By Natalie Romano
Three years ago, Isaias Delgadillo packed his bags and left the St. Junipero Serra House of Formation, not sure if he would ever return again. Yet on Aug. 26, he did just that, and with renewed purpose, once more calls himself a seminarian.
“I feel a sense of peace,” said Delgadillo. “Now I can honestly say this is what I want to do with my life.”
That wasn’t always the case. In 2013, Delgadillo entered Serra House straight out of high school. He says he wanted to learn if he was truly called to the priesthood. After four years, he earned a bachelor’s degree in both philosophy and theology. Then he spent a ministry year working at Our Lady of Hope in San Bernardino. Delgadillo says even though he wanted to serve the Church, there was a hard truth he just couldn’t ignore; there was a whole world out there he had never known.
“I had no life experience beyond high school and that was something that kept bothering me. I had never worked, never paid bills ... never had a relationship,” said Delgadillo. “I needed to live a normal life outside of formation and see if I kept feeling the calling.”
So Delgadillo went home to Rialto and worked as both a teacher and a truck driver. While he never got his own place, he helped his parents buy a house. The 26-year-old says he even dated a little. After a year, he reached out to Serra House rector Father Jorge Garcia and the pair began having conversations about a possible return to the seminary.
“I would ask questions like ‘how are things going? What is the Lord doing in your life at the moment? Where do you think God is leading you?’ ” said Fr. Garcia. “I wanted him to make sense of what he was going through.”
Delgadillo is not the first man to leave Serra House but according to Fr. Garcia, he’s the only one to come back, at least in the last decade. The Rector says it’s also unusual for men to leave at such a late stage. He estimates more than 70 percent of seminarians that complete their studies at Serra House get ordained to the priesthood. In Delgadillo’s case, Fr. Garcia says there’s no guarantee of advancement. He welcomes Delgadillo back but says he will have to prove himself.
“I want to help him, but I will challenge him, too,” says Fr. Garcia. “I want him to immerse himself in whatever we ask him to do here ... to say are you willing to do this or not?”
For Delgadillo, the time away served its purpose. He says he’s ready to do the work. “I’ve grown, I’ve matured. I have a greater sense of my vocation,” said Delgadillo. “Here at Serra House, I have a sense of belonging. This is where I’m supposed to be.”
Delgadillo will take spiritual formation classes and work with members of the community like young people and the homeless. He hopes first year seminarians and those outside of formation can learn from his experience.
“People sometimes think because you’re going into seminary, you’re going to be a priest and if you leave seminary, priesthood is not for you,” said Delgadillo. “In reality, that’s not the case. Everyone has their own path and this was mine. I’m excited to continue my formation.”
Fr. Garcia says the whole idea of formation is to find your vocation. “We are here to help you become the man God calls you to be,” he said. “Whether you continue and become a priest, thanks be to God; or if you decide to leave and get married, thanks be to God, too. We are here to help you form your heart and form your mind.”
Natalie Romano is a freelance writer and a parishioner of The Holy Name of Jesus in Redlands.