LA’s newest priests include surfers and bikers, there’s a vegan and some have past careers in film and aerospace. They hail from everywhere from Manila to the Midwest. They have left this all behind to evangelize and serve.
Among Los Angeles’ soon-to-be priests, one comes from as far away as Manila, and three others from the Midwest. Others are native Angelenos whose grandparents called LA home.
Two of them worked in the film industry before answering God’s call, and another worked for an aerospace engineering
firm. There are even a couple of surfers among St. John’s Seminary Class of 2018.
The nine future priests who will be ordained by Archbishop José H. Gomez at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on June 2 are as diverse as the flock they’re being asked to serve. But each shares the same determination: being the face of Jesus Christ for the people of Los Angeles.
For Deacon Egren Gomez, the June 1 ordination Mass might seem like a more familiar affair than for most: he’ll be ordained by an archbishop who shares his last name in the cathedral he calls his home parish.
Gomez grew up in South LA. He holds a Master’s degree in business, which he put to use working in management at Northrop Grumman’s space technology department.
The 42-year-old saw the hand of God in his life through his calling to the priesthood, which he says came about “through a sense of feeling incomplete in my life.”
“The restlessness I felt became the doorway to a greater and richer life,” Gomez told Angelus News.
His first parish assignment will be St. John Vianney in Hacienda Heights.
What does Gomez look forward to the most about becoming a priest? “Celebrating Mass and revealing the light of Christ.”
Gomez’s first Mass will be at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels at 10 a.m., on June 3, in English. He will return to the cathedral to celebrate his first Mass in Spanish at 12:30 p.m. the following Sunday, June 10.
At 57, Deacon Danilo Guinto is the oldest member of the Class of 2018. He thanked the “God of Surprises” for calling him to the priesthood.
One of the “stepping stones” that led him to discern his vocation was time spent feeding the homeless with the Missionaries of Charity.
“I never thought that committing myself to this ministry would eventually lead me to reflect on being called to the priesthood,” said Guinto, who is originally from Manila, the Philippines.
He also credited his special devotion to his guardian angel for helping him answer that call to minister in the City of Angels.
Come June 2, he said he looks forward to serving as “an instrument of mercy.”
“Pope Francis told us that ‘mercy is real; it is the first attribute of God,’ ” Guinto said. “As a priest, I look forward in making mercy real, palpable and present in the lives of the people that I am called to serve.”
His first Mass will be celebrated at Holy Family in Glendale at 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 3.
His first parish assignment will be at Our Lady of the Valley, Canoga Park.
Pedro Saucedo Jr.
Baldwin Park native Deacon Pedro Saucedo Jr.’s path to the priesthood has taken him from an experience as a missionary for NET Ministries to Benedictine College in Kansas, where he first began thinking seriously about his vocation.
Saucedo told Angelus News that he saw the love of his parents as a clear presence of God in his life. He also pointed to his parish’s LifeTeen youth group as the place “where God really started transforming my life.”
More than anything, Saucedo sees the opportunity to be a priest in his hometown as a privilege.
“There are so many people in our city that are desiring to belong and are searching for a sense of identity. I believe that Christ is the only way to fulfill this desire, to have the opportunity to show people this very thing is exciting,” he said.
Saucedo will celebrate his first Mass at his home parish of St. John the Baptist in Baldwin Park at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 3.
His first parish assignment is at St. Helen’s in South Gate.
Thomas Roide II
Deacon Thomas Roide II, 31, is originally from La Crescenta.
His journey to the priesthood took an important turn when he followed his friends into joining a Christian group while studying at UC Riverside. He told Angelus News that being the group’s “odd Catholic out” forced him to delve deeper into the many questions he had about his own faith.
“Inevitably this strengthened my faith, my relationship with Christ and the Church, whose beauty is pure mystery, a contemplation and encounter with God in a very unique way,” Roide recalled.
He sees his vocation in his home city as an opportunity to “forever encounter the new: new experiences, new struggles, new joys, new people and cultures, and especially new food!”
The newly ordained Father Roide will celebrate his first Mass at his home parish of St. James the Less on Sunday, June 3, at 11:30 a.m.
His first parish assignment is Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Whittier.
William Ian Hagan
Although originally from Kansas City, Deacon William Ian Hagan seems to fit the profile of a native Angeleno better than most: his hobbies include vegan cooking, swimming, motorcycles and growing his own organic vegetables.
And, of course, surfing.
Now 51, Hagan became a Catholic 18 years ago through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program, after feeling God “whisper” to him to go into a church one morning while on the way to the airport.
As a priest, he looks forward to being able to celebrate the sacraments for his brothers and sisters.
