By Edwin Ortiz
WHEN I WAS in the sixth grade at St. Mary Star of the Sea and St. Gertrude in Far Rockaway, I was always struck by how joyful the priests would be during Mass and outside of Mass with the people. While I was growing up at the parish, I was an altar server and worked as a sacristan. I had the opportunity to watch the priests up close and that led the thought of priesthood to enter my mind.
I never seriously thought about priesthood until my senior year at Bishop Loughlin Memorial H.S., Fort Greene. While I was trying to figure out which college to attend, my local parish priest, Father Fulgencio Gutierrez invited me to attend an open house at Cathedral Seminary House of Formation in Douglaston. I was hesitant in attending because I did not want to be a priest, rather I was seeking to have a career in engineering. However, I decided to give it a chance and I went. I quickly felt at home thanks to the warm welcome from the seminarians and the faculty.
After my visit, I felt some hesitation about the priesthood, which led me to pray about it. Eventually, I felt that it was the right decision to apply.
I went on to spend four years at Cathedral Seminary House of Formation and was preparing to attend Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington.
One evening during my final semester, while playing basketball with other seminarians, I collapsed and was rushed to North Shore University Hospital. The doctors found that I had a heart arrhythmia, which led to emergency surgery. The surgery was successful and shortly thereafter, I took some time away from the seminary due to my health.
In that time, I entered into a serious relationship which also led me to want to pursue a career in nursing. Because I could not afford nursing school, I decided to enter the U.S. Navy as a hospital corpsman. I spent three years in Japan and deployed with the U.S. Marines throughout Asia for humanitarian assistance. During this time, the desire and thought of priesthood returned. Feeling confused, I decided to contact my then-pastor, Father James Cunningham, who gave me good advice and reassured me that I would eventually figure out and understand what the Lord wanted for me.
One day when I was at Mass, the priest began his homily on the Gospel passage of the wedding feast at Cana. Rather than speaking about Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine, he focused on Mary’s words: “Do whatever He tells you.”
Upon hearing these words, I knew they were meant for me to hear. I knew God had been calling me to be a priest.
Once I completed my contract with the Navy, I contacted the Vocations Office in Brooklyn and reapplied for entrance to the seminary.
As I prepare to enter my fourth and final year at St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, I can only look back and be grateful to God for this beautiful journey He has put me on. While my journey has ended up being longer than most, I am forever grateful to the people God has brought my way. They have helped me grow closer to the Lord and have helped me stay on the path that He had planned for me.
During this Year of Vocations, my advice to anyone asking themselves, “What’s my calling” or “What’s my purpose in life,” is to spend some time with the Lord in prayer. Allow yourself to open your heart to the Lord and follow the words that Mary tells us, “Do whatever He tells you.”