A native of Michoacán, Mexico, two childhood buddies from the same local parish and five life-long Californians will be among the nine men who will be ordained to the priesthood June 4 for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
Archbishop José H. Gomez will ordain Jeffrey Baker, Joshua Diener, Luis Espinoza, Paolo Garcia, Anthony Garcias, Gregorio Hidalgo, Matthew Murphy, Ethan Southard and Albert van der Woerd during a morning Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Downtown L.A. All have completed their theological formation at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, and have recently concluded their internships as transitional deacons at parishes throughout the archdiocese.
Tickets are required for admission to the ordination at the cathedral, but the Mass will be streamed live starting at 9 a.m. via archla.org/live.
The following are brief profiles of the new priests, who will begin their first parish assignments as associate pastors this summer.
Name: Jeffrey Baker
Parents: Ron and Patti Baker
Home parish: Holy Family Church, Glendale
First Mass as priest: June 5 at 5:30 p.m., Holy Family
First parish assignment: St. Charles Borromeo Church, North Hollywood
How did your vocation come about? “I first thought of becoming a priest when I was an altar server in the fifth grade. Throughout high school and in college I was active in various ministries at my home parish. During this time, I had witnessed incredible examples of excellent priests at my parish. They inspired me and encouraged me to discern my vocation to the priesthood.”
Who was the biggest spiritual influence in your life? “I cannot say that there was just one person who had the biggest spiritual influence on me. However, so many of the priests that have been assigned to my home parish have all had a significant influence in my life.”
What was your favorite part of seminary? “Building friendships with the other seminarians who are on the journey with you.”
What was the most challenging aspect of seminary? “The most challenging aspect for me was personal growth and learning to accept my limitations.”
Is there a particular saint who inspires you? St. Francis of Assisi
What do you most look forward to about becoming a priest? “I look forward to serving the people of God and celebrating the sacraments. I am looking forward to being with the people of God at the various moments of their lives, both the joyful and sorrowful times.”
What is your advice for men discerning the priesthood? “I would encourage them to build up their relationship with Jesus through prayer. I would also suggest that they be open to God’s call and know that discernment is a process that takes time. Prayer is key in facilitating discernment for your vocation.”
Name: Joshua Diener
Parents: James T. Diener and Donna F. Diener
Home parish: Holy Family Church, Glendale
First Mass as priest: June 5 at 9:30 a.m., Holy Family
First parish assignment: St. Mary Church, Palmdale
How did your vocation come about? “From early on, my parents were a great influence on me to live out my faith as fully as I could. When I was young, I loved the wonderful priests of my home parish, and I had a positive image of what priests were and what they did. In high school, I knew that there were different opportunities for me in life, and what was important to me was to do something that was deeply meaningful in the world.
“I seriously considered the life of a priest, but chose to pursue studying music, which I deeply loved. All the while, I worked in the office of my home parish and saw the day-to-day work of parish priests. The more I invested myself in a path towards a musical career, the more I admired the beautiful and self-sacrificing work of priests. By the end of my undergraduate career, I knew what I was being asked to do with my life.”
Who was the biggest spiritual influence in your life? “My two spiritual directors, Father Luke Dysinger and Father Eugenio Cardenas.”
What was your favorite part of seminary? “The experience of belonging to a community of brothers discerning the power of calling in their lives.”
What was the most challenging aspect of seminary? “Learning to minister in places and to people you least expected.”
Is there a particular saint who inspires you? Benedict of Nursia and Damien of Molokai.
What do you most look forward to about becoming a priest? “I look forward to falling in love with the people of God!” ‚Ä®
What is your advice for men discerning the priesthood? “Trust that a profound relationship with God will lead you to where you need to be.”
Name: Luis Espinoza
Hometown: Ex-Hacienda de Curimeo, Michoacán, Mexico
Parents: Francisco and Concepcion Espinoza
Home parish: Our Lady of Peace Church, North Hills
First Mass as priest: June 5, Our Lady of Peace
First parish assignment: St. Gregory the Great Church, Whittier
How did your vocation come about? “When I was 16 years old, I attended a youth retreat at St. John Eudes in Chatsworth. Through the compassionate service of the men and women who put together that retreat and prayed ceaselessly for me and the other youth, the God whom I had worshiped and known from my youth became a real experience of love.