What will make serving as a priest in Los Angeles special?
“It is a truly perfect snapshot of the universal Church diverse and multicultural, all gathered into one big metropolis,” he said.
The newly ordained Father Hagan will celebrate his first Mass at his home parish of St. Julie Billiart in Newbury Park on Sunday, June 3, at 5 p.m.
His first parish assignment at St. Monica’s in Santa Monica should give him a few opportunities to keep surfing.
Deacon John O’Brien’s Southern California roots go deep. His family has lived in LA County since a century ago, when his grandfather first moved here from Indiana at the age of 12. He credits his parents for passing on their love of California’s missions to him and his five siblings.
Before entering the seminary, O’Brien made a living as an actor and an artist.
The 51-year-old is also the founder of SurferDreams.com, a website that brought together his love of art, writing and surfing.
As a priest, he looks forward to sharing his ministry with young people through prayer, pilgrimages and personal interaction.
“The Church offers every person the way to happiness through a relationship with Jesus Christ via the sacraments,” O’Brien replied when asked about his idea of the Church’s mission today. “He listens to all of our concerns and wants to be our best friend and remain with us always.”
O’Brien’s first parish assignment will be at Incarnation in Glendale.
He will celebrate his first Mass at 9:30 a.m. at his home parish of St. Monica in Santa Monica.
Deacon Spencer Lewerenz grew up in Kansas, far from the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles. He eventually ended up in LA working with scripts in the entertainment industry before entering the seminary.
The 44-year-old deacon firmly believes that “God’s love is changing my heart” and hopes that through his ministry, the Church can give “a listening ear” to share the joys and pains of young people and those far away from the Catholic faith, as well as “eyes to recognize the beauty of Christ living within them.”
The biggest challenge that awaits him after ordination? Lewerenz offered a blunt, honest answer: “Wanting to hide.”
His first priestly assignment will be at Sacred Heart in Covina.
His first Mass will be at 12:15 p.m. on Sunday, June 3, at his home parish, St. Victor in West Hollywood.
Before answering his call to the priesthood, Deacon Gilbert Guzman worked for the Los Angeles Unified School District for 20 years, teaching Spanish in elementary school and later serving as an assistant principal.
Guzman says he has seen God most clearly in his visits to the sick and dying.
“It’s at these moments that a person most palpably understands their mortality and prioritizes what is most important in their lives,” Guzman said.
His background in education will be an important asset to his ministry.
“The Church can offer a sense of ‘home,’ a place where they are welcomed in their uniqueness, their energy and their questions,” answered Guzman when asked about what he thinks the Church can offer young people.
The 51-year-old San Diego-area native’s first parish assignment will be at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Santa Clarita.
He will celebrate his first Mass at Assumption of Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Pasadena at 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 3.
William Matthew Wheeler
At 30, Deacon William Matthew Wheeler is the youngest of this year’s ordination class. He is originally from Minnesota, but began discerning the priesthood after graduating from USC in 2010 with a degree in accounting.
A year spent doing parish work at Holy Innocents in Long Beach convinced him to enter the seminary in 2011.
He also sees the love of his parents as a clear sign of God’s action in his own life.
“They are an inspiration and I am grateful for their example of self-sacrificing love,” Wheeler told Angelus News. “That love overflows into my life and the lives of my four siblings.”
“There is so much work to do, but not enough time!” said Wheeler of his expectations of the priesthood. “But through our faithfulness to the gospel, I have a sense that God will multiply our time in miraculous ways.”
His first Mass will be celebrated at Holy Innocents at 5 p.m. on June 3, and his first parish assignment is at St. Anthony in San Gabriel.
Men of faith and insight
Bishop-elect Trudeau reflects on his last class of seminarians. He has been the rector at St. John’s Seminary since 2014:
“This year’s ordinands are representative of the wonderful diversity we find in the archdiocese. They are men of faith and insight who have shared leadership at the seminary and diaconal service in their home parishes around the archdiocese.
“What distinguishes them as a group is the difference in personality, spirituality and ecclesiology of each member, and yet, all of them, together, share in the same work that the Lord first gave to his apostles. As students, they have shown remarkable ability in translating theological principles into pastoral practice. I have been blessed to have them in penance and anointing class and to have seen their tremendous capacity to share God’s mercy.
“As priests, they will be assigned to parish communities as diverse as they are and will be challenged to use their gifts to be formers of community and as well as to be formed by the community of faith among whom they minister.
“The faculty and staff of St. John’s Seminary are proud of the accomplishments of this group of men and pray for blessings in their continued formation in faith and ministerial acumen.”
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