Looking out at the audience of Serra Club members, clergy, religious and laity attending the 64th annual Ordinati Day Luncheon celebrating recently-ordained priests, Father Juan Ochoa shared a secret from his days as a new seminarian attending Juan Diego House.

He admitted that, when hearing back then that Serrans were coming to visit, he silently wondered: “Why is the Sierra Club coming to Juan Diego House?” evoking good-humored laughter from more than 150 Serrans and guests gathered at the Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City on Sept. 10 to honor four new archdiocesan priests and recently-ordained Paulist Father Jimmy Hsu.

“It’s a great blessing for all of us to have these four — and now five — new priests for the archdiocese,” said Archbishop José Gomez, “and it’s always a joy to get together as the people of God honoring the priesthood for, indeed, it is the priesthood for the church and for the world.”

Noting that the archdiocese currently has 77 seminarians (55 at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo and 22 at Juan Diego House in Gardena), the archbishop urged everyone to “continue praying for vocations and support especially our seminarians and our new priests in the archdiocese.”

Terry Benson, master of ceremonies and 32-year member of the Serra Club of South Bay (host chapter of this year’s event), told The Tidings before the luncheon program that many people mistakenly think Serra is mainly involved with seminarians.

“We not only support those who are discerning a vocation but also those who have been ordained for years,” noted Benson. “We’re very involved with priests at all stages,” keeping in touch and hosting events for priests as well as women religious.

“I think we priests basically live and die by the prayers of the people,” said Father Andrew Chung, serving in his first assignment as associate pastor at St. Mariana de Paredes in Pico Rivera. “Serrans play a very big role in our vocations.”

He noted that it’s no surprise that Pope Francis is calling an extraordinary Synod of Bishops in October to discuss the family, “where vocations to priesthood, the single life, married life, consecrated life” come from. After expressing gratitude for his family’s witness and support for his vocation, he commented: “Now I’m thankful I’ve been added to [St. Mariana’s] to be part of their family.”

“Priesthood has been wonderful; it’s what I expected and much more,” said recently-ordained Father Christopher Felix, new associate pastor at St. Anthony in San Gabriel. “It’s just been amazing taking the sacraments to the people, loving the people and seeing the love that they have for all of us.” Laughter ensued when he shared that his pastor, Father Austin Doran, “has graciously given me every single quinceanera and wedding.”

Father Hsu, 25, ordained in New York City on May 24 and assigned to St. Paul the Apostle in Westwood, told The Tidings that his priesthood so far has been an “amazing” experience.

“One of the things I did not expect to do when I was ordained was to be involved in the parish school,” said Father Hsu. “That’s been a joy to share God with really young children. They need the presence of God more than anybody else, and it’s been a wonderful, joyful challenge for me to work with these very bright students.”

Father John Palmer, new associate pastor at St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in Lomita, who spent more than ten years as a lawyer in an L.A. law firm before entering the seminary, said the encouragement of people in his home parish, Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills, prompted him to pursue the priesthood.

“I want to encourage all of you,” said Father Palmer, “to look around in your home parishes — not just to the younger guys but to the guys who are middle aged — and say, ‘Did you ever think about becoming a priest?’ If you can see something in him, as (Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary) Sister Kathleen Daly saw in me, you can do great things, just by that little active encouragement.”