SOON-TO-BE-PRIESTS On May 20, the Diocese will ordain seven men to the priesthood, the largest ordination class in our Diocese’s history. Top row, left to right: Deacon Julian Plascencia Gómez, Deacon Richard Ahumada, Deacon Rafael Flores and Deacon Carlos Flores. Bottom row, left to right: Deacon Maurice Quindoy, Deacon Bryant Rivas and Deacon Jonathan Garcia.
By Natalie Romano
Excitement is building for the largest class of men to be ordained priests in our diocese’s history. Bishop Alberto Rojas will ordain seven men to the priesthood on May 20 at St. Paul the Apostle, Chino Hills: Deacon Richard Ahumada, Deacon Carlos Flores, Deacon Rafael Flores, Deacon Jonathan Garcia, Deacon Julian Plascencia Gómez, Deacon Maurice Quindoy and Deacon Bryant Rivas.
As the transitional deacons wrap up their studies and send out the invitations, they’re also reflecting on what lies ahead.
Deacon Bryant Rivas, St. Mel, Norco
It’s a typical busy morning for Deacon Bryant Rivas; Rosary, Mass, a little breakfast, then on to the last of his homework for Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, Texas.
“I’m thankful for my time as a seminarian ... but it’s a good time to move on,” said Rivas. “I do feel ready ... It’s time for me to spread my wings.”
One month after Ordination, Rivas will do exactly that. He’s scheduled to give a presentation at the Diocese’s Eucharistic Congress on June 24, an event that’s expected to draw more than 1,000 people. The Torrance native will give a talk on Adoration, but as he’s speaking, he’ll also be signing for deaf attendees. Rivas learned American Sign Language (ASL) as a seminarian and was active in Deaf Ministry in San Antonio.
“For deaf Catholics, it’s really hard to find a priest who signs so they can go to confession,” explained Rivas. “My goal is to start a Deaf Ministry here and to be able to offer Mass and the sacraments in ASL.”
That objective is one of many on Rivas’ to-do list. In the future, the 32-year-old would like additional education so he can offer family counseling to parishioners. He also plans on using modern tools to make the scriptures more tangible.
“Media, movies, music: that’s part of our culture. They speak to us in a way that’s different from reading off of a piece of paper,” said Rivas. “For example, I think it would be good to have an adapted Bible study where you say, ‘Let’s read this scripture passage then watch this clip from ‘The Chosen’ (TV series about Jesus).’ ”
Rivas may sound fired-up about his plans for the priesthood, but that didn’t happen overnight. After majoring in biology at the University of California, Riverside, Rivas thought he would attend graduate school, but was struggling to find the right program. Meanwhile he was serving as a youth group leader at St. Mel, Norco, and befriended then seminarian, now priest, Father Jose Antonio Orozco. Around the same time, Pope Francis was calling on young adults to consider vocations. Rivas started to think God was trying to tell him something.
“God put a detour in my path. I had a GPS but it was rerouted,” laughed Rivas. “I entered seminary a little reluctantly ... eight years later, I’m really glad I did.”
Deacon Carlos Flores, Sacred Heart, Riverside
In a spur of the moment decision, 16-year-old Carlos Flores left his family in Honduras and made the monthlong trek to the United States, a journey that would ultimately lead him to California and to the priesthood.
Sometimes Flores traveled by bus, other times on foot, and at one point endured a three-day walk through the desert. When the exhausted teen finally reached the U.S., he was promptly placed in a Texas detention center.
“I only had 100 dollars in my pocket ... I didn’t speak English,” recalled Flores. “When the detention center asked where I wanted to go, I told them I just wanted to get out of here to whatever place. I knew that I would accept it.”
Authorities moved Flores to Jurupa Valley where he settled into his new life. His foster family brought him to Mass, a new experience since Flores was raised in a different church despite being baptized Catholic. Flores says he was in awe of parish priest Father Martin Rodriguez, who not only had the ability to make the Bible come alive but also went out of his way to accompany immigrants and the poor.
“That attracted me to the Catholic Church and let me see the priest can do a lot of things to help,” explained Flores. “... [Immigrants] need someone to listen to them, someone to bring hope, someone who can talk to them.”
That emphasis on pastoral care was honed during his decade of formation at St. Junipero Serra House of Formation in Grand Terrace and Assumption Seminary. Now, at age 30, he’s eager to start his first ministry and teach how “our Catholic faith is truly based and founded in Scriptures.” Once again Flores finds himself in a position where he doesn’t care where he’s going, as long as he’s going.
“I’m not in a detention center anymore but still I say the same, I want to go wherever I am assigned and do my best,” said Flores. “I know there will be challenges but with the help of God, I will be able to overcome them ... and be a service to the people.”
Deacon Rafael Flores, St. Catherine of Siena, Rialto
After his acceptance to Serra House in 2016, Rafael Flores was having second thoughts. He was about to send an email saying he wasn’t ready when a quote from Pope St. John Paul II caught his eye.
“The quote was ‘Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ,’” said Flores. “That just brought me peace. That’s what I needed. From there, I started seminary ... It’s been a wonderful seven years.” Flores, now age 35, completed his studies at Assumption Seminary in early May and looks forward to receiving the “grace of Ordination” and the fellowship of other priests.
“I’ve made priest friends during the years but to be their brother priest in the diocese, to be welcomed that way, that’s exciting,” rejoiced Flores. “I’m ready to join them in serving the people.”
Although Flores “played Mass as a kid,” he never really considered a vocation. When he first received his calling, the San Bernardino native had already gone to college and was working as a pharmacy technician. Flores says he’d been away from the Church, but the death of his grandmother got him back to the pews, and thinking about the pulpit.
