As he was growing up, 21-year-old Jaime Mu√±oz always knew he felt called to devote his life to service to society — but the question was: what kind of service?
“I wanted to be able to give of my time and talents for the greater good of people, [so] I thought, ‘I’ll study medicine [and] be a doctor in an ER,’” he recalled.
But after Mu√±oz began his pre-med studies at Azusa Pacific University, his career focus slowly shifted — at first subtly, and eventually drastically. After two years he decided to change his major to social work “to serve people in a more personal manner.”
Soon after he learned that Cardinal Roger Mahony had earned a master’s degree in social work and found himself reflecting on the many social issues the cardinal had addressed during his priesthood and as archbishop, such as supporting immigration reform efforts and the Justice for Janitors campaign.
As he contemplated his future, the life-long Catholic from St. Frances of Rome Church in Azusa began hearing the question — from many different people — “Have you thought about becoming a priest?” He soon began to ask himself, “They see this potential in me — do I see this in me?”
“I just started reflecting a bit more and I did begin to see it too,” he said. Today Mu√±oz is beginning his third year as a seminarian at Juan Diego House in Gardena, a house of formation for college-aged seminarians who are aspiring to the diocesan priesthood for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles or nearby dioceses.
There are currently 22 seminarians in residence (19 from Los Angeles and three from the Diocese of Fresno). Of these, 13 are returning students and nine are new, including Brian Koo, 21, from St. Matthew Korean Catholic Center in Tujunga.
“It’s been great here so far. All of the brothers have been super welcoming,” he told The Tidings on his seventh day at Juan Diego House. “If I had any questions, they’ve been there to answer them for me, to help guide me along in this process.
“Most likely there are probably going to be some [challenges] along the way,” he added, “but I’m sure we’ll be able to weather the storms together, in unity.”
“It can be overwhelming when seminarians first arrive, with all of the house rules and regulations, home and school schedules, and learning to live in community,” said Father James Anguiano, director of Juan Diego House for more than six years.“It’s a very structured life. The big thing that I’m constantly reminding the men of is balance — learning how to balance everything. It’s an ongoing process.”
One of the most difficult things for the new men, he continued, is trusting — “trusting what is taking place here. It’s all intended to help them to listen more attentively to the voice of God, to help them to better know who they are so that they can better serve the people of God.”
Second-year seminarian Patrick Ayala, an only child, has learned this lesson, as well as many others that come from living in a community of “brothers.”
“Learning to live in community has been a transition, but it’s certainly taught me how to adapt to different personalities, and how to grow as a person,” said the 21-year-old Ayala, from St. Ferdinand in San Fernando. “My brothers help bring out the best in me; they’ve taught me to be more open.
“During these years at Juan Diego House I’ve learned more about myself,” he added. “I know my strengths, my weaknesses, and I’ve developed a stronger connection to God.”
Juan Diego House, which first opened its doors in August 2003, consists of seven buildings — six residences and one building that functions as a library and office/meeting space. It provides the four pillars of formation: spiritual (e.g., participating in daily Eucharist celebrations); human (e.g., living in a community of brotherhood); pastoral (e.g., providing weekend ministry in their home parishes); and academic (e.g., studying for a bachelor’s degree in philosophy).
According to Father Anguiano, Juan Diego House helps prepare the young men to eventually continue and complete their priestly formation at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo. To date, three former students have been ordained for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles — one per year over the past three years.
“During the past 11 years we have continued to grow in relationship with St. John’s, unifying our programs more,” he explained, “so that it’s a natural progression from Juan Diego House to St. John’s.”
A self-described “late vocation,” 29-year-old Alan Osorio wasn’t confirmed in the Catholic faith until he was 24. But today he is well on his way to becoming a priest. He recently began his fourth and final year at Juan Diego House.
“Through the work of the Holy Spirit, I’ll be graduating, God willing, in May 2015 and continuing my studies at St. John’s,” said Osorio, from St. Columbkille in Los Angeles. “It’s been a long process — from being afraid of the unknown to the radical decision to be open to the work of the Holy Spirit, which has helped [lead me] here.”
For Father Anguiano, ordained in 1982, serving as director of Juan Diego House serves to strengthen and renew his own faith on a regular basis.
“Seeing their enthusiasm for their vocation takes me back to when I first was discerning [and makes me] remember, ‘What was it that brought you that excitement about priesthood?’” he said with a smile “It revives that — that little spark, that little pilot light that was first lit a long time ago — and brings it back.”
As director, he hopes he can ignite that spark, to help them along their journey not toward becoming “successful priests,” but rather to being “happy priests.”
“That’s my wish for them,” explained Father Anguiano, “that they fall in love with the priesthood and that they are happy — and that they love what they do.”
To contact Juan Diego House, call (310) 516-6671 or visit www.juandiegohouse.org