Father Tirso

This weekend, we welcome Zel Salazar back to our parish as part of the appeal for the seminaries of the Archdiocese of Chicago. As we fondly remember, Zel was with us over the summer as an intern. For everyone who has responded to God’s call to a specific vocation, the story of how one was called is a pivotal moment. This weekend, we will hear from Zel.

There is one question that is always asked of us who have discerned a vocation to the priesthood. Namely, how and when did we hear the call? Of course, no one is born out of the womb destined to be a priest. By the very nature of a vocation, it is a way of life that must be freely chosen and embraced.

For myself, the idea of the priesthood never entered my mind as a young child. My mother was extremely religious and made sure that the family grew up as practicing Catholics. Despite the religious background in which I was raised, the idea of becoming a priest did not really enter into my consciousness until I got into high school. We were religious about participating at Mass every Sunday and Holy Day. The Catholic faith was a strong part of our family life but my parents could not afford to send five children to a Catholic school nor was the family actively involved in the life of the parish.

Still, I first heard the call in freshman year of high school. Oddly enough, no one “planted the seed” by asking me about becoming a priest. Somehow, it just popped into my head. But, at that point, I did not give too much thought to it. In fact, I managed to put it out of my mind. I was too interested in being a typical high school teenager. Besides, since I was a product of the Chicago Public Schools from elementary until high school where religion was obviously not part of the daily culture, I felt that I would become labeled negatively because I showed interest in becoming a priest.

As I came close to finishing high school, I had made the decision to pursue a career in architecture. In my senior year, I applied and was accepted into the architectural school of the Illinois Institute of Technology which at the time, I was told was one of the premier schools for architecture. Shortly after being accepted and before beginning the process of enrollment, the idea of becoming a priest again entered into my brain. This time, though, I could not easily put it our of my mind as I had done before. It kept coming back until I could not ignore it any longer. At this point, I was already less than six months away from graduating high school.

Unable to dismiss the idea, I worked up the courage one night to tell my mother. Instead of jumping for joy as I thought she would, she calmly told me to pray about it a few more days and then she would help me tell my father. My father had set his hopes on my becoming an architect because it was so close to his line of work as a civil engineer. Needless to say, he was not very happy about the idea of me going into the seminary and exploring the possibility of the priesthood.

Yet, I managed to persevere and applied to the college seminary which was then located at Harlem and Touhy in Niles, IL. With each year of the seminary that passed by, I felt pulled back to the seminary the next year until the day when I reached the day of ordination.

Shortly before ordination, it was only then that my mother confessed something to me. It had always been a dream of her own mother that there would be a priest in the family. My mother had the same dream, especially since she had four sons. Yet, she never once asked any of us the question. Instead, she silently prayed to God that He would grant her the grace of knowing that at least one of her sons would seriously consider the priesthood. Even if no one ended up becoming a priest, she felt that her prayers would have been answered if one of her sons entered the seminary with the serious intention of exploring that possibility. Her prayers, along with the example of prayer she had set for me, were the tremendous gifts that God had given to me not only to consider and discern the priesthood, but also eventually embrace the priesthood as my response to God’s invitation.

Let us pray this weekend for Zel and all others discerning the call to the priesthood.

Fr. Tirso S. Villaverde, Jr.

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