Meet the archdiocese’s new transitional deacons
Six men – five of them studying for the Archdiocese of New Orleans – will be ordained transitional deacons May 21 at St. Louis Cathedral by Archbishop Gregory Aymond. The transitional diaconate is the penultimate step to ordination to the priesthood, which will be in June 2017.
The six men are, from left, José Cáceres, Alex Guzman, Pedro Prada, Colm Cahill, Emmanuel Omunyokol (Archdiocese of Tororo in Uganda) and Jared Rodrigue. The 10 a.m. ordination Mass will be live-streamed on www.nolacatholic.org.
First assignment as deacon intern: St. Clement of Rome, Metairie, June 2016-May 2017.
What are you most looking forward to in your ministry as a transitional deacon: “I love preaching. I love to integrate the Holy Scripture, the fathers of the church and what the church has to say about everything, especially following the orthodoxy of the church.”
Cáceres loves to teach, preach
By Christine Bordelon
Teaching is José Cáceres’ first love. After all, he has a philosophy degree and master’s in education and taught anthropology, epistemology, logic and philosophy for 16 years as a college professor at the Universidad Autonoma de Bucaramanga in Colombia.
But since re-entering the seminary in New Orleans – he had spent 7 1/2 years in the seminary in Colombia – he is discerning his call to the priesthood.
Now at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Cáceres is looking forward to learning from the people at St. Clement of Rome in Metairie as a transitional deacon.
“I wish to share my past experience and celebrate my faith with both the English-speaking community and the Hispanic community,” he said. “I am willing to live out my ministry in obedience to the archbishop and Father Luis Rodriguez (the pastor at St. Clement of Rome) while being attentive to the pastoral needs of all the community.”
Before coming to New Orleans, he basically had resigned himself to a life as a teacher. Yet, he found the more that he taught, especially philosophy, the more questions he had, and he began to dive deeper into his Catholic faith for the answers. Teaching allowed him to veer toward the mercy of God, he said.
Rekindling a friendship with former classmate, Dominican Father Sergio Serrano, now director of the Hispanic Apostolate in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, Cáceres said was a turning point for him. Father Serrano encouraged him to continue praying and mentioned an opening for Cáceres to study for the priesthood at Notre Dame Seminary.
He enrolled and has been studying theology and practicing his English-speaking skills ever since. He also spent five years researching the pedagogical work of teachers with students at the university level, and he recently published an academic book – “Trayectoria hacia la autorreflexión: Sobre el quehacer pedagógico,” Spanish edition – available on morebooks.com and Amazon.com.)
As a deacon, Cáceres is especially anticipating his natural style of speaking in front of students in a classroom as he preaches to St. Clement parishioners.
Cáceres is the eighth of 12 children and said his family is excited about his ordination. The recent death of his father, Serafin, in January had a profound effect on him because his father had wanted to attend his ordination. While he won’t physically be there, Cáceres knows that his spirit will be carried on through his brother German, sister Marta and his aunt Maria Camila, who will be there.
“They are happy about it,” he said. “I will keep my dad’s example alive by living out the Christian values and examples he showed me. I am sure my father is happy about this as well as my mom.”
First Assignment as a Deacon Intern: St. Pius X, New Orleans, June-October 2016.
What are you most looking forward to in your ministry as a transitional deacon: “I’m excited about just being back in the parish with
the people. That’s the
Cahill came a very long way
By Peter Finney Jr.
Colm John Cahill was born 7,500 miles away from New Orleans – on the Isle of Jersey in the United Kingdom, just off the coast of Normandy, France – and it took a series of life experiences for him to enter Notre Dame Seminary in 2012.
But on May 21, he will be ordained as a transitional deacon for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, the final step before ordination to the priesthood in 2017.
“Over the past five years, I’ve had moments of fear and moments where I’ve questioned everything,” Cahill said. “But those moments have always occurred in the light of amazement and how far God as brought me, not just geographically. This certainly cannot be my own design.”
Cahill is one of five children born into a devout Catholic home, where every vacation “involved a visit to a cathedral or even sometimes a particular holy site such as Lourdes.”
Cahill recalls his maternal grandmother’s devotion to the Blessed Mother and to the rosary, and he said his parents, his “first teachers,” remained supportive of him despite “the youthful rebellion or wandering that most people experience.”
