PRIESTS OF THE FUTURE At our Diocese, formation at the St. Junipero Serra House of Formation is the first step of our seminarians’ journey to the priesthood. They spend four to five years there to study philosophy before studying theology at another seminary. From left to right, back row: Anthony Gutierrez, Ruben Chavarria, Jose Cortez Jr., Jess Sanchez, Christopher Rodriguez and Juan Samaniego. From left to right front row: Serra House Rector and Director of Seminarians Father Jorge Garcia, Manuel Magdaleno, Oliver Garcia-Tirado and Minh Hoang. TOP RIGHT: From left to right, Juan Samaniego, Oliver Garcia-Tirado, Manuel Magdaleno and Jess Sanchez in a Serra House classroom. BOTTOM RIGHT: The seminarians take a selfie together after altar serving for a Mass.
By Anneliese Esparza
Everyone has their own form of a daily routine. For a child, it might consist of getting ready for school, going to school, maybe some extracurricular activities in the afternoon and evening and getting ready for bed. For an adult, it might consist of getting ready for work (and getting the kids ready for school), going to work, picking up the kids from school and doing any errands or chores that need to be done to keep the household running smoothly.
As for the nine young men at the St. Junipero Serra House of Formation in Grand Terrace, they have a daily routine quite different from ours as they prepare to become the priests that will serve our Diocese in the future.
Receiving formation at Serra House is just the first stage for a diocesan seminarian; a young man interested in the priesthood in our Diocese is assigned to Serra House for the first four or five years of his formation to study philosophy before being transferred to another seminary to study theology (either Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, Texas, St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, California or Mundelein Seminary in Chicago, Illinois). Once he has completed that stage, he is ordained a transitional deacon and then finally a priest.
At Serra House, the routine can vary slightly day to day, but there is generally morning and evening prayer, Mass, academic and formation classes, community meals and chores (such as cleaning up after meals) and time for recreation. They also have a Holy Hour twice a week, singing lessons once a week and Toastmasters (public speaking) twice a month. On most weekends, they return to spend time with their families.
First-year seminarian Minh Hoang says that the routine provides much-needed structure. “[Humans] are habitual creatures. I think that when we have things done at the right time, at the same time, that’s really helpful for us to just get in the habit,” said Hoang.
He said that he appreciated the time for prayer built in throughout the day as well. “Doing prayer consistently, it’s not even a chore. When we are able to move past that hurdle of looking of prayer as a chore, but instead to have a closer relationship with God, then I think that our prayer life gets better,” he said.
During the four or five years at Serra House, the seminarians pursue a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Holy Apostles College and Seminary, which is based in Connecticut but also offers an online program.
In addition to their academic studies at Holy Apostles, which include philosophy, pre-theology and general education classes, the seminarians take various spiritual and formation classes taught by priests and laypeople at Serra House.
The focus of one of these is human formation, an important component of priestly formation. Through human formation, which draws heavily on psychology, seminarians are able to accomplish personal growth and self-understanding and to develop the human qualities that they will need to be effective priests.
“The purpose of human formation is to be whole, that you’re not just living by what you know of the outside world but that you are also very much in tune with the things, pains, that are trying to control you from the unconscious, so that you live your life responding to life instead of just reacting to life out of fears, doubts and insecurities,” explained Emma Mejico, one of the human formation teachers.
The seminarians take the class with her every year, but each year builds on what is learned before. Mejico said that the growth in the seminarians as they progress is very apparent. “They come to realize when they’re just reacting to experiences in a defensive stance because of an experience in their past, and when they’re now free to respond from that deep relationship with God, from being their authentic selves. That’s the purpose of human formation, to move away from a false understanding of yourself to a much deeper, holistic, authentic self, the one God created you to be,” said Mejico.
When they’re not spending time in prayer or classes, the seminarians have free time to spend alone or with the other seminarians. Everyone likes to spend their time a little differently, each having their own interests and hobbies. “I like to stay active. I like playing sports, and we also have a mini-gym in our recreation room, so I like to work out sometimes,” said second-year seminarian Anthony Gutierrez. First-year seminarian Ruben Chavarria is teaching himself how to play the piano, and a couple of the other seminarians say that his progress is impressive. Other seminarians enjoy hiking, running, biking, reading and more.
