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Ordination of a Priest – Father Israel Sanchez, O.S.B.

The community of Mount Angel gathered in the Abbey church on the morning of May 29 for the ordination to priesthood of Israel Sanchez, O.S.B.

Archbishop Alexander K. Sample, of the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon, was principal celebrant for this solemn rite; Abbot Jeremy Driscoll, O.S.B., was principal concelebrant. The Mass was attended by dozens of family members, Seminary classmates, and friends of Fr. Israel. The liturgy is available for replay on Mount Angel’s YouTube live stream channel.

Reflecting on the day, newly ordained Fr. Israel wrote, “When I made solemn vows in 2019, I experienced it as the moment where I stood before Jesus, who said to me, ‘You are mine.’ I responded, ‘I am yours.’ And I ‘felt’ that I was his. Something similar happened at the Mass of ordination. I stood again before the Lord, except this time he said, ‘I am you.’ How is that supposed to ‘feel’? The one word to which I keep returning is ‘complete.’ I felt complete, hearing him say that, as if there’d been something missing in me until that moment. He made me complete. I feel complete. I also feel as though I’m just beginning, and I think of what Benedict says about the priests in his monastery: ‘He must make more and more progress toward God.’ A completeness, a fullness that somehow never ceases to grow. This is the gift he’s given me at ordination.”

Fr. Israel was raised in Yuma, Arizona, and came to Mount Angel as a seminarian for the Diocese of Tucson in 2011. He joined the community of Mount Angel in 2015 and made his first profession in 2016.

Categories: Monastery

Commencement 2021 at Mount Angel Seminary

2021 graduates at Mount Angel Seminary toss their hats.The 28 students of Mount Angel Seminary’s graduating class of 2021 ended the year with a Baccalaureate Mass in the Abbey church on April 23, followed by Commencement the following morning. “This was a year like no other” was a sentiment often heard throughout the two services.

President-Rector Msgr. Joseph Betschart, during the Commencement Exercises, commended the students and the entire seminary community for their “character, dedication, and commitment” in the face of innumerable challenges. “It’s certainly been a year full of challenges like no other. But it’s also been a year full of opportunities and graces like no other, as our Lord continues to guide us, sustain us, accompany us, and provide for us along the way.” He continued noting that throughout it all, he has never seen the community more joyful, more united together, more dedicated, focused, and committed, and make more growth than he has seen this year, which he said was a tremendous source of inspiration to him and to countless others.

As part of his Commencement Address, the Most Reverend Paul D. Etienne, Archbishop of Seattle, noted that the graduates are preparing to go “into a troubled world.” He advised them to “learn to live the many moments of tension” they would encounter. “Learn also,” he said, “that oftentimes tension is the playground of the Holy Spirit, out of which is born the creative solution that is necessary to build God’s kingdom.”
The Senior Farewell address was given by Deacon Cheeyoon Chun of the Diocese of Orange. “Regardless of how long we have resided here as students,” he said, “we came as guests, but this place will always remain our home. We shall make our descent down the

hill once more to bear witness to what we have seen. We leave with confidence and the preparation to lay down our lives for our friends.”
Seminarians receiving their Bachelor of Arts from Mount Angel Seminary’s College of Liberal Arts were Michael Gerard Caster, Diocese of Las Vegas; Ivan Lara, Diocese of Las Vegas; Taylor Kaimanaokekai Mitchell, Diocese of Honolulu; Charles Patrick Nagore, Diocese of Tucson; Andy Toan Nguyen, Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon; Javier Olmedo, Diocese of San Diego; Simon Mai Tran, Diocese of Las Vegas; and Jaime Zuazo, Diocese of Salt Lake City.

Those receiving their Pre-Theology Certificate of Completion were Scott Vincent Borba, Diocese of Fresno; Alberto Carrillo Pacheco, Diocese of Salt Lake City; Shawn Raymond Daniel, Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon; Jose Luis Gomez, Diocese of Salt Lake City; John Paul Langsfeld, Archdiocese Santa Fe; Jonah Kenneth Powell, Diocese of Baker; and Tristan Schubert, Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon.