“They continued to be a witness of constant fidelity to their faith,” Cahill said. “It was ultimately this constancy and dependability that enabled me to put myself in the place of the prodigal son so often and return to them for healing and forgiveness.”
During his late teens, Cahill said he began asking himself tough questions: Why am I here? What am I made for? What does God have to say about me in light of my human frailty?
In 2010 he took several months to ponder these questions with a spiritual director, and he eventually, “inexplicably,” ended up in south Louisiana.
“It was in that time of allowing God to act that I heard very clearly the invitation to follow Jesus as his priest,” Cahill said.
After initially entering the seminary in England for his home diocese, Cahill began to discern “that perhaps there was a reason why God had led me to Louisiana and why I had come to accept the call, for the first time, in New Orleans.”
After taking “a leap of trust,” Cahill applied to the Archdiocese of New Orleans to study for the priesthood.
“I’ve had great joy in coming to call New Orleans home, and even more so in this moment, where I have the privilege to lay down my life at the service of this archdiocese.”
First Assignment as a Deacon Intern: St. Jerome, Kenner, June 2016-May 2017.
What are you most looking forward to in your ministry as a transitional deacon: “I am looking to enjoy, help and lead the people.”
Guzman had family ties
By Christine Bordelon
Alex Guzman revered the priesthood at an early age, having lived for three years in the rectory with his uncle, Father José Antonio Torres, a priest in Ibague, Colombia.
Little did he know that his path to the priesthood would include some turmoil and disappointment.
Even through deaths of his brothers, rejections at Colombian seminaries and an unfortunate decision forcing him to leave an American seminary after three years of study, Guzman never gave up on his calling to be a priest. He taught for two years in Colombia, then made new inquiries to several seminaries in the United States.
As fate would have it, Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans wrote back, and two local priests – Father Sergio Serrano, director of the Hispanic Apostolate, and Father José Lavastida, now pastor at Blessed Seelos Parish but also former seminary academic dean and its president/rector – interviewed him while they were in Colombia.
It’s been two years since Guzman was invited to finish his studies at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. He says he’s enjoyed his time here and is elated to be assigned to St. Jerome Parish in Kenner to complete his internship.
“It has been my home parish here,” Guzman said about the church where he has attended since he came to New Orleans. “I went for my vocation talk there, and the people were so excited for me to come. Father Quentin Moody, who is from Belize, is also happy to have me back and said he wants to help me grow.” (Guzman had lived in the rectory with Father Moody for two Christmases and helped him in the parish. They have developed a strong friendship, both being Latin Americans.)
Guzman says his inspiration for being a priest comes from St. John Vianney.
“His talents, his mind was great in classes, but his spiritual life was wonderful,” Guzman said. “He became a saint through sacrifice. I hope to give my life as a priest through sacrifices.”
While he hasn’t been given specifics tasks to do at St. Jerome by Father Moody – whom he considers a humble, wonderful servant of God – Guzman said he has a few ideas of his own.
“They have a large group of young adults, and I also want to support the charismatic group there and to help organize the altar servers,” he said. “They need to improve, and I will help lead them.”
He also is thinking about conducting in-home visits to connect with parishioners, “both the Anglo and Hispanic communities.”
He wants to get involved in the many cultural celebrations honoring Mary in the parish.
“They have the Virgin of Suyapa (a Honduran tradition), La Purisima from Nicaragua, Our Lady of Guadalupe from Mexico, the Virgin de Cobre from Cuba,” he said. “In the future, I hope to celebrate the Colombian virgin Our Lady of Chiquinuira, the patron of Colombia, because there are parishioners of Colombian descent in the parish, too.”
He says his main goal at St. Jerome is to give back to the people who have known and helped him along his journey to the priesthood.
Guzman said he will be privileged to have his mom Beatriz Torres and brother Yohany Ferney Guzman attend the diaconate ordination on May 21. He will introduce them the day after ordination at Masses at St. Jerome, where he will preach at 8 a.m., 10 a.m. and noon. The 8 a.m. and noon Masses are in Spanish.
First Assignment as a Deacon Intern: Divine Mercy, Kenner, June 2016-May 2017.
What are you most looking forward to in your ministry as a transitional deacon: “I’m looking forward to becoming a part of the community and celebrating the sacraments with them and for them.”
