ALLOUEZ — One day after celebrating his 30th birthday, Deacon José López will celebrate a milestone on his faith journey. On June 30, he will be ordained to the priesthood by Bishop David Ricken at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral.
“I’m anticipating it to be different from the diaconate ordination,” he said. “The diaconate is where the big promises are made — liturgy of the hours, celibacy, obedience. It will be a renewal of those promises. I’ve been thinking about the ontological change. I’ve been praying and asking the Lord, ‘What does that mean?’ I’m sure there is going to be a lot of joy, a lot of happiness, a lot of excitement.”
Deacon López is the youngest of 11 surviving children of Salvador and Juana López. When he entered seminary, his parents did not think that they would see him become a priest.
“My parents thought they were too old to see me ordained,” he said. “My dad is 72 and my mom is only 69. God willing they are going to be alive. It’s very emotional for them and for me as well.”
The López family moved to Green Bay from Central Mexico when Deacon López was 12 years old. He attended Sunday Mass, but wasn’t engaged in his faith during his youth. While a student at UW-Green Bay, Deacon López became involved in Jornadas de Vida Cristiana (Journey of a Christian Life), a Catholic youth group movement that provided spiritual growth and eventually led to the call to the priesthood.
Deacon López entered St. Francis de Sales Seminary near Milwaukee six years ago. Seminarians attend classes at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology in nearby Hales Corners.
“It was very emotional when I walked out of Sacred Heart for probably the last time,” he said. “I say that I don’t like school, but I did well. Knowing that it was the last time, a part of you is left there. If I go back, I will probably visit St. Francis. There are a number of great people that I will miss, but I do look forward to parish life.”
Deacon López experienced parish life as a deacon last summer. He served at St. Clare Parish, Greenleaf/Wrightstown/Askeaton.
“It was good. There is a lot of youth there,” he said. “I was able to do the Steubenville (Youth Conference in St. Louis) trip with them. We were the largest parish contributor. We had 30-plus kids from the parish.”
Deacon López returned to St. Clare on weekends during the spring semester. He also served as a deacon during the fall 2017 semester at Prince of Peace and St. Adalbert parishes in Milwaukee.
“I was able to do some preaching and a lot of baptisms,” he said. “They (St. Clare) have some beautiful old churches. I have a Mass scheduled there (5 p.m. in Wrightstown) on July 14.”
Following his ordination to the priesthood, Deacon López, whose home parish is St. Philip the Apostle in Green Bay, will be appointed parochial vicar at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Manitowoc. He will also serve as part-time chaplain at Roncalli High School in Manitowoc.
“I met with the staff and attended daily Mass in Manitowoc,” said Deacon López. “My first day, July 16, I will have the 6:45 a.m. Mass. I look forward to celebrating Mass and visiting nursing homes. I think I will be helping with the Spanish Masses (St. Thomas the Apostle) in Newton.”
Deacon López attended the final Mass at Roncalli celebrated by Fr. Mark Mleziva, his predecessor. Fr. Mleziva will serve as vocation director for the diocese. Tears were shed at the liturgy.
“Dude, what am I supposed to do now? You are setting the bar way too high. I’m just a short man. I can’t even jump,” said Deacon López with a laugh. “It will be a very good challenge for me. I just have to keep telling myself that I’m not here to fill Fr. Mark’s shoes, but to just do whatever the Lord is asking of me.”
Deacon López, who will be vested by Fr. Tom Long at the ordination Mass, will be the first Hispanic priest to complete his entire formation in the Diocese of Green Bay and the first of Mexican heritage. He will celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving in English at St. Philip the Apostle Church at 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 30. Fr. Thomas DeVries, his spiritual director at St. Francis de Sales Seminary, will preach. The newly ordained priest will give the homily at a Mass of Thanksgiving in Spanish at noon on Sunday, July 1, at St. Philip the Apostle Church.
Deacon López said that it is a challenge when he has to preach in English and Spanish on the same weekend. He reads Scripture and commentaries on the readings to prepare his homily.
“I then pray with it on Thursday,” he said. “On Friday, I go to the chapel and write it out as if I was going to read it. I later type it and highlight words and ideas. It’s usually in my mind by then. I can just speak it and not read it. I have it there just in case.”
Deacon López will travel with his parents and other family members to Mexico on July 6. During the visit, he will celebrate Mass at his original home church, San Miguel Arcangel (St. Michael the Archangel) in Yahualica in the state of Jalisco.
“I was back for a couple days last September for a wedding, but I just flew in and flew out. This is going to be six days,” he explained. “We have godparents for first Communion in Mexico. My godparent’s wife is going to help me with the music. It’s a beautiful old church. My sister and her family and a lot of cousins, uncles, aunts and my godparents who live there will be at the Mass. Sitting at the same altar, preaching from the ambo that I read from as a kid is quite the opportunity nearly 20 years later.”
Deacon López is thankful for those who have guided him on his journey, including Fr. Long whom he describes as “very influential” and Fr. Daniel Schuster, vocation director. He also points to the prayers from the Hispanic community.
“It’s been amazing to see the support, especially the Hispanic community at St. Philip,” said Deacon López. “Every time I go there, people are happy to see me.”
In the weeks leading up the ordination, he sought some days in silence for reflection. Deacon López said that he has grown significantly in faith during his years in formation.
“My charity level, just humanly speaking, has come so far,” he said. “I think through a lot of healing experiences, I’ve grown in humility. I just have a lot of appreciation for the faith, not faith alone, but also the living God. There are a lot more areas where I can improve and where I will be improving in the years to come.”