Deacon Cheeyoon Timothy Chun, Diocese of Orange; Deacon Joshua Falce, Diocese of Boise; Deacon Tony Galati, Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon; Franklin Ubochioma Iwuagwu, Archdiocese of Santa Fe; Deacon Val Park, Archdiocese of Seattle; Br. Israel Sanchez, O.S.B., Mount Angel Abbey; Deacon Jordan Taylor Sánchez, Archdiocese of Santa Fe; and Br. Joseph Mary Tran, O.C.D., Order of Discalced Carmelites, each received their Master of Divinity from the Seminary’s Graduate School of Theology.

Receiving their Master of Arts (Theology) were Michael Andrew Ceragioli; Shannon Leigh Rick; and Brody Robert Stewart, Mount Angel Abbey.

Br. Israel Sanchez, O.S.B., also received his Baccalaureate in Sacred Theology.

Gina Ranee Anderson and Rev. Jose T. Ramirez each received their Doctor of Ministry degree.

In closing the Commencement Exercises, the Right Reverend Jeremy Driscoll, O.S.B., Abbot and Chancellor, again acknowledged the challenging year this has been, noting that it was also “a wonderful time for growth. You showed yourselves able to rise to the occasion, again and again,” he told the graduates. “I congratulate you on that.” Quoting from the Apostle Paul, Abbot Jeremy offered his closing words: “Since you have been raised up in company with Christ, seek things above.”

Categories: Monastery, Seminary

The Ministries Mass: Elevating Seminarians Closer to the Priesthood

Mount Angel Abbey Seminary

Mount Angel Seminary

On March 10, 2021, at Mount Angel Abbey, 20 seminarians from Mount Angel Seminary moved a spiritual step closer in their journey to ordained priesthood.

The Most Reverend Liam Cary, Bishop of the Diocese of Baker, was the principal celebrant, instituting 14 men in the ministry of lector, and six in the ministry of acolyte. The seminarians represent 13 dioceses and two religious congregations.

Bishop Cary, reflecting on the story of Ezra (Nehemiah 8:1f.), reminded the seminarians that the Ministries Mass, like the scriptural account, focuses on the rediscovery of the Word of God. For the lector, he said, “The Word of God is entrusted to you personally – personally – in a significant way. The Word of God pierces to the heart. We have it in our hands every day, and we can lose sight of the miracle of this Word.”

“The Lord is already preparing my soul to receive the ineffable grace of priestly ordination. I take this ministry as an incredible act of God’s Love and Mercy,” said seminarian Benjamin Cowan, newly instituted as lector.

For the acolyte, Bishop Cary said, “After the Word is proclaimed, what is needed is silence to let the Word sink in, so that what we say is then manifest in what we do. Then comes the acolyte into play. The hands of the acolyte prepare the altar for sacrifice. The Lord is asking you – will you lend me your hands? You acolytes will receive not a book, but the paten with the bread for the Eucharist – the bread of sacrifice.”

Seminarian James Ladd said of his institution as acolyte, “[It] draws me closer to Christ, his Church, his people, and allows for a deeper spiritual connection to the mysteries of our faith.”

Instituted into the ministry of lector were: Edward Burke, Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau; Benjamin Clayton Cowan, Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon; Luke Foley Daniel, Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau; John Robert Dyson, Diocese of Boise; Br. Michael Ferman, O.S.B., St. Martin’s Abbey; Br. Francis Lai, C.S.J.B., Congregation of St. John the Baptist; William Michael Lane, Diocese of Yakima; Matthew Leung, Diocese of Orange; Edgar Yair Lozano Cuevas, Diocese of Sacramento; Thomas Kevin Malone, Diocese of Boise; Maximiliano Muñoz, Archdiocese of Seattle; Martín de Jesus Ortega Ascencio, Diocese of Fresno; Kyler John Voegele, Diocese of Reno; and Bryan Walman, Diocese of Baker. All are in their first year of theology and will be called upon to be ministers of the Word of God and proclaim it during the Liturgy of the Eucharist in the coming months.