“I was a teen, facing difficulties in my family, a recently-arrived immigrant, feeling a little out of place. Somehow, I knew then that I was not alone. I was held by a caring and loving God. I knew I could not keep this to myself; I felt I had to share it with others. It was then I knew I would serve God. I wasn’t sure how, but the experience has shaped me throughout my life.”
Who was the biggest spiritual influence in your life? “There have been several spiritual masters that have really influenced my life. The first ones were my grandparents, from whom I learned the rosary and other basic prayers. I spent several years with them as a child and their deep faith, devotion, love of family and good example gave me a lot of the values I now hold dear.
“My mother and my younger sister have also been instrumental in my spiritual life. They have taught me a lot about self-sacrifice and love. Finally, I owe a great deal to Father Alexander Lewis, who helped me see the presence of Christ in his ministry as he listened, guided and lead the community in prayer.”
What was your favorite part of seminary? “There were two things that I liked about seminary: the rich intellectual and spiritual heritage in our Catholic tradition that I was able to engage thanks to great professors. And the pastoral education that took me to minister in jail, a convalescent home and a hospital. I saw human frailty, [other] people’s and my own, and I was able to glance at the vulnerable Christ, that walks with and among his people.”
What was the most challenging aspect of seminary? “Community is the most challenging aspect I found. It is [also] one of the most rewarding, because of the deep and lasting friendships that I developed. … Community helped me face my selfishness and that is never an easy task.”
Is there a particular saint who inspires you? “St. Ignatius of Loyola and Blessed Mother Teresa. I love Ignatian spirituality, especially his insight into discernment of spirits, [and] Mother Teresa’s work among the poor speaks for itself.”
What do you most look forward to about becoming a priest? “Celebrating Mass. I can’t wait to enter the space where all of us come to offer our very lives to God and encounter God’s love and mercy.”
What is your advice for men discerning the priesthood? “Be courageous and trust. Do not let fear dictate the path you are to follow in your life. Trust that God still calls, still speaks, still acts in the lives of men and women, in your life.”
Name: Paolo Garcia
Hometown: Signal Hill
Parents: Gerry and Loida Garcia
Home parish: St. Lucy Church, Long Beach
First Mass as priest: June 5 at 5 p.m., St. Lucy
First parish assignment: St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, Rowland Heights
How did your vocation come about? “From my earliest memories as a child, I remember attending Mass every Sunday with my family, assisting as an altar server and praying the rosary together as a family. I believe that these simple, yet profound moments planted the seeds of faith in me.
“My mom would always remind me, ‘The family that prays together, stays together.’ It was through my parents’ example of selflessness and humility that inspired me to think about serving others. … During my college years at UC Berkeley I seriously [began to] envision a vocation to the priesthood. After years of prayerful discernment, I [came] to the realization and peace that a life of service is truly what God is asking of me.”
Who was the biggest spiritual influence in your life? “My parents and grandparents.”
What was your favorite part of seminary? “I very much cherished the pastoral ministry experiences that the seminary offered, particularly my pastoral internship year at St. Michael’s Church in South Los Angeles.”
What was the most challenging aspect of seminary? “Throughout my studies, I was most challenged to honestly examine my own personal and spiritual growth and learn to embrace my own gifts and weaknesses.”
Is there a particular saint who inspires you? “Mother Teresa, who will be canonized Sept. 4, is a wonderful example of humility service and charity. She dedicated her whole life to serving our sisters and brothers who are often forgotten and marginalized. She is a great model for me of what it means to serve Jesus in the poorest of the poor.”
What do you most look forward to about becoming a priest? “I look forward to celebrating the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and reconciliation. Pope Francis constantly reminds us to have missionary hearts and go out to the peripheries. I look forward to serving people and sharing God’s love and mercy, especially during this Year of Mercy.”
What is your advice for men discerning the priesthood? “Stay close to Jesus through daily prayer. Reflect on the Scriptures and know Jesus more intimately. Do not be afraid of God’s surprises.”
Name: Anthony Garcias
Parents: Luis Garcias and Sophia Urias
Home parishes: St. Jerome Church, Westchester (while growing up); St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, Rowland Heights (since 2007)
First Mass as priest: June 5 at 12:30 p.m., St. Elizabeth Ann Seto
First parish assignment: St. John Chrysostom Church, Inglewood
How did your vocation come about? “My first thought of becoming a priest arose when I was trained as an altar server by my pastor, Father Edmund Maechler, at St. Jerome Church in 4th grade. Father Maechler’s manner of celebrating the Mass inspired in me a lasting sense of awe and reverence for God’s transcendent presence in the sacred mysteries.
