Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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After ordination: three priests reflect on their first year
by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff
(From the Sept. 13, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)
Three priests recently observed the first anniversary of priestly ordination: Fathers Michael Ishida, Alejandro Zepe-da, and Gustavo Ruiz.
Father Ishida is the newly-appointed pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Wilbur and St. Joseph Parish in Odessa. Father Zepeda is pastoral associate at St. Patrick Parish in Walla Walla. Father Ruiz is parochial vicar for Spokane’s St. Patrick and St. Francis Xavier parishes.
Reflecting on his first year of priestly ministry, each shared thoughtful insights into the life of a newly ordained priest.
“The great joy I have as a priest,” Father Ishida said, “is seeing someone grow closer to Christ and growing in holiness. The chief ‘job’ of a priest is to lead souls to (Christ) who is our first love. Seeing this happen is also my greatest encouragement.”
“My life as a priest has been wonderful,” said Father Zepeda. “I thought that being a priest was only to say Mass and be at the parish office certain hours of the day expecting people to come and see me – you know, like a doctor who is visited by a patient when he is needed. I was obviously wrong. Being a priest has no limitations in time. . .”
Father Ruiz declared that he firmly believes that “When I was ordained a priest and after 13 years of being in the seminary, my expectations were to work as a priest with passion and conviction, to deepen my own personal faith and devotion to the Eucharist, and to happily answer God’s call in working in the parish I was assigned to serve. So far ... I strongly believe my expectations were accomplished.”
Father Ruiz added, however, that poor health made his first year as a priest especially challenging. Medical complications forced him to take leave from late February until the beginning of August of this year. That experience, however, has brought him to believe that his life as a priest “has been a journey of suffering, but with love toward God.”
At the same time, Father Ruiz said, “Prayers from people and their help have given me the hope I need to encounter Christ in my life as a priest and in the face of each one of the people I have met.”
Father Zepeda said that what gives him encouragement for his vocation “is the need of bringing God to the people who are hungry for him ... Knowing that I am God’s instrument for giving his grace to his people encourages me to continue in this ministry.”
As a first-time pastor, Father Ishida said: “My hope ... is to help my parishes – Christ’s parishes, really – to do this and to see the people love God and love his church.”
He said, “The one item that will prove to be the most work is the administrative side of running a parish, as I am the whole staff here in Wilbur and have only a part-time book keeper in Odessa. This aspect of things will be the most work as I don’t want to leave things in poor shape for the next priest to follow me. Despite this, it won’t be more work than I expected, because when I looked at the diocese in seminary I knew this would be a possibility.”
For his part, Father Ruiz said that it has been a challenge “to get good balance in my life. I truly worked too much in my first assignment, and that contributed to my getting sick after six months. Therefore, taking care of my own personal health has been the most difficult thing for me.”
Father Ruiz said that his “greatest joy has been the opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation. They are the best experiences I ever had in my life. Second of all, being able to find faithful people that helped me when I needed them has been a joy in this year as a priest. Third, the time I spend on medical leave has given me the strength to keep on in my vocation. Finally, being reassigned to a new parish, where I know most of the people, has given me a deeper joy in my heart.”
Looking to the future, Father Ruiz said that his main hope is “to be a good priest for the people I will serve.”
“The most satisfactory moments in my life as a priest,” Father Zepeda said, “are when people tell you or demonstrate how much they love you and want you to be around them. A smile, or a note card, or a word saying, ‘Thank you, Father’ – that makes me feel that I am doing things right. Also, when I talk with my family, in Mexico, they give me so much support ... and I feel encouraged to keep going and to serve God in his people.”
Father Zepeda added that after one year of priesthood he is more aware that, “I am a priest not only in St. Patrick Parish in Walla Walla, but I am a priest everywhere I go, and I have to give witness to it.”