Instituted into the ministry of acolyte were: Marc Andrew Gandolfo, Diocese of San Diego; Marc Robert-James Jenkins, Archdiocese of Seattle; James Patrick Webb Ladd, Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon; Anthony Scott Shumway, Diocese of Salt Lake City; Joseph Vu, Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon; and Michael Williams, Diocese of Las Vegas. All are in their second year of theology and will be called upon to be ministers of the Eucharist and serve the altar during the Liturgy of the Eucharist in the coming months.

Mount Angel Seminary, established in 1889 by the pioneer monks of Mount Angel Abbey, is the oldest and largest seminary in the western United States. It is the only seminary in the West that offers full college, pre-theology, and graduate theology programs, and one of only a few in the nation that offers degrees at all levels, baccalaureate through doctorate. Students experience exceptional academic instruction in a deeply spiritual, prayerful, and formative environment.

Categories: Seminary, Uncategorized

Mass of Candidacy Is a Sign of Hope

It was with great joy that Mount Angel Seminary celebrated the Mass of Candidacy for 11 seminarians in the Abbey church on the morning of October 22, 2020.

The rite and admission to candidacy is a prerequisite for ordination. After each man is called by name, the ritual proceeds with a series of questions, such as, “In response to the Lord’s call are you resolved to complete your preparation so that in due time you will be ready to be ordained for the ministry of the Church?” Candidacy looks ahead to ordination, but its focus is on the man’s resolve to devote himself to the necessary preparation. It is “an opportunity,” notes Mr. Brody Stewart, studying for the Archdiocese of Seattle, “for both me and the institutional Church to pause and more seriously discern my vocation.” Candidacy is not the end of the journey, but “an acknowledgment that I still have work to do before I can adequately serve the people of God.”

Archbishop Alexander K. Sample was the principal celebrant of the Mass, at which were also present Abbot Jeremy Driscoll, O.S.B., chancellor, several prelates from dioceses with men studying at Mount Angel Seminary, and faculty and staff of the seminary community.

Archbishop Sample’s homily was a direct address to the 11 candidates. “I believe we are living in another apostolic age,” said the Archbishop. “Jesus needs apostles who are willing to pay even the ultimate price.” Greater still than any trial, the Archbishop reminded the candidates, is the message of the Gospel: “We must never lose hope, because we are the disciples of Jesus. The victory is already won.”

The Archbishop’s words did not fail to inspire. “He spoke directly to us, like a father to his sons,” said Mr. Adrian Sisneros, studying for the Diocese of Santa Fe. “He encouraged us as a father to persevere in suffering for Christ and for the People of God, because God is ushering in a new Pentecost.

Representing dioceses from across the western United States, the men accepted as candidates for ordination to priesthood were Sergio Chávez, Diocese of Salt Lake City; Arturo Cisneros, Diocese of Fresno; Tristan Dillon, Diocese of Salt Lake City; Agustín Henderson, Archdiocese of Santa Fe; Chad Hill, Archdiocese of Seattle; Franklin Iwuagwu, Archdiocese of Santa Fe; Juan Carlos Reynoso, Diocese of Fresno; Dalton Rogers, Diocese of Fresno; Darrell James Segura, Jr., Archdiocese of Santa Fe; Adrian Sisneros, Archdiocese of Santa Fe; and Brody Stewart, Archdiocese of Seattle.

Candidacy is the final step before ordination to the transitional diaconate. Join us in praying for these and all our seminarians.

– Br. Israel Sanchez, O.S.B.

Categories: Seminary, Uncategorized

Commencement 2020 at Mount Angel Seminary

Seminary Benefit Dinner - Portland 1The students of Mount Angel Seminary’s graduating class of 2020 had planned to end their year as usual with a Baccalaureate Mass in the Abbey church on May 8, followed by Commencement the following morning. But, as with so many other institutions of higher education this spring, the 39 graduates, the student body, and their family and friends were only able to participate in the Seminary’s 131st Commencement via live stream.

