by Jessica Rinaudo, Editor
The Diocese of Shreveport has seen a boom in men entering seminary over the past five years, and this year is no exception. It is with great joy that we welcome six men entering seminary for our diocese this year, joining ranks with the four who are already in school now, to bring our total up to 10 men. Two of those new young men are currently attending seminary in Mexico, but the other four are attending seminary at St. Joseph College Seminary and Notre Dame Seminary in south Louisiana.
I got the chance to sit down and talk with four of our new seminarians and learn a little bit about their calls to the priesthood. And while each of these men comes from different backgrounds and varied life experiences, the heart of their vocational draw has been the same: that feeling of “something missing,” of God telling them to consider a life of service to His people.
Fidel Mandragon, a native of Mexico, has been a welcome addition to our seminarian pool, especially as the Diocese of Shreveport experiences a rise in our number of Hispanic Catholics. Meeting their needs is key to helping them sustain their Catholic faith.
Fidel’s journey to becoming a seminarian has been a long and winding one. Raised the son of a farming family in Mexico, Fidel’s parents put great stock in their family’s Catholic faith, saying the Rosary together every night. Just making it to Mass was difficult for the family who owned no automobile, so together they would make the one hour trek to the nearest church either on horse or on foot. Fidel would sit on the floor of the church, directly in front of the priest with the other children. “Since I was a little child, I felt I wanted to be a priest, since I was 11 or 12 years old, before I finished my elementary school,” said Fidel. “When I went to Mass with my mom, I saw the priest celebrating the Mass and I said, ‘When I grow up and get older, I want to be a priest.’”
The vocational seed was firmly planted in Fidel’s heart from that time on. After completing high school, Fidel still felt called to be a priest, so he visited the seminary for a week of discernment. He spoke with the rector, but had misgivings about leaving home for the first time. In what would become a trend throughout his vocational journey, Fidel decided to give it “one more year,” and work with his father on the farm.
One more year spiraled out again as, at age 18, Fidel’s brother offered him the opportunity to join him in living in the United States for a short while. He moved in with his brother and his new sister-in-law in Dallas, where he worked for Pilgrim’s Pride. One year fell away and quickly turned into nine years.
Fidel, who was actively involved in his Catholic parish’s youth group in Dallas, had girlfriends and eventually began to wonder if his vocational call was to marriage and family. He was confused though, as he still felt like something was missing in his heart.
When he was 27, he spoke with two nuns about his dilemma and they told him that once he was married and had taken on that sacrament and started a family, there was no going back, but that he could spend a year at seminary in discernment and leave if that was truly not for him. That way, they told him, if he did get married and start a family, he would not have any doubts or misgivings about what might have been.
Fidel followed their advice. He met with the Piaris Fathers, a religious order in Chicago. After a weeklong vocational retreat with them in Miami, he applied to pursue priesthood through their religious order and he was accepted. Over the next two years, Fidel attended seminary in Miami and Mexico. He continued his education in Puerto Rico with the Piaris Fathers.
During his studies he observed that the Piaris Fathers primarily worked in the classrooms teaching, a worthy vocation, but not one that spoke to Fidel. “When I was in the classrooms, I wanted to be a diocesan seminarian. I talked to my spiritual director… I said, Father, it is very good the work that you do, that you all do, but I want to be a diocesan priest.”
Fidel spoke to his superior, who was very supportive, but asked Fidel to stay with the order one year more. He told him that after a year, if he still wanted to become a diocesan priest, he would assist him in making the transition. Fidel agreed, but after a year he still desired to be a diocesan priest for his diocese in Mexico to be near his family.
But the Lord had other plans for Fidel. A priest, and later Vocations Director, from the Diocese of Dallas, convinced Fidel that priests were needed in the United States to assist the growing Catholic Mexican population there.
“Don’t be in the place that you want to be,” the priest told him, “You be in the place that the people need you.” Fidel agreed to join the Diocese of Dallas for one year to see if he was a good fit. The Diocese of Dallas ended up supporting him for four years while he attended seminary in Mexico. After completing his fourth year, Dallas made many changes in their vocational program and decided to no longer support seminarians in other countries.
