The invitation to discipleship for Father Jose Diaz, 28, came in the form of a letter from a concerned friend during high school.
He was born to immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Jose and Raisa, in Queens. Though it was difficult, his parents worked hard, working in the supermarket business, to provide for Jose and his siblings, Josaira, Rodolfo and Solangie.
However, the physical and social well-being of their children was not their only concern. They also shared with their children their greatest treasure: love of God.
In his childhood, Father Diaz did not quite understand the sacrifices his parents made for him. He began his schooling in public school, but his parents realized that it was not a good environment for him.
They sacrificed even further to send him to their parish school, Blessed Sacrament, Jackson Heights. After graduation, he went onto St. John’s Prep, Astoria.
He always considered himself a Catholic and even joined his mother for prayer groups, but his heart was not in it.
“The problem was that my priorities were in the wrong order,” Father Diaz said. “I focused more on popularity and dating than I did anything else.”
Although he was doing fine enough in school, he did not believe his education to be a priority either. He figured he did not really need much of a formal education to work in the supermarket business.
A Life-Changing Letter
One day during his senior year, a friend of his came up to him with a somber look on her face, handed him a letter and told him that he needed to take it seriously.
“I remember going to class, sitting in the back, and opening the letter,” Father Diaz recalled the experience just before his ordination.
In the letter, she explained that when she prayed for her friends on a retreat she attended, his name popped into her head.
“She said that she felt I was in need of God,” Father Diaz said. “I wasn’t headed down the right path. I was living according to the people around me, and not the ways of the Lord.”
The future priest followed her advice to attend a retreat at the Hispanic Charismatic Center in the Bronx. His cousin happened to have also signed up for the same retreat and they were able to support each other in their new quest.
The retreat, Father Diaz said, “changed my life. I came to a deep and personal encounter with Jesus.
“I felt in a real way that I was loved. It wasn’t just a corny saying. It was something that I felt to my core.”
He became involved in organizing retreats for teens in the retreat house.
“I also started to receive the sacraments with fervor,” he said. “I completely dedicated my life to becoming a disciple of Jesus.”
After high school, he attended Nassau Community College and Queensborough College before transferring to the Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, where he studied theology and philosophy.
He began to open his heart to the possibility of his vocation and lived in a discernment house for the Third Order Regular of St. Francis (Franciscans, T.O.R.).
His time of discernment brought him back to New York, where he applied to be a seminarian for the Diocese of Brooklyn. He finished his studies in Douglaston and St. Joseph’s Seminary, Yonkers.
As a transitional deacon, he served in St. Leo’s parish, Corona, where he had the opportunity to preach homilies and perform baptisms.
“The people of God were great,” Father Diaz said of his time at St. Leo. “They showed me much love and encouraged me to continue to grow in holiness.”
Father Diaz will offer his First Mass of thanksgiving at Blessed Sacrament Church, Jackson Heights, on Sunday, July 1 at 3 p.m.