“During my time as an undergraduate at UCLA, I began seriously to consider a priestly calling. … My discernment reached a milestone when I entered religious life with the Order of Preachers (Dominicans). My life as a religious brother preparing for priestly ministry (1999-2006) further encouraged and confirmed my desire to serve the Church as a priest.”
Who was the biggest spiritual influence in your life? “The biggest spiritual influences [were] the friars of the Western (U.S.) Dominican Province, and perhaps in a larger sense the Order of Preachers as a spiritual family. My Dominican classmates, professors and formators gave me the immeasurable gift of a complete human formation (intellectual, spiritual, apostolic/pastoral), apart from which I cannot imagine how my life would be today.”
What was your favorite part of seminary? “Conversations at meal times were my favorite part of the seminary day.”
Is there a particular saint who inspires you? “St. Peter of Verona, the saint who holds the record for the fastest canonization since the process has been administered by the Holy See, inspires me by his zeal for teaching and evangelization, his tenderness as a confessor and his wisdom as a reconciler of both families and communities.”
What do you most look forward to about becoming a priest? “I most look forward to celebrating the Holy Mass (in both the extraordinary and ordinary forms), so that the faithful may enter more deeply into the mystery of God’s life and love revealed to us in Christ’s sacrifice.”
What is your advice for men discerning the priesthood? “Two pieces of advice: (1) Don’t discern your vocation alone. … Listen to what trusted priests, religious sisters/brothers and laity observe about your gifts and suitability for priesthood. (2) Don’t overthink it. If the signs are there, take courage and try! Seminaries and religious formation houses are designed to give you experiential knowledge before you make any life-long commitment.”
Name: Gregorio Hidalgo
Hometown: La Villa de D. Fadrique, Toledo, Spai
Parents: Gregorio Hidalgo Maqueda and Ricarda Checa Zaballos (both deceased).
Home parish: St. Monica Church, Santa Monica
First Mass as priest: June 5 at 11:30 a.m., St. Monica
First parish assignment: St. Rose of Lima Church, Simi Valley
How did your vocation come about? “After coming to L.A., I spent many years away from the Church. One day I woke up and turned on the TV. The first thing I read was, ‘Do not be afraid.’ They were showing during the funeral of Pope John Paul II. My life changed at that very second. It is something I can’t really explain, but my life flashed before my eyes and I cried for a period of time.
“The first time I went to Mass after that, all I could think of was to scream to the world that God loved me without condition. I just wanted to tell all how much he forgave me and how much he wants us to come home. All I wanted was to preach to all from the altar during Mass that what I had felt and experienced was incredible. After that, priesthood was a strong feeling within my heart.”
Who was the biggest spiritual influence in your life? “Without a doubt, my mother. Her love for Christ and the Church was tremendous. She lived a life of example, always putting into practice what she believed. But mostly, she had a contagious joy even in the midst of tremendous sufferings.”
What was your favorite part of seminary? “I would have to go with IPSF programs. These are times of intensive spiritual formation during the summer (kind of like camp) with the classmates. It is a time to learn, get to know each other and have a bit of fun while we bond. Also, I liked the community life and fraternity. It is always comforting to know others who experience the same things you do.”
What was the most challenging aspect of seminary? “To lose control of your schedule. I entered seminary when I was 36. Before that, I was a teacher for 13 years and I lived alone. I was used to planning my life and doing whatever I wanted. Entering seminary meant I had to give that control up and it was a bit difficult. Little did I know that in letting go, I found the freedom of being completely open to letting God be present in the daily surprises of my new life.”
Is there a particular saint who inspires you? “Apart from St. John Paul II, St. Francis of Assisi has always been my biggest influence. I am a romantic artist at heart and I always felt understood when reading the life of St. Francis.”
What do you most look forward to about becoming a priest? “To serve, to journey with everyone, to be part of their joys, pains, sufferings. To bring the joy of the Gospel to everyone. To be a pilgrim with the people. To fall in love with Jesus together. To form part of their lives as we celebrate the sacraments together. To be a shepherd who smells like the sheep.”