Prada always looking to help
By Christine Bordelon
Pedro Prada’s desire to help others was evident early in his life when he was a teenager in Rionegro, Colombia, and carried out missionary work in his homeland.
He now considers the Archdiocese of New Orleans his home, its people his family and eagerly anticipates his new journey as a transitional deacon at Divine Mercy Parish in Kenner, where he will preach the Gospel, officiate at weddings, funerals and baptisms and bring the Eucharist to the sick.
“I’m looking forward to becoming a part of the community and celebrating the sacraments with them and for them,” Prada said.
Prada is happy he was assigned to a large parish like Divine Mercy, which has numerous active ministries, including its youth group, school (St. Elizabeth Ann Seton) and the large Hispanic population of the parish.
“It’s going to be a large spectrum for me,” he said. “I am open to learning the dynamics of a bilingual Hispanic community in America. I know it will be different, but I hope to do it without pushing any envelopes.”
Prada compared studying for the priesthood to running a marathon: it has a slow start, followed by running the course to become a deacon now and, then, at the finish line, becoming a priest.
“It’s amazing that after 12 years of seminary training, the journey is coming toward the starting point (of being a priest),” he said.
The youngest of eight children, Prada said his heart was full of the Holy Spirit as he led missions and then began religious studies first in Colombia, then in the United States, earning college degrees in theology and Catholic studies in 2009 at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. Not realizing how cold the winters were, he transferred to a seminary in Palm Beach, Florida.
Prada eventually left the seminary and returned to Colombia in 2012 but never lost his yearning to be a priest. He continued praying the Holy Hour and reading Scripture and discerned his next step when he was invited to study at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans in 2014.
“I got by on my faith, the Eucharist and Scripture,” Prada said about the time before he was accepted at the New Orleans seminary. “I knew there was something else beyond this.”
He found Notre Dame Seminary to be much more academically oriented than his previous seminary studies, and he’s treasured the melting pot of cultures he’s uncovered in New Orleans.
“The cultural diversity here is unique,” he said, mentioning how he’s identified with the Cajun culture. “It’s similar to mine (in the respect) that we enjoy different food and traditions. It’s very family-oriented, and both cultures are very proud of their food.”
He said Colombians are more laid back than Louisianans, but Louisianans are more laid back than the people he knew in the seminary in Florida.
“It’s been a very interesting two years here,” Prada said.
First Assignment as a Deacon Intern: St. Catherine of Siena, Metairie, June-October 2016.
What are you most looking forward to in your ministry as a transitional deacon: “I’m excited after years of studying to be putting what I’ve learned into practice, especially at St. Catherine where it’s so busy.”
Rodrigue fueled by late pastor
By Beth Donze
Jared Rodrigue vividly remembers how Father John Phuc, his childhood pastor at St. Charles Borromeo, was an expert at walking the priestly tightrope between lightheartedness and reverence.
The priest who pretended to steal the kids’ snacks at recess was also the holy man who was frequently in the adoration chapel and praying his rosary on the levee.
Tragically, Father Phuc drowned in a boating accident when Rodrigue was in fifth grade.
“At his funeral, I felt a strong tug to follow in his footsteps,” said Rodrigue, recalling how he and his schoolmates walked in procession to the priest’s burial site at St. Charles Borromeo’s on-campus cemetery.
“I just remember feeling inside myself: ‘Who’s going to be a father to these kids now?’”
Rodrigue said this idea of spiritual fatherhood has been a recurring theme in his vocational journey as he looks forward to his May 21 ordination to the transitional diaconate.
It came to the forefront again at age 17, when Rodrigue began accompanying his mother, St. Charles Borromeo’s youth director Janeen Rodrigue, to Mexico. The volunteers played with children in area orphanages and did bricks-and-mortar work on a medical clinic.
“(Mexico) was a big call for me to come back and start thinking about my vocation after trying to pretend like it didn’t exist,” said Rodrigue, who until then had devoted most of the previous nine years to competitive swimming – an avocation that included helping his team set the state high school record in the 300-meter freestyle relay as a Jesuit senior and team captain.
“In Mexico, I had a real experience of how I could be a father to these kids even though I wasn’t their (biological) father,” Rodrigue said. “That’s where it became real for me.”