With the help of the seminary rector in Mexico, Fidel began to seek another diocese to join while the rector and seminary financially supported his continued education. They looked at several dioceses, but Fidel knew Fr. Rogelio Alcantara who teaches at the seminary and often visits the Diocese of Shreveport. Fr. Rogelio made introductions for Fidel with the Diocese of Shreveport, and Fr. Matthew Long traveled to visit the seminary in Mexico to meet Fidel. Together, and with permission from Bishop Duca, they agreed that Fidel would become a seminarian for the Diocese of Shreveport.
Fidel finished his seminarian studies on May 3, and obtained his student visa June 2 to travel to Shreveport. He began attending Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans in August as he prepares to be ordained for the Diocese of Shreveport.
Another transplant to the Diocese of Shreveport is new seminarian Jeb Key. Jeb grew up in Mansfield, TX. In his youth, Jeb was very active in his church and served as an altar server, Eucharistic Minister and lector and participated in his Youth Ministry program.
“My childhood priest who I received first Communion and First Confession from was absolutely wonderful. His name was Fr. George Foley and he was actually the first person to ever say to me, ‘Hey, have you ever thought about being a priest?’” said Jeb. He added, “The priesthood was never something I could say, ‘Absolutely not, that is something I have no interest in doing,’” and so that thought was always in the back of his mind.
During his Sophomore year of high school, Jeb and his family moved to Many, LA, where he attended St. John the Baptist Parish, until his move to the University of Louisiana in Lafayette where Jeb began to pursue his nursing degree.
It was during college that Jeb’s call to seminary began to take shape. In December 2014, Jeb attended Mass and was very stressed about his impending finals. “I said, you know God, I don’t know what you want for my life, but I’m having some trouble, maybe you could give me a nudge in the right direction.”
During the Mass, the Gospel reading was Jesus calling the disciples to follow him and be fishers of men. “The priest then did his homily on the six reasons men say no to the priesthood and why those reasons aren’t really reasons at all. And that if you have a call to the priesthood, you need to stop ignoring it,” said Jeb.
Two months later, around the beginning of Lent, Jeb again went to Mass with a prayerful heart. “I said, alright, well, I guess you’ve already told me you want me to be a priest,” said Jeb, “but, maybe you could give me just one more push in the right direction, just to make sure.”
The Gospel reading was the Transfiguration and the homily was on God’s mercy and how it can help with anything. “And then, just as a little side note at the end, the priest said, ‘This can apply to anybody who feels like they might have a call to the priesthood. If you feel like God’s calling you to the priesthood, let’s get on with it,” he said.
That day, Jeb met with a priest who directed him to a discernment group of about 10-12 men who were in various stages of discerning their vocational paths. Together they would study a book with Fr. Broussard, a newly ordained priest in Lafayette, and ask any and all questions pertaining to the Church and priesthood. Together they read To Save a Thousand Souls, a book about discerning a priestly vocation. “Reading that book gave me step by step of exactly what I should be doing and what I was feeling,” said Jeb.
A month or two after joining the group, Jeb decided to meet with Vocations Director, Fr. Matthew Long. Jeb worried because he had not been discerning his call for long. During his drive to visit with Fr. Long, he prayed for God to tell the priest what he needed to do, and he committed to doing it.
After Jeb shared his story, Fr. Long responded by saying, “Well, God is telling me to give you an application.” And from that moment on, Jeb has followed the path God has been leading him down.
“It’s really been amazing. As soon as I accepted that this is where I needed to be and this was who God was calling me to be, everything’s been really great,” said Jeb. “I just have this peace about me. Not that I’m not nervous anymore, it’s just easier to accept.”
He added, “My parents have always been really supportive. My mom said, ‘This is always kind of where I’ve seen your life going, but I never wanted to pressure you one way or another. Because whatever you want to do is fine with us as long as you’re happy.’”
Jeb began attending St. Joseph Seminary College in Covington, LA in August.
Raney’s childhood priest left a strong and positive impression on him. “Fr. Andre McGrath, probably from the time I was at Blessed Sacrament School until high school, he was always giving talks on vocations, talks that inspired me,” said Raney. “I never told him I wanted to join [the priesthood], but his talks really helped me out. I always felt like he was talking right to me… He was really inspirational to me, his life and how he lived and everything.”
