Jornadas retreat leads Mexican native to ordination

Chicago experience led Deacon Lopez to start youth group in Green Bay

GREEN BAY — A spiritual retreat as a college student proved to be life changing for Deacon José López, who was ordained to the diaconate by Bishop David Ricken on May 21 at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral. Deacon López is scheduled to be ordained to the priesthood in the summer of 2018.

Bishop David Ricken presents the Book of Gospels to newly ordained Deacon José López during the ordination Mass May 21 at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

Born and raised Catholic in Central Mexico, Deacon López was involved in the church in his homeland, including serving at the children’s Mass. When he was 12 years-old, his family moved to Green Bay.

“Everything radically changed,” he said. “It was a new language, a new culture, a new environment. My parents were counting on me to learn English. There was a lot more pressure. We still attended Sunday Mass, but it wasn’t our priority. It was just another thing to do. Throughout middle school, high school and even part of college, I was never really into the faith.”

His family belonged to St. Willebrord Parish. Deacon López attended Washington Middle School, followed by Preble High School. He then enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay to pursue a degree in business administration, with an emphasis in management.

While in college, he learned about a Jornadas retreat in Chicago. He invited some friends, but they were not interested.

“I invited a girl to come with me,” he explained. “I really didn’t know her that well at the time, but she wanted to go. We loved it. We started to create the Jornadas movement here in the diocese. For a while it was working really well. That’s when we got into the faith. We moved to St. Philip (the Apostle Parish) to start the group. (Franciscan) Fr. Tony Cirignani opened the doors for us.”

Jornadas de Vida Cristiana (Journey of a Christian Life) is a Catholic youth group movement that focuses on evangelizing youth through peer ministry — youth reaching out to youth. Deacon López and the woman from the retreat later began dating.

“We were praying for each other in front of the Blessed Sacrament,” he said. “We prayed for each other’s vocations. We were going to graduate from college in the fall of 2011. For some reason, things didn’t work out. We decided to take a break. She knew that I had been thinking about the priesthood since that retreat.”

Deacon López decided that he was going to try seminary for a year.

Deacon José López smiles as fellow deacons offer their congratulations to him during the sing of peace. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

“It’s now been five years,” he said. “She is now married and has a family. Working with young adults and doing retreats has been fulfilling. Those have been some of the happiest moments in my life.”

Deacon López entered St. Francis de Sales Seminary near Milwaukee. “I really enjoy it. I love it,” he said. “It’s a smaller community. There were about 16 guys when I entered. Next year, we are expecting 45 guys. We go to Sacred Heart (School of Theology) in Hales Corners for academics. Driving back, there is a sense that you are going home.”

Deacon López, the youngest of 11 surviving children of Salvador and Juana López, has also grown in his faith through ministry opportunities. Last summer, he served at Rockford Memorial Hospital in Rockford, Ill.

“When you see the patients suffering, their pain and illness, for me it was seeing the Gospel coming alive,” he said. “The Lord was in me. Some were welcoming to me. Others were not. It’s all part of the learning experience.” He traveled to Rome in the summer of 2015 for classes. The experience also included stays in France and Spain.

“Having that experience in the universal church was a blessing,” he said. “The church is not just St. Philip’s, but is all over the world.”

Deacon López, who was vested at the ordination Mass by Fr. José Mario Nieto, a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee who is a friend from seminary, will serve this summer as a deacon at St. Clare Parish, Greenleaf/Wrightstown/Askeaton, where Fr. Brian Wideman serves as pastor.

In the fall, he will serve at a parish in Milwaukee. Deacon López said that he is both nervous and excited about preaching opportunities.

“I think I’ve been overcritical of the qualities of some homilies,” he said with a laugh. “I will now be on the other side. I see the challenges and difficulties of it. I also see the beauty and opportunity. It’s one of the main ways to draw people closer to the Lord. It does make me very nervous. Am I going to be able to touch people’s hearts? Am I going to be open enough to let the Holy Spirit work through me?”

During the closing of the ordination Mass, Deacon López stopped in the aisle for a quick photo with a young boy. He is the first Hispanic seminarian to have gone through his entire formation in the diocese to be ordained a deacon and the first of Mexican heritage. He would like to see more follow him.

“I will try to pave the way,” he said. “I hope I can be a good example.”


View more photos from ordination

To view additional photos from the May 21 ordination, visit our Flickr album.