What is your advice for men discerning the priesthood? “Do not be afraid, just believe. Trust deeply. Fall in love with Jesus. Enjoy the journey. Spend time with Jesus. Be open to God’s surprises and let go. He knows what he is doing.”
Name: Matthew Murphy
Hometown: Santa Clarita
Parents: Roy and Kathleen Murphy (both deceased)
Home parish: St. Kateri Tekakwitha Church, Santa Clarita
First Mass as priest: June 5 at 5:30 p.m., St. Kateri Tekakwitha
First parish assignment: St. Monica Church, Santa Monica
How did your vocation come about? “My vocation came about by listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. I’d say that these promptings first came to me as an altar server at St. Didacus in Sylmar while I attended school there. However, I fell away from the Catholic faith in my high school years and remained there for about 20 years.
“One night while hanging out with friends, one of them inquired whether I had attended Mass at the ‘round church on the hill’ (then Blessed Kateri), and I answered, ‘No, I haven’t been to church in 20 years.’ However, I found myself at Mass the next morning and continued to go (and grow) from that point forward. [Years later] I asked [God]: ‘What do you want of my life?’ And here I am. I have never been as peace-filled and joy-filled in my life as I am today.”
Who was the biggest spiritual influence in your life? “My parents were the greatest spiritual influence in my life. I constantly witnessed my mother praying her rosary and my father was the model of the humble servant as he gave his life in service for others. Why did I turn from the Church with role models like this? I thought I knew better — I didn’t.”
What was your favorite part of seminary? “The community has been my favorite aspect of seminary life. … Also, serving at the annual priest’s convocations on campus in June, I’ve come to know the wonderful bishops and priests of this archdiocese. It will be a great blessing to be ordained into this amazing group of men.”
What was the most challenging aspect of seminary? “Academics! … I have never been a great student, so academics have always been hard work for me. I am thankful that the faculty allowed more of a pastoral approach in my academic work because that was the best that I could offer.”
Is there a particular saint who inspires you? “St. John Vianney. I have been devoted to him since entering seminary, because he also faced struggles with his studies. If anybody knew my burden, he did and I’m sure he interceded for me. … To my great surprise, my internship parish was the wonderful community of St. John Vianney in Hacienda Heights. Coincidence? I think not.”
What do you most look forward to about becoming a priest? “Loving another faith community like I do St. Kateri and St. John Vianney!”
What is your advice for men discerning the priesthood? “The best advice I ever received while discerning was to only discern the next step in front of me. Whether it was enrolling in college, seeking a spiritual director, joining a discernment group … or driving to seminary for faculty interviews, I only looked at the step in front of me. It is so much more fruitful to pray about the next step rather than trying to figure out what kind of priesthood I’ll have after five, 10 or 20 years.”
Name: Ethan Southard
Hometown: Lincoln, Delaware
Parents: Alan and Jacqueline Southard
Home parish: St. Catherine of Siena Church, Reseda, and Church of the Incarnation, Glendale
First Mass as priest: June 5, St. Catherine of Siena
First parish assignment: Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, Santa Clarita
How did your vocation come about? “I had recently moved to Los Angeles from Delaware and after some encouragement from my cousin, I began helping out at a nearby soup kitchen in Hollywood. During one particularly chilly December evening, I noticed a man waiting in line for food who was wearing only a T-shirt. He was shivering.
“Something moved inside of me and I felt compelled to offer him my sweatshirt. He accepted and, with teary eyes of gratitude, paraphrased Matthew 25, saying that he couldn’t believe someone would give him the shirt off their back. I was immediately filled with such warmth that I never felt the chill of that night. I had no idea at the time that God was calling me to the priesthood, but I knew somewhere deep inside, that God wanted to transform my heart and wanted me to share his love with the world.”
Who was the biggest spiritual influence in your life? “My parents have been the biggest spiritual influence in my life. They taught me how to pray and the importance of going to church as a family. We used to sing church songs while we drove in the car and always made the sign of the cross before we ate a meal, even in public.
“My parents taught me about integrity, he meaning of sacrifice and that it is never too late to ask for or to give forgiveness. Most of all, my parents showed me unconditional love.”