Prior to the Commencement, Abbot Jeremy Driscoll, O.S.B., presided at the monastic community Mass offered for the graduates and all students on May 8 but spoke in a church emptied except for the monastic community. He began the homily with: “What strange circumstances we are celebrating this Mass in. The graduates and their family and friends and the student body are not present. … But today, we know that many people are following us through live streaming. And perhaps in some strange way that reveals a reality that is always true about the Eucharistic celebration. Namely, the Communion of Saints, the whole church, is always present at every celebration of the Eucharist.”

Following the Mass and in the absence of students and graduates, Abbot Jeremy, Chancellor, Msgr. Joseph Betschart, President-Rector, Dr. Shawn Keough, Dean, and Dr. Andrew Cummings, Associate Dean, read the names of the students awarded a total 48 degrees and certificates: 10 Bachelor of Arts; seven Pre-Theology certificates; three Master of Arts (Philosophy); nine Master of Divinity; nine Master of Arts (Theology); five Baccalaureate in Sacred Theology, and five Doctor of Ministry.

In closing the Commencement, Abbot Jeremy reminded the graduates that they take Mount Angel with them. And wherever life takes them, Mount Angel is always a home to which they can return. “You know the rhythm of this place,” he said. “And you know that as you go forth to your various places, the Mount Angel monastic community remains here for you with its pulse and rhythm of prayer.”

Replay the Mass and Commencement service online, or at the Mount Angel Abbey Live Stream channel on YouTube.

Categories: Monastery, Seminary

Acolyte and Lector: Ministries of Service to the Church


At a Mass celebrated February 11 at Mount Angel Abbey, fourteen seminarians from Mount Angel Seminary took a step forward in their journey to ordained priesthood.

The Most Rev. Joseph V. Brennan, Bishop of Fresno, was the principal celebrant and instituted five men in the ministry of lector and nine in the ministry of acolyte. The seminarians represent eight dioceses.

In his homily, Bishop Brennan reminded the seminarians that titles are given much attention in our society, whether corporate, political or ecclesial. “But,” he said, “we can’t take any of those titles to heaven.” Instead, he invited them to reflect on the First Letter of John, chapter 3: “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.”

“That,” he continued, “is the title we must cling to, the title we can take to heaven: ‘Child of God.’ And remember,” he said, “this passage was not written for children, but for adults.” Bishop Brennan continued, “Acolytes, serve well with the strength God gives you. Lectors, proclaim God’s word well with the speech that God has given you. And,” he concluded, “never forget that the best ministry is often done without words.”

Instituted into the ministry of lector were: Marc Andrew Gandolfo, Diocese of San Diego, Marc Robert James Jenkins, Archdiocese of Seattle, James Patrick Webb Ladd, Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon, Anthony Scott Shumway, Diocese of Salt Lake City, and Michael Tyrell Williams, Diocese of Las Vegas. All are in their first year of theology and will be called upon to be ministers of the Word of God and proclaim it during the liturgy in the coming months.

Instituted into the ministry of acolyte were: Sylvester Musonda Chanda, Archdiocese of Seattle, Michael Thomas Evert, Diocese of San Diego, Ian Michael Gaston, Diocese of Orange, Anthony Hoangphan, Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon, Hun Chae (Mark) Jung, Diocese of Orange, Efrain Razo, Jr., Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon, Timothy Josef Segert, Diocese of Boise, James Joseph Tasy, Diocese of Fresno, and John Paul Tomassi, Archdiocese of Seattle. All are in their second year of theology and will be called upon to be ministers of the Eucharist and serve the altar during the Eucharistic Liturgy in the coming months.

Mount Angel Seminary, established in 1889 by the pioneer monks of Mount Angel Abbey, is the oldest and largest seminary in the western United States. It is the only seminary in the West that offers full college, pre-theology, and graduate theology programs, and one of only a few in the nation that offers degrees at all levels, baccalaureate through doctorate. Students experience exceptional academic instruction in a deeply spiritual, prayerful, and formative environment.