First-year seminarian Juan Samaniego shared that aside from attending Mass, his favorite part of the day is this recreational time in the evenings, where he can get a chance to unwind from the busy day. “The end of the day after dinner, I’m usually finished with all my homework, so I get to just relax, sketch a little bit, read a book ... just knowing it was a productive day and you get to rest,” he said.
Several of the seminarians expressed how much they enjoy the opportunity to simply be in community with each other as they go about their day. “Having dinner with the brothers, having that community with each other, having time to sit down and just have discussions, conversations, asking brothers how their days are going, how their classes are going ... is really meaningful to me,” said Gutierrez, the second-year seminarian.
First-year seminarian Jess Sanchez added that he appreciates the chance to learn from his fellow seminarians, who may have different personalities and mindsets from one another. “I like learning from each other. We all have different niches that we all need to get used to and accept about each other, so it’s learning to accept the differences with each other and then to just love one another for who we are, instead of judging them for how they look or what they say,” said Sanchez.
Of course, despite their differences, all the seminarians are there for one common purpose – to receive formation to become a priest in Jesus’ own image. Fourth-year seminarian Oliver Tirado says that he is soaking in this time of formation, which allows for extensive prayer and self-reflection. “The best part of being here is allowing ourselves, our hearts, to be molded into the heart of Jesus. As we’re doing that, we see all our limitations, but the Lord also shows us our strengths, the strengths we have in him. That’s what I love about the seminary, it gives us an opportunity to immerse ourselves, to see who we are and why we’re here, our purpose in life,” he said.
For Serra House Rector and Director of Seminarians Father Jorge Garcia, he sees his ministry with the seminarians as a blessing. “It’s a privilege to walk with the young guys who are preparing to become priests, to form them, and just walking with them in their life journey. They come from different backgrounds, different lifestyles, different ages, different cultures ... it’s really amazing to see how they’re able to develop, how they’re able to grow in their formation life. To see the fruits of it too, you can see the growth as they walk along the journey,” said Fr. Garcia.
Fr. Garcia emphasized that support of the seminarians ultimately means support of the entire Diocese and Church, since the young men currently in seminary will be the priests of the future, God willing. He encourages all the faithful to support our seminarians in whatever way they can. “In our time right now, we need priests, good priests, and in order to do that, we need people’s financial support and prayers,” said Fr. Garcia.
“The people supporting our seminarians are contributing to building the Kingdom of God here on earth ... just as any seminarian needs his family, his friends, his teachers here in the seminary, he also needs people from their parishes who are able to walk with them, in friendship, in prayer, and to help in any way financially,” he said.
Mejico, the human formation teacher, said that support for seminarians includes simply forming a relationship with them and treating them as you would any other person.
“Share your own life with them, share your own stories with them. They’re learning to listen to other people’s stories ... yes, prayer and financial support are important, but also, remember to not isolate them by putting them on a pedestal. They need community, they need to be invited in to know people’s lives and to work with the parish communities,” she said.
Samaniego, the first-year seminarian, said that he wasn’t expecting so much support from local Catholics when he first entered the seminary. At the Bishop’s Tea Time event at the Diocesan Pastoral Center on April 15, which raised money for the seminarians, he said that so many people went up to them to thank them for saying ‘yes’ to the call and to let them know that they are praying for them.
“I want to thank people for the financial and emotional support. I do see that a lot of people really do want us to persevere in this and become priests,” Samaniego said. “Seeing the people really giving themselves to us, it makes me push myself harder. Like, this is the reason I’m doing this. It motivates me to really try my best, to try to be a really good priest someday.”
If you would like to support our seminarians with a financial gift of any amount, please visit bit.ly/3HaErIA. Or, you can also donate to the Diocesan Development Fund (DDF) which provides funds to many important diocesan ministries, including the seminarians, at osvhub.com/ddf/giving/funds or by scanning the QR code below.