“I started to go to daily Mass ... and I remember having this glimpse of myself as the priest,” described Flores. “Then, when I was listening to Catholic radio, I would hear the word vocation or priest and it was like hearing tolling bells.”
With the encouragement of his pastor, Father Steve Porter, Flores started his discernment. He says he felt guilty about his time away from the Church and wondered if he was good enough for the priesthood. Yet he pressed on. He urges those considering a vocation, don’t let fear of the past stop you.
“It’s funny how God seems to use the people who feel unworthy to answer the call. He makes them worthy,” he said.
Deacon Maurice Quindoy, St. John XXIII, Fontana/Rialto
Another deacon trading healing the body for healing the soul is Deacon Maurice Quindoy, who entered seminary at age 49 after spending decades as a pharmacist.
“I was minding my own business when the Lord called me,” said Quindoy. “I thought, ‘Oh no, school again at this age! Can I do this, Lord? These young guys are going to run circles around me!’ ”
Born in the Philippines and raised in the U.S., Quindoy heard the call once before in his 20s but wanted a family and a medical career so he pursued those dreams instead. He says through the years he dated and was professionally successful, yet he remained unfulfilled.
“There was always some kind of emptiness but I didn’t know what I was searching for,” said Quindoy. “After my mom passed away, I felt depressed. During those dark, dark times, I started to hear the Lord’s voice again in my heart ... That’s when I started to investigate the priesthood.”
This time Quindoy was ready. He studied at Serra House and Assumption Seminary then completed his education at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo for a total of eight years. Due to his experiences as a pharmacist, Quindoy says he’s particularly drawn to ministering to the sick and elderly, but his number one priority is to be accessible.
“I’m very excited, happy and very humble about the call from the Lord especially at this point in my life,” reflected Quindoy. “All I want to do is give [parishioners] my best.”
Deacon Jonathan Garcia, St. George, Ontario
The enthusiasm in Deacon Jonathan Garcia’s voice is unmistakable. After 11 years of being a seminarian, he’s more than ready for Ordination.
“I’m really, really excited!” said Garcia. “I’ve seen other people excited for me too, those who’ve been walking with me on this journey ... Right now I’m just trying to appreciate all the gifts God has given me.”
Once he’s assigned to a parish, the 32-year-old wants to get to know his new community and be of service, particularly to immigrants and young people. It was during his time as a youth leader at St. George in Ontario that he heard his calling. Like Deacon Rivas, he was inspired by a parish seminarian. While Garcia says he was surprised by this turn in his life, others were not.
“I feel like God has been so merciful. He put the right people in my life,” shared Garcia. “I had never thought about becoming a priest but my parents knew it might be an option.”
Garcia spent a few years discerning before entering St. Junipero Serra House of Formation and later Assumption Seminary. The Monterey Park native says he hesitated, concerned a learning difficulty may hinder his ability to get through the rigorous program. In the end, his desire to serve was greater than the fear.
“My calling was so strong, I needed to give it a try,” said Garcia. “Even if we have things that make our life a little more difficult, if we put in our time, pray, and focus on God, anything is possible.”
Deacon Julian Plascencia Gómez, St. James the Less, Perris
For decades, Julian Plascencia Gómez was an active church member who volunteered for anything and everything.
But at some point, it wasn’t enough.
“It was a burning sensation that I needed to do something,” described Plascencia Gómez. “... I knew I was in love with Jesus. I knew I had more to give.”
The native of Mexico never thought about being a priest growing up. As the youngest of ten, he was expected to work as soon as he finished high school. Plascencia Gómez migrated here to find a job and spent the next 20 years in construction and landscaping. All the while, he was a part of a variety of ministries including Jovenes Para Cristo, which he says nourished and encouraged him.
“People say it’s a second chance or a late vocation,” said Plascencia Gómez. “Both of those are true and necessary because the things I experienced before seminary play a big part in my vocation. I learned a lot from my time in Jovenes and other church ministries.”
Plascencia Gómez spent a combined nine years at Serra House and Assumption Seminary. The 47-year-old finished last December and has since been serving at Holy Family in Hesperia. He’s currently teaching a Bible studies class and will celebrate his first Mass just one week after Ordination. As a priest, Plascencia Gómez says he wants to spread the message of salvation and help parishioners feel connected to their faith.
“For example, people leave retreats on fire [but] it seems to extinguish pretty soon,” pointed out Plascencia Gómez. “So with continuous education, I want to fill in the gaps between retreats and masses. It’s going to be challenging but it’s going to be fruitful.”
Deacon Richard Ahumada, St. Francis of Assisi, La Quinta
Years ago, Richard Ahumada was helping out at a Catholic youth conference and didn’t like what he witnessed.
“At that time, I didn’t see a lot of opportunities for Hispanic youth who wanted to be involved with the Church. Other young people had bad experiences with the Church and didn’t want to go back,” said Ahumada, who was born in Mexico. “All this impacted me. I wanted to be part of the solution but I didn’t know how.”
After a year plus of discernment, Ahumada, a carpenter at the time, left his tools behind and entered Serra House and later Assumption Seminary. He then served two years as a transitional deacon at St. Peter and St. Paul, Alta Loma and Our Lady of the Assumption, San Bernardino.
“Both those years were very helpful for me. I got to see what parish life was like,” said the 47-year-old. “I had the opportunity to do many baptisms, funerals, marriages and be there with the families.”
And building strong Catholic families is a high priority for Ahumada. He hopes to make religion a more integral part of parishioners’ lives at home, especially for their children. “I think that’s important. Catechism starts at home and complements the Catechism in the parish,” emphasized Ahumada. “... I’m looking forward to promoting the teaching of the faith ... and would like to study Pastoral Theology to get more tools to evangelize.”
Natalie Romano is a freelance writer and parishioner of The Holy Name of Jesus, Redlands.