Categories: Seminary

Fr. Augustine DeNoble, OSB, obituary

Born: October 25, 1925
Professed: September 8, 1950
Ordained: May 19, 1955
Died: November 9, 2019

Fr. Augustine DeNoble, O.S.B., a monk of Mount Angel Abbey, passed peacefully to the Lord on November 9, 2019. At the time of his death, Fr. Augustine, 94, was the eldest member of the monastic community.

Fr. Augustine was born in Wisconsin and grew up in Tillamook, Oregon. After college studies at Mount Angel Seminary, he entered the Abbey and made profession as a monk in 1950. His ordination to the priesthood followed in 1955. He earned a Master of Library Science degree from the University of Washington and served for many years as assistant librarian at the Abbey. Fr. Augustine also set up the libraries of the Abbey’s monastic foundations in Idaho and Mexico.

As a gifted archivist and researcher, Fr. Augustine became particularly knowledgeable in the early history of Mount Angel Abbey, and he saw to the compilation and binding of much related historical material. The monastic community is also indebted to Fr. Augustine for his years of work to develop the Abbey’s English version of the Liturgy of the Hours, which remains in daily use by the monks of Mount Angel.

As a priest, Fr. Augustine loved the ministry of sacramental reconciliation, and many knew him as a wise and compassionate confessor. Many Abbey visitors (and residents) delighted in the beautiful flowers he lovingly cultivated beside the Stations of the Cross that wind along Abbey Drive.

May he rest forever in the peace of Christ whom he served so long and so lovingly.

Categories: Monastery, Uncategorized

Nine seminarians admitted to candidacy for Holy Orders

At a Mass on the morning of October 23 at Mount Angel Abbey, nine seminarians of Mount Angel Seminary were admitted to candidacy for Holy Orders by the Most Rev. Alexander Sample, Archbishop of Portland, who served as principal celebrant. The Rite of Admission to Candidacy for Holy Orders marks the point when the seminarian publicly declares his commitment to enter final preparation for service to the people of God as an ordained minister in the Church. Through the bishop, the Church accepts and publicly affirms the candidate’s commitment to continue on the path toward ordination.

Admitted to candidacy were Cheeyoon Timothy Chun of the Diocese of Orange, Caleb Joshua Cunningham of the Diocese of Baker, Anthony Obinna Ezeaputa and Jordan Taylor Sanchez of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, Joshua Daniel Falce of the Diocese of Boise, Anthony Robert Galati of the Archdiocese of Portland, Oscar Saul Medina Zermeno and Bonaventure Chukwunomso Okoro of the Diocese of Fresno, and Junghoon (Val) Park of the Archdiocese of Seattle. All of the men are in their third or fourth year of theology and will begin now to prepare for ordination to the transitional diaconate.

In addition to the seminarians and the monastic community of Mount Angel, the Mass was attended by 36 bishops, religious superiors, and vocation directors who were present for the Mass and the Episcopal Council meeting that followed. Family members and guests of the candidates attended, as well as the entire seminary and monastic community of Mount Angel.
In his homily at the Mass, Archbishop Sample described the Rite of Candidacy as “a rite of passage that places you now in a different phase of preparation. You enter now into a phase of more intense preparation for ordination.”

Archbishop Sample reminded the entire community of seminarians that their best and primary preparation for priesthood is the loving relationship they must form with Jesus Christ. They must, he said, make their priority in life “your relationship with God, with Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit. There is nothing more important in your preparation [for priesthood] than that.”

Mount Angel Seminary, established in 1889 by the pioneer monks of Mount Angel Abbey, is the oldest and largest seminary in the western United States. It is the only seminary in the West that offers a four-year college and graduate school of theology, and one of only a few in the nation that offer degrees at all levels, baccalaureate through doctorate. Students experience exceptional academic instruction in a deeply spiritual, prayerful, and formative environment.

Categories: Monastery, Seminary

Staying active is part of the formation plan

Seminarians spend hours each day at prayer and study. But some also crash the boards, send headers into the corner or beast it up in the weight room.

“Being physically active is a great way to grow in holiness,” says Kyle Rink, a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Seattle who leads a mountaineering club for seminarians and is a stalwart in the daily 4 p.m. indoor soccer game in the seminary gym.

