Prayer and encouragement key in discerning
Although subtle at times, God’s call to the priesthood is eventually heard loud and clear.
The experiences of three men at various levels of study at Immaculate Conception Seminary on the campus of Seton Hall University, South Orange, followed a typical but often-winding path toward making the joyous decision to serve the Lord and His people for a lifetime.
John Prada, 30, a Colombia native, is in his first year at the seminary. A year ahead of him is 42-year-old Renato Bautista of Manila, Philippines. From the Archdiocese of Newark comes Englewood native Rev. Mr. Thomas P. Quinn who will be ordained in May.
All three came to the seminary after receiving college degrees and entering the workforce. Sharing a strong faith, however, the Church was always an integral and important part of the lives.
College degree in hand, Prada worked for two years in Colombia as a plastic surgery assistant for a physician specializing in nose, throat and ear work. He did that for two years and then, Prada explained, “I felt a change in my life.” It occurred when he took part in a surgical program for poor people. That was when, said Prada, “helping people” made a significant impact on him.
In 1998 he came to the United States for a vacation. A year later he returned and felt the need to attend daily Mass in Union City. Doing so, Prada noted, he underwent another change in his life.
“Something was different,” he recalled.
This year he decided to become a priest. Explaining the moment, Prada said “it was the best decision of my life, I am at peace.” He views entering the seminary as “God’s will in my life.”
Prada is “very happy” in the seminary adding “I try to enjoy every moment.” Admitting everything is still new to him and acknowledging he will have “to work hard” at his studies, Prada finds comfort being “among my own people from the Archdiocese of Newark.”
He stressed too, “I love the Church, it has become my family.”
At age 17, Bautista entered Dominican College Seminary in the Philippines. He dropped out two years later, however, because “I was too idealistic.”
Bautista continued his college education while teaching religious education at the high school level for five years. He eventually earned a B.A. in economics from Santo Tomas University.
It was then back to the classroom in the teaching ranks at Letran College, Manila, teaching theology to freshmen and sophomores.
Bautista eventually decided “to use my degree” and entered the world of banking in the Philippines.
He pointed out, however, that ever since leaving the Dominican College Seminary in his late teens, the “question” about becoming a priest was “always there,” but “I put it aside.” The primary reason, he said, was that he thought the priesthood was not an option once his father died and he had to help support his family. In the Philippines, Bautista added, conventional wisdom is that if one does not become a priest in his 20’s, he is too old.
Throughout his working life, Bautista emphasized, he always maintained connections with priests at the parish level primarily as a choir member since his high school days.
As recently as two years ago, Bautista noted, thoughts of the priesthood “were not even there.” It was about the same time that he told a priest if he retired he would like to work in some capacity at the parish level and “would be happy to be in the background.”
It was in 2002 that Bautista sang at the Chicago wedding of a friend from the Philippines. Another stop was St. Aloysius Parish, Jersey City, where a music director from his native country was the assistance music director. He started singing again and was “very happy.”
Eventually Bautista became a cantor at two other Jersey City parishes, Our Lady of Mercy and Our Lady of Victories. It was, he stressed, “a deep spiritual experience.”
Attending daily Mass, Bautista often heard announcements about vocations and came to the conclusion that it was time to explore the matter further.
He spoke to Father Brian Plate, director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Newark, and was told to get a spiritual director. He also spoke with a Filippino priest at Our Lady of Mercy Parish which led to a meeting with Father Thomas Nydegger, vice rector of Immaculate Conception Seminary.
Bautista he asked Father Nydegger how he would know he had a calling to the priesthood and told him “I was really afraid.”
It was after that talk, Bautista stressed, “I surrendered…. I knew what God was telling me.” He then began the process of applying for the seminary which he considers part of discernment. Especially supportive, he went on, has been Father Jack Cryan, pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Parish, Jersey City, where he is assigned. He also cites the parishioners for being “so inspiring.”
In an ironic turn of events, Bautista entered the seminary on Sept. 7, 2003 which just happens to be his birthday.
Calling his seminary experience “a new life,” Bautista said he was initially “overwhelmed” but that the decision to become a priest was “liberating, I let go of the fear.”
Saying the seminary was not what he expected, “in a good way,” Bautista said too the experience is “beyond my expectations, it is like heaven to me and very inspiring.”
As far back as first grade at St. Cecilia’s School, Englewood, Quinn recalled, he thought being a priest was “the greatest thing a guy could do.”
Noting that “being able to help people get close to God always had great appeal,” Quinn said he always had compassion for helping people and looked up to missionaries.
At the same time, explained Quinn, he “never stopped” receiving encouragement from parish priests which he said was done “strongly but gently.” He was often told too, Quinn said, that he “had the qualities to be a wonderful priest.” With his mother leading the way, he was encouraged by relatives to enter the priesthood. Quinn remembers being told as an infant his mother would hold her in his arms and say “this is my priest.”
The encouragement continued at St. Cecilia High School where the priest who led the youth group mentioned entering the priesthood. But, Quinn noted, he still felt he could not lead a celibate life.
College followed where Quinn majored in journalism at Northeastern University, Boston. Graduating in 1979, he embarked on a life of aspiring actor, journalist and writer. All the while, however, Quinn attended Mass and considered himself “a privileged guy.”
He continued to think about the priesthood believing all the time “the world would be in better shape if people let God into their hearts more.” The idea of being a priest, he added, was “never completely gone.”
Returning to the Garden State after working a year at a financial newspaper in Boston, Quinn pursued an acting career while working in the sales promotion department of a life insurance company.
Age 33, stressed Quinn, was a “turning point” in his life. He realized his acting career was “not going anywhere” and at the same time a longtime relationship came to an end. He realized through a self-examination that his “extended adolescence” had to come to an end.
It was then that Father Joseph O’Brien, his pastor at St. Cecilia’s then who is now pastor of St. Therese Parish, Cresskill, took him aside. Quinn remembers vividly Father O’Brien tapped his collar and asked him “did you ever think of this.”
But not long after his mother died of a brain tumor. Seeing the work of the nurses, Quinn went on to Columbia University and became a registered nurse at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York. But, Quinn noted, what Father O’Brien said never left his mind.
Quinn eventually moved to Hackensack Medical Center where he worked in the Oncology Unit. After a year he went to the Hospice Division. He is convinced his nursing experience “really brought my priestly vocation to the surface.”
He too went to see Father Nydegger who at the time headed the archdiocesan vocations office.
Quinn entered Emmaus House, a place provided by the Church of Newark to discern a vocation and to prepare to enter the seminary, but still did not begin his priestly studies for another year. He did so, Quinn recalls, “after a lot of prayer.”
In early 2000 when he decided to become a priest, Quinn says, it was “a very peaceful” moment but at the same time “a little scary.” He saw it as a perfect example of the proverbial “leap of faith.” Saying everything came together, he called the decision “a fantastic feeling.”
Reflecting on his upcoming ordination to the priesthood, Quinn says since becoming a deacon he has been having “the time of my life.” Calling is “such a great privilege,” Quinn explained people look at him “with their fears, hope, joys and anxieties.” Having people look at him as a representative of Jesus, Quinn added, is “an incredible joy and responsibility, it is what I was born to do, this is me.”
About his upcoming ordination, Quinn described himself as “excited, extremely humbled and a little overwhelmed over the responsibility and gift that will be bestowed on me.” He already knows he wants caring for the sick to be part of his priesthood and wants to be in “a busy parish.” God, he said, will present him with “opportunities and challenges I can’t imagine now. “