One liked to “play Mass,” as a second grader. Another was a chiseled, 6-foot-3 beach volleyball player. A third actually heard a voice urging him toward a new life’s path. The stories differ, but the destination was the same.
On Saturday, July 27, the Diocese of Orange ordained six new priests at Christ Cathedral, elevating six transitional deacons, marking one of the larger classes in recent years.
Deacons Erialdl Ramirez Alfaro, Scott Allen, Michael Nguyen, Daniel Seo, Joseph Squillacioti and Martin Vu, are now part of the diocese’s priesthood. Three returned to parishes where they were assigned earlier this year and had already begun taking on many of the duties of full-fledged priests. Three others are returning to school in Rome for advanced studies.
Shortly before they were ordained, OC Catholic posed a question to each: “Why become a priest?”
Despite coming from differing socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicities and life experiences all six had one answer: They were called to the priesthood.
Although their paths may have differed and their circumstances were unique, at the end of the day, it came down to one thing — answering the call.
Not surprisingly, most say they weren’t immediately imbued with beatific glows and priestly countenances. For all six, entering the seminary and devoting themselves to life as a priest came only after a journey of prayer, pastoral guidance and discernment.
For some it took a little longer than others.
Squillacioti, 43, didn’t immediately answer the call. The man who thought mashing white bread to make hosts in pretend Masses was child’s play, took his time in answering the call.
“What I like to say is, ‘I don’t necessarily have a late vocation,’” he said, “just a fairly poor response time.”
However, once he stopped “making excuses,” Squillacioti said his purpose was clear.
At baptism each person is bestowed a charisma, or divinely conferred power or talent, Squillacioti said, and his is to “not only bring Christ by example, but through sacraments.”
Allen was a firefighter, former high school athlete and avid volleyball player, and had dated a woman for five years before he responded to the call.
As he recalls it, Allen said he realized, “I had to give God a shot.”
At first, he was hesitant, bargaining with God saying, “I’ll give you two years,” before he began studying philosophy.
After those two years, however, Allen said he realized he couldn’t negate God’s wishes.
“It fit me,” he said. “I found it. Our wills aligned.”
Nguyen, 28, was well on his way to becoming a medical doctor, taking pre-med classes at UC Irvine. Spiritually, however, he was in turmoil.
“Something was missing,” he said. “I remember praying a solid six months.”
One day while alone in chapel, Nguyen said he heard a beautiful female voice speaking behind him. It told him as a doctor he could heal physical ailments, but as a priest “you can heal my spirit.”
He turned to the voice and saw a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the back of the chapel.
Growing up in Guadalajara, Mexico, Alfaro, 29, envisioned becoming a missionary in Africa or Southeast Asia.
Seo, 29, said his friends “thought it was a joke,” when he told them he was joining the clergy, because “I didn’t have that ‘holy shine.’”
And Vu, 29, was cruising to a degree in business administration at UCI when he says he “rediscovered the beauty, goodness and truth” of his Catholic faith.
In this year’s class, each new priest brings special gifts.
Allen returns to Rome to dive deeply into the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas. From this he hopes to help guide the Church back to orthodoxy, when it drifts off course. He also will help deaf congregants as he is fluent in American Sign Language.
Squillacioti, the boy who played Mass, will fittingly take liturgical studies in Rome.
“Mass, if done properly, is something beautiful that attracts people to Christ,” he said.
Nguyen will study canon law and help couples and families work through annulments of marriages among his duties.
Seo, Vu and Alfaro are each in their first parish assignments. Vu brings an empathy and ability to listen, and is working hard to become a better preacher. Seo’s “pipe dream” is to work with youth, young adults and women. And Alfaro will bring his “missionary heart” to the congregation.
However, for all their varied background, gifts and interests, the six new priests all agree on one thing: that only Catholic priests or higher can provide to the flock is the delivery of the sacraments of initiation, healing and service.
Possibly most important, providing a pathway to a personal relationship with God through the consecration and sharing of the body and blood of Christ through holy communion. That may be job one.
“Definitely the Eucharist, that’s first and foremost,” said Seo.
Why be a priest? To Vu it’s about “devotion to the Eucharist and to bring it to the people.”