Age 17 was a milestone year for another reason. In addition to formally joining his parish’s youth group and doing the mission trips, Rodrigue found joy as a peer leader of Jesuit’s three-day Kairos retreats based in Rosaryville. Although he had dated in high school, he felt a calling to investigate his priestly leanings at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. In 2011, two years into his studies, he transferred to St. John Bosco Salesian Seminary in South Orange, New Jersey, drawn by that order’s focus on mission outreach.
“They’re in over 180 countries. That attracted me,” said Rodrigue, who also gained confidence in educational ministry as a CCD teacher of sixth through eighth graders at the Salesians’ parish church. He also taught himself how to play guitar for monthly eucharistic adoration. Still, something wasn’t quite right.
“Throughout the process (with the Salesians), I just wasn’t really at peace,” Rodrigue said. “I realized that, though I felt called to mission work, there was a mission here in New Orleans that needed to be helped and satisfied. I almost felt selfish to say I’m going to help these people somewhere else when I’m leaving my own people here (in the Archdiocese of New Orleans) who need help and need vocations.”
Rodrigue’s final decision to part ways with the Salesians came while sitting in St. Charles Borromeo’s adoration chapel. His prayer was: “Lord, I’m not happy in the Salesians, but I know that even if leaving is the wrong choice, because I’m doing it out of love for you, I think you will bless it.”
The Destrehan native came home in 2013, enrolling at the University of Holy Cross to complete his math and science credits and at Notre Dame Seminary to begin his graduate studies.
“I really learned to appreciate the seminary community as a whole – being with the men here who are sincerely seeking the Lord and authentically trying to become better and holy people,” said Rodrigue, who chose an image of St. Joseph for his prayer card. Significantly, the saint is the ultimate emblem of spiritual fatherhood.
“He himself was not Jesus’ physical father. It was an immense task that he had – he is the only one in the family who’s not sinless,” Rodrigue notes. “Being young, I can sometimes be overwhelmed by the vastness of what we’re called to be (as priests). But just the idea of St. Joseph’s little acts of fidelity, his little acts of obedience inspires me. You don’t have to do some grand gesture to serve the Lord, it’s all about little acts of love.”
First Assignment as a Deacon Intern: Our Lady of Prompt Succor Parish, Westwego, June-October 2016.
What are you most looking forward to in your ministry as a transitional deacon: “I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me trustworthy in appointing me to the ministry” (1 Tim 1:12).
Omunyokol to be ordained deacon for Archdiocese of Tororo
By Peter Finney Jr.
Emmanuel Omunyokol, a native of Uganda in East Africa, is studying for the priesthood at Notre Dame Seminary for the Archdiocese of Tororo. Despite the thousands of miles separating him from his home, Omunyokol said he has been inspired by the support he has received from his Notre Dame professors and classmates.
“In one way or the other, they have greatly helped me adjust to the American culture,” Omunyokol said. “At first, it wasn’t easy, but with such brothers it was possible for me.”
Omunyokol is one of nine children – and the first son – in a devout Catholic family that “shaped and has continued to shape my vocation to the priesthood.”
The seed of his vocation was planted when, at age 10, he began serving at the altar and witnessing the priest up close. Omunyokol said the priest exhibited “faith, love, simplicity, intelligence, patience, prudence and humility.”
“He was such a model for us young altar servers,” Omunyokol said. “It’s no wonder I always desired to be like him.”
When five years later he approached his pastor with the thought of entering the seminary, Omunyokol said the priest told him: “I knew that one day you would ask me.”
Omunyokol entered the minor seminary at age 13 in 2003, but after his first year of studies, armed fighting between government troops and the Lord’s Resistance Army broke out in the Soroti district, where the seminary is located.
“If it was not for the grace of God and his protection, I would be dead by now or a rebel,” Omunyokol said. “But, the Lord in his goodness guided me through all these difficult moments.”
With his seminary formation interrupted, Omunyokol attended public school, but after eight years, he reapplied to the Archdiocese of Tororo to resume his seminary studies. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from St. Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary, his bishop asked him to continue his formation at Notre Dame Seminary.
Omunyokol said he loves shrimp and gumbo and the camaraderie at the seminary. He is looking forward to his diaconate internship at Our Lady of Prompt Succor in Westwego.
“I want to serve God’s people with love, compassion and charity after the model of Christ himself, who has called me to do his will,” Omunyokol said.