experience as an educator. We participated in weekly Mass, monthly exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, and prayer was the foundation to each day. The Catholic faith was central to our engagement with students, parents, faculty, and staff. Dominican Sisters served as teachers, and over the school’s ten-year history, ten alumni and former students have pursued vocations in the priesthood or religious life. In such an environment, I began to discern a calling to the priesthood or possibly the diaconate.

After four and half years as a Catholic high school principal, and just having turned fifty, I decided to take time off from working in order to discern the priesthood mindfully and earnestly. I started off on my own, following the self-directed program provided by the Diocese of Austin.

The going was hard. Providentially, however, after six months on my own, I learned about the High Calling program and was accepted to participate. I’ve spent the last year in the program, going deeper into Catholic faith than I ever have before and going deeper into myself, my relationship with Christ, and really asking what God’s plan and purpose is for me. The result? More than forty years after the seed was initially planted in my heart, that seed has matured and grown, and I will apply to the seminary in my hometown of El Paso.