According to Rink, hikes in the Cascades make seminarians aware of God’s grandeur and sports help them function as a team and reach for greatness.

Physical fitness actually is a part of seminary formation. The goal is for future priests to learn to live a balanced life. Seminary leaders and bishops know that healthy men can be more effective pastors.

“Being active improves my overall health and improves my performance in school,” says Rink, 25. “It keeps me happy. If I did not do this, I would have less drive in general.”

He played baseball and soccer and ran track in school. Soccer is popular at the hilltop seminary, where students come from soccer-loving nations like Mexico, Argentina and Nigeria. The daily game draws 12 to 18 players with all kinds of skill levels. Men with less experience are treated with care and respect, and the competition among skilled players is fierce and fun.

Rink also lifts weights, runs and rides his bike. “The country roads around here are amazing,” he says. “You can just go and go.”

He is president of the seminary’s Frassati Society, named after Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, an early 20th-century Italian who mixed devotion, charity, social justice work and outdoor adventure.

The men climb peaks in the ample surrounding wilderness, ski, trek on snowshoes and pray outdoors.

“It is not just sports for sports’ sake, but you know you are going to grow,” Rink explains.

When he came to seminary, Ivan Lara was pushing 300 pounds.

“Coming to seminary opened my eyes to how far off the deep end I had gone,” said Lara, now 22, trimmer and studying for the Diocese of Las Vegas.

He starts each day with prayer and 30 minutes of exercise that gets his heart pounding. He runs the field in the seminary daily soccer game, plays basketball twice per week and shows up for volleyball once per week. The gym is his favorite seminary building, except for the church.

As a boy, Lara played all kinds of sports, but stopped as a teen when his parents could not afford fees or transportation. When he landed a job, he spent money on snacks instead of sports.

Being active helps all parts of his life, he says. “In class I am more focused. I am more focused on liturgy and prayer.”

Seminary sports have helped Lara get more disciplined. Once a “go with the wind” person, he now sets goals for weightlifting and running and works toward them. He has learned to eat better, thanks to the seminary food service. He makes sure to get enough sleep.

He is surprised seminary took on all parts of his life, but he is glad.

“The thing that is really difficult here is balancing your life,” he says. He knows the same will be true when he is serving in a parish someday, God willing. The experience he gained at seminary, he said, could make a big difference.

When it comes to basketball, the seminary has an organized squad that has played teams from other small schools like Multnomah College of the Bible, Reed College and Concordia University.

“We play against their junior varsity. If we played varsity, we’d get killed,” says a good-natured Val Park, who hopes to be ordained a deacon next year for the Archdiocese of Seattle. He helped get the organized hoop team going.

“It’s a good way to let some steam out,” Park says of competition. “We try to keep a good balance, keeping it light so all people will come and build fraternity.”

For Park, sports long have been a way to build friendships and develop a team perspective.

“You learn how to find your role in connection with people around you,” Park says. “It allows you to be something bigger that just yourself. God willing, we will be team players as priests.”

Park and his fellow players think they would benefit from having a coach. If there is a willing volunteer out there, the seminary wants to hear.

Story by Ed Langlois for the Catholic Sentinel. Reprinted with permission.

Categories: Seminary

Tony Del Castillo sees beyond external trappings

Tony Del Castillo cannot see. Yet he says a friend’s question years ago helped him perceive people with clarity, to look beyond an individual’s quirks, foibles and facades.

“God used her to open up my eyes in a sense,” said Del Castillo, the first blind seminarian at Mount Angel Seminary in its 130-year history.The 40-year-old sat in a classroom in October recalling the early impetus for his vocation journey. His guide dog, a black Labrador named Dagwood, rested at his feet. A lecture on modern philosophy had just finished and Mount Angel professor Andrew Cummings collected his notes.

“When I make a controversial point and it gets too tense, Dagwood lets us know with a growl,” said Cummings with a smile.

Del Castillo, a second-year theology student for the Diocese of Orange, California, was born with Leber congenital amaurosis, an eye disorder that affects the retina. His brother has the same condition.