What was your favorite part of seminary? “My favorite part of the seminary has been growing with my classmates and being on this journey together. We are a varied group of people coming from diverse backgrounds and life experiences, but we have come together as one and for that I am very grateful. I look back on our time in the seminary with great appreciation and cherish our time in the classroom, on retreat and spent sharing a meal. I look forward to continuing on our journey into the priesthood and beyond.”
What was the most challenging aspect of seminary? “For me, the most challenging aspect of being in the seminary was finding balance. It seemed that there was always another meeting to go to, a conference to attend, a paper to write and an evaluation to complete. Somewhere in the middle of all of those responsibilities I needed to exercise, eat and find time to sleep.
“I eventually realized, however, that this was the balance. It was OK and even a blessing to have so many responsibilities and expectations and that they didn’t all have to be completed or fulfilled at the same time. I began to find my balance by slowing down, making sure that I was taking time to pray and truly enjoying each and every moment as a gift from God.”
Is there a particular saint who inspires you? “St. Thérèse of Lisieux and St. Joseph are two of the saints who have most inspired me recently. St. Thérèse recognized her own weaknesses and her inability to do great things, so she allowed God to do great things through her. … St. Joseph is a man of humility and deep trust in God. There is a quiet strength that St. Joseph possesses which enabled him to raise and protect the child Jesus.”
What do you most look forward to about becoming a priest? “I most look forward to being who God made me to be. … I look forward to continuing to grow in my relationship with Jesus and his priesthood and to share the joy, love and mercy with others that he has shown me. I look forward to being the face, the hands, and the heart of Christ to the world.”
What is your advice for men discerning the priesthood? “To anyone discerning the priesthood, I would say keep praying and growing in your relationship with Jesus. The closer that we grow to the Lord, the more we discover who we truly are. … If God is calling you to the priesthood, he will reveal it to you; simply trust in him. … Above all, I would encourage you to be patient, to listen and to have fun.”
Name: Albert van der Woerd
Hometown: Leiden, the Netherlands
Parents: Albertus Cornelis van der Woerd and Marie Willy Vink
Home parish: St. Michael’s Church, South Los Angeles
First parish assignment: Mission San Buenaventura, Ventura
How did your vocation come about? “It all started with a visit to a mission from the Brothers of Our Lady Mother of Mercy in Kenya, a year after I was baptized at the age of 33. I got attracted by their practical spirituality of mercy. Fortunately, I could integrate my former profession as a music teacher within my new ministry. We developed an outreach for liturgical youth choirs and offered them spiritual formation.
“When I visited World Youth Day in Cologne something strange happened. It was as if the pope said to me: Albert, I want you on this side of the altar. … It took me another four years to give in… I never thought that they would accept a man of almost 50 years [of age], but they did.”
Who was the biggest spiritual influence in your life? “That was Father Peter de Ruiter, a Jesuit from the Netherlands, who baptized me. …[His homilies] were so good that they created my inner blueprint for the spirituality of the Bible.”
What was your favorite part of seminary? “The organ in the chapel. This is truly an amazing instrument, capable of producing such a rich variety of colors and it perfectly matches the acoustics of the room. I’m going to miss sitting at that organ bench.”
What was the most challenging aspect of seminary? “The most challenging for me was that they still had an old guy like me jump through so many hoops, in order to get past the scrutinies. But, who knows, maybe it was the only way to make this stubborn Dutchman fit somewhat into the system.”
Is there a particular saint who inspires you? “St. Liduina of Schiedam, the patron saint of the first school where I taught music. She was a girl in the 15th century who fell while ice-skating with her friends and never recovered from the complications of her injury. But she lived for another 35 years and many who visited her sickbed left joyful and felt strengthened in their faith. I believe she can teach our modern youth a lot about the art of being.”
What do you most look forward to about becoming a priest? “I most look forward to becoming again a member [of] a team that has the purpose to ‘let Christ happen’ in our broken world. But this time the Eucharist will be my most important ministry.”
What is your advice for men discerning the priesthood? “Trust in your deepest instinct about what God wants you to do with your life. And if you have figured that out, surrender to the Holy Spirit to lead you where you have to go to make that happen. That requires quite some trust because sometimes he leads you to places that you normally would avoid at all cost. Still, he is constantly asking you: Do you love me? Saying yes to that question makes you a different person. And finally he says: Tend my sheep.”