By James Baumann
“It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain” (John 15:16).
A new class of seminarians is taking this call to heart by entering the St. Junipero Serra House of Formation this August. Ruben Chavarria, Minh Hoang, Jess Sanchez and Juan Samaniego have entered the seminary with much discernment and are ready to step up to God’s call to help spread the love of Jesus.
“God has called these men for a particular reason, and that reason lies in their hearts,” said Father Hau Vu, Director of Vocations, who is excited for the new seminarians. “Christ said, ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.’ I would say that any person considering religious life should take the leap of faith and say ‘Yes!’ to God’s call. It is a special calling given to the men and women God has chosen to be his priests or religious.”
While each of the new seminarians has felt the call to the priesthood in the Diocese of San Bernardino, they all have different backgrounds, giving them unique gifts that they will bring to their own parishes one day.
Before joining the seminary, Ruben Chavarria studied at a local college, but felt he was being called for something greater. “Through prayer and other signs, I concluded that God was calling me to something more. My conscience and heart were directed towards entering the seminary. Through the help of the Holy Spirit, I took the initiative to speak with my family members about my desire and will to enter the seminary and into the priesthood,” he said.
“Throughout the process of entering the seminary, I felt like God placed everything in front of me, directing all the decisions and outcomes, even moments when I thought I had made a mistake in the process. I knew one way or another that God was conducting the whole process and that if God wanted me to enter the seminary, then nothing or nobody would impede it, and I just relied on his Divine Providence,” he said.
Chavarria, who is from Bell, California (in Los Angeles County), said his goal is to glorify God and help the people of the Diocese understand that there’s no bigger blessing in this world than to know Jesus Christ.
In his free time Chavarria likes to play with his dogs, spend time with his family and play sports. He also enjoys discussing and reading scripture as he grows and develops spiritually.
Born in Saigon, Vietnam, Minh Hoang moved to Orange County in 2011. He wanted to be a nurse to help the sick and share the gospel with them, but God steered Minh towards the seminary. “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. I wanted to be a laborer to reap the harvest,” explained Hoang.
Hoang chose to answer God’s call by entering the seminary here because he understands how great the need for priests is in the Diocese of San Bernardino. “I really enjoy the formation process. I like spending time with my brothers in Christ, developing virtues and studying philosophy and theology. I am blessed by God to be able to serve the Diocese of San Bernardino,” said Hoang.
When Hoang has downtime, he studies Spanish and Vietnamese, reads, prays and runs. However, what he enjoys the most is “helping the people in the Diocese of San Bernardino.”
Jess Sanchez has always felt the need to help people. That’s what led the Coachella native to earn a kinesiology degree from Cal State University, San Bernardino to become an Adapted Physical Education (APE) teacher. “APE teachers work with students whose gross motor skills are not up to state standards. It’s the APE teacher’s job to help students work on whatever skill they need help improving, such as running, throwing, catching or bouncing a ball,” explained Sanchez.
“After I graduated from CSUSB, I applied to the credential program to become a certified teacher in the state of California. However, trying to balance God, work and school, I felt I was not giving God the attention he deserves. I felt the call to join the seminary when I asked God what I should do about this struggle I’m facing, and ultimately, I realized that serving God was the right answer,” said Sanchez.
Sanchez found God in many aspects of his life, including helping those around him. “I’m looking forward to maturing in my faith at the Diocese and learning how to live a devout Catholic lifestyle in our modern times properly,” he said.
When not in class, Sanchez likes to play basketball, lift weights and ask plenty of philosophical questions.
Samaniego was born in Baja California, and immigrated to the United States as a child. Always having a creative streak, Samaniego started to pursue a career in graphic design and digital marketing before realizing that this was not his path. “I started being honest with myself and with God. I grew my relationship with him and eventually gave into his plan for me, which honestly wasn’t easy at first,” he said.
“I heard God’s call in my high school days when my parents signed me up for catechism. I started asking big questions and started reading scripture. I had a personal encounter with our Lord months later, and the rest was history,” added Samaniego.
Samaniego looked far and wide for a place to serve God before finally answering God’s call at the Diocese of San Bernardino. “I considered a lot of different religious orders but wasn’t very sure. So, I prayed a lot and asked our Lord where he wanted me. The San Bernardino diocesan priesthood stood out most because it gave me peace,” said Samaniego.
In his spare time, Samaniego sketches, plays video games and has a continuous philosophical conversation with God, which benefits him in his seminarian classes. “Philosophy is something I really enjoy, and the fact our faith doctrine will guide it is something I’m very excited about,” he said.
Please keep these four new seminarians in your prayers as they begin their formation journey.
James Baumann is a freelance writer as well as the Marketing and Communications Manager for Saint Jeanne de Lestonnac School, Temecula.