The boys’ parents, both committed Catholics, were advocates on behalf of their sons and others with disabilities, fighting at the state and national levels to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

“They helped me learn to speak up for myself and to be an advocate,” said the seminarian.

Del Castillo is a skilled pianist and drummer, and after high school he studied jazz at the University of Southern California.

One memorable day his friend Lisa, a devout Christian, asked him in a nervous tone of voice, “How can I love you better?”

“The way she said it, I knew she wanted to know how she should treat me as a blind person,” recalled Del Castillo. “Most people don’t know if they’re going to say something offensive. I told her to treat me like she would anyone else. But her question spoke volumes because she included the word ‘love.’ What she was really saying was, ‘What’s the best way to get beyond the surface? Because you are someone that I like as a friend but can love as a brother.’

“That was one of those points that inspired me to grow in my faith,” Del Castillo said. “It started to change my whole outlook on life and how I look at other people. God’s sight tells us that we have to look past what’s superficial.”

His revelations prompted his involvement with USC’s Catholic center and a music ministry. Since there weren’t hymnals in braille, Del Castillo listened to the music to memorize it by ear.

“The music was a good teacher,” he said. “I learned more about things we believe as Catholics because music can convey teachings about social justice, the Eucharist, God’s love.”

Del Castillo started considering the priesthood in 2003, but his passion remained music. He earned a master’s in popular music and taught blind youths percussion.

It was a chance to transmit the lessons he’d gained from his parents. When students would come up to him and say, “I can’t do this or that in school,” he’d say, “Yes, you can. I’ve done it. But you need to learn to be an advocate for yourself.”

The seminarian added that blindness has helped him identify with a range of people “who are thought of as ‘the other,’” and he hopes through his vocation to lift up those who’ve been dismissed — “be they homeless, immigrants, or dealing with racism or sexism.”

In 2014, Del Castillo began seriously to explore the priesthood and went through a discernment process. He applied to a seminary and received unanimous recommendations that he was a good candidate.

“Unfortunately, the rector of that seminary basically told my vocations director: ‘Tell him that he shouldn’t even apply.’ They didn’t know how they were going deal with me.”

Del Castillo sent a letter to the rector saying he understood the concerns but that he’d like to discuss ways it might work out. It was fruitless.

“That was tough,” said Del Castillo. “But it was a good lesson in patience and perseverance.”

Eventually he applied to Mount Angel, which was open to the possibility of a blind seminarian, and he began studies last year.

“I was amazed by how peaceful it is here, and the people are awesome,” said Del Castillo, who holds no animosity toward the first seminary. “It wasn’t right how they handled it, but in the long run this is better how it worked out.”

Del Castillo has adapted well at Mount Angel. He’s often able to get course material in braille or audio or scan a book and convert it into audio. He regularly uses a touch-screen tablet that includes braille.

As self-sufficient as he is, Del Castillo reaches out for assistance when needed. It took a while to get comfortable navigating campus, “but the guys are great and helped me out,” he said of his fellow seminarians.

“And Dagwood here, he helps me be more independent,” he said, adding with a grin that “the guys think of him as the seminary mascot, and he’s also a holy dog.”

He once took Dagwood outside for a bathroom break and encountered a group of seminarians about to start a walking rosary. They invited Del Castillo to join, but he had lots of homework to finish and kept trying to tug the dog back inside. Dagwood had his own ideas. “And, well, guess who ended up praying the rosary that day?” Del Castillo said, laughing.

Father Steve Clovis is vice president of administration and director of human formation at Mount Angel. “There are things that Tony and Dagwood depend on us for — simple things — and they give us profound things in return,” said the priest, who’d stopped to say hello and scratch the guide dog, then off-duty and therefore available for pats and scratches.

“They inspire us and humble us,” said Father Clovis. “They remind us of what we can give and be for others and what others can give and be for us. It’s been a blessing having them here.”

Story and photo: Katie Scott; first published in the Catholic Sentinel. Reprinted with permission.

Categories: Seminary

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