Catholic school played another large role in Raney’s faith journey. “Being in Catholic school and going to Mass every Friday, being able to go to religion classes and openly talk about faith really helped out and formed me so that when I went to public school in high school, I had this religious background and spiritual upbringing where I didn’t feel out of place all the time,” he said. Catholic school was also where Raney first considered priesthood. “I first heard the call when I was in middle school, probably seventh grade,” he said. “One of the sisters of the Holy Family, Sr. Franscella, asked me if I ever considered [priesthood]. That was the first time I really started to think about it.”
That question took root in his mind and Raney began to pray about a vocation to the priesthood. “I waited until my confirmation to really look into it. My confirmation was May of my Freshman year. After that I used a website called Vision that matches you with vocations and different religious orders,” he said. “I considered becoming a religious order priest and it matched me with the Franciscans and the Salesians. Up until my senior year I was talking with the Salesians and really considered joining them after high school.”
“I would always tell my parents I wanted to be a priest,” said Raney. “My parents were always really supportive of me. They were helpful in me figuring out what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go.”
Despite his initial conversations with the Salesian brothers, Raney felt like that wasn’t where he was meant to be, and so he began his studies at Louisiana Tech in journalism and put his vocational call on hold for a while. But beginning with his Sophomore year of college, Raney again began to consider this call again much more strongly. That was when he got in touch with Vocations Director Fr. Long and they began an ongoing conversation. He also began to speak with Brother Mike Ward, who is the Catholic chaplain at Louisiana Tech, and got involved with the Catholic program there, all of which inspired his faith.
His conversations with Fr. Long came to fruition upon his graduation from Louisiana Tech this past summer as he applied and was accepted to seminary. Raney began his vocational journey at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans this past August.
My first thought of priesthood was in eighth grade,” said Kelby. “I remember being at Fr. Charles’ [Glorioso] reception of his anniversary to the priesthood. That was the first time that I thought married life wasn’t the only thing. There’s something else, something more.”
In an act of divine providence, said Kelby, Fr. Charles was moved to St. Joseph Church in Shreveport from St. Pius X, where Kelby’s family attended. “We went to visit Fr. Charles one day at St. Joseph, and they were having an open house for the school. We walked around and I ended up shadowing the school with my little sister and we immediately fell in love with it.”
“There was always something missing in the school I was in, it was public school,” added Kelby. “I didn’t like that bringing up prayer wasn’t allowed.”
He began attending St. Joseph School in sixth grade, where Kelby says, it felt like home. He got to know Fr. Karl Daigle, pastor at the time. “I could see myself being God’s humble instrument through the sacraments. Seeing Fr. Karl, I could see myself in his place.”
Kelby continued his Catholic education at Loyola College Prep. During his Freshman year, he spoke with Vocations Director Fr. Long and met with a small group of young men at Loyola who had interest in joining the priesthood.
He also began altar serving at the Cathedral’s Wednesday Mass. There he got to know Cathedral rector, Fr. Peter Mangum. During his Sophomore year of high school, Kelby began to work for the Cathedral on a more regular basis. Fr. Peter’s presence in Kelby’s life had a strong impact on his faith and vocational call. “He really inspired growth in me and acted as my spiritual director,” said Kelby.
“During Lent we have stations of the cross, every Friday at 5:30. Loyola dismissed at two, and at 2:00 I would leave Loyola and go over to the Cathedral for the gap between school and Stations of the Cross. I would work with Fr. Peter, and hang out with him and talk with him and watch what he does. And then I would serve at Stations of the Cross,” he said.
He continued his work at the Cathedral throughout high school.
This past summer, Fr. Peter encouraged Kelby to join a pilgrimage trip to Rome. There he visited the major basilicas and got to altar serve at St. Peter’s Basilica for five days in a row. They also traveled to St. John Berchmans’ tomb, visited the monks and their monastery there, traveled to where St. Benedict was born and saw many other Catholic religious sites. Kelby was impressed by how much the Catholic church is a part of the Italian landscape, and this trip stoked the flames of his vocational call.
Kelby was excited to begin attending St. Joseph College Seminary in Covington in August. Of seminary, Kelby said, “I’m definitely looking forward to structured prayer, the community of guys hearing the same call as me.”