Up until I was a freshman in high school, I had not seriously thought about what I should do with my life. As far as my faith was concerned, I had a strong belief in God, prayed regularly, and had a relationship with Jesus, but I was not yet a Catholic. In my early high school years, two major themes started happening in my life. First, I began to strongly consider a career as an Army officer; second, I was questioning aspects of my faith and was searching for the right church.
My interest in the military started when I began living with my stepfather, an Army officer. He gave me a glimpse of the Army culture. Along with that, I was also in Marine Corps JROTC and was fueled by a demand of physical and mental discipline, leadership opportunities, and other challenges. I came to believe that the gifts God gave me would be best suited to enact the greatest good as an officer in the military.
I was simultaneously undergoing a spiritual transformation. I realized more and more that my faith had to be an essential component of my life. Not yet a Catholic and questioning the beliefs I grew up with, I started visiting various churches to see which one I should attend. It wasn’t until I began attending Mass at a Catholic Church that I knew where God was calling me. I initially attending Mass as my sophomore year I was at a Catholic school where I absolutely loved everything I learned about the Catholic faith. Between a love for the faith and the newfound love of the order and spiritual depth of the Mass, I knew God was drawing me into the Catholic Church. It was this year that I entered RCIA and became Catholic.
While enrolled in RCIA, I first considered the call to the priesthood. A priest, during an all school Mass, stated ‘he sat where we sat and perhaps one day one of us will stand where he stands as a priest at the altar.’ I was overjoyed at the thought of celebrating Mass, giving homilies, and bringing people the love of God. This consolation was real and powerful, but was followed by fear of not getting married, not having children, and not being able to pursue a career in the military. From then on, thoughts of the priesthood would never go away.
I finished high school, went to Wheaton College, decided to pursue a career in the Army through ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps), and continued to spiritually grow. As I learned more about my faith I loved the Church more and more, and as I continued to pray for God’s will, God gave me an inexplicable peace about the priesthood. I knew that I loved the Church more than I could love a woman and had to seriously consider the priesthood.
This is when I started considering becoming an Army Chaplain. As an Army chaplain I would be able to be a Catholic priest while also serving my country as an Army officer. I would spend 6 years in seminary, 3 years in the Archdiocese of Washington, and then start my Army commitment where I could serve soldiers who have a great spiritual need because of the tremendous situations they find themselves in. This path seemed better than I could have ever planned out myself.
During the spring of my junior year I knew this was the route I should take. I applied to and was accepted to seminary, commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army, and entered seminary in the Fall of 2011.
I first thought about being a priest when I was in 5th grade and had just begun altar serving. As high school approached, however, the idea of being a priest was pushed out of my mind as other interests took its place. I was very interested in history and politics and decided I wanted to be a politician and fix the country. I was also a lot more interested in girls, and a life of celibacy just didn’t seem to fit into the picture.
When I entered college at the George Washington University, I quickly realized politics was not for me and I began to get involved in the Newman Catholic Center on Campus. I began attending daily Mass, going to the weekly hour of Eucharistic Adoration, and more and more of my friends told me that I should think about being a priest. Still, priesthood was not what I wanted; I rejected it every time someone suggested the possibility to me. At the same time, I felt like I had to have my life planned out, so this question of discernment had to be settled as well: should I be a priest or should I get married? I began to put a lot of pressure on myself; I had to figure this out! Finally, after being so full of anxiety, I turned to the Vocation Director. He told me to stop discerning, and just get to know the Lord. It was a bombshell for me! Stop discerning? But I took his advice and focused purely on praying and getting to know the Lord. I didn’t think about what my future would be like, I didn’t make plans for after college; I just left myself open.
In this environment the Lord began to work in me. One day I was praying at Mass and I looked toward the altar during the Eucharistic prayer and I thought, “Maybe I could do this.” Immediately, God gave me tremendous grace and joy. I was so happy and I didn’t know why! The only way I can describe it is the way the disciples described their feelings after meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus, “Did not our hearts burn within us as he spoke to us on the way?” I knew God was speaking to me! All I wanted to do was to be with Him and do what He wanted. And all of a sudden I knew I had to start thinking about discerning again. I met again with Msgr. Panke and this time he suggested not only that I might be called to enter seminary, but that perhaps I should think about entering right after graduation. I had never in a million years thought about seminary right after graduation! But the more I thought and prayed about it, the more it just made sense. So I applied, not quite sure what I was doing, but trusting that the Lord would take care of me. When I was accepted, I was so happy and I ran to the Newman Center chapel to thank God. I prayed evening prayer and the antiphon for the day was “Did not our hearts burn within us as he spoke to us on the way?” What consolation and confirmation! Since entering the seminary, the Lord has blessed me with so many great joys and I have never been happier!
I distinctly recall a scene from the TV show “The X-files” when I was in college, in which FBI Agent Scully heads out to the National Mall for her daily bike ride. I was so envious of her life: imagine being able to live, work and play in the shadow of the Capitol building! Although living in Washington was the furthest thing from my mind at the time, five years later—through the twists and turns of God’s Providence—I found myself living that very life. I had a beautiful condominium on Capitol Hill, a fulfilling job as a computer programmer, and a jogging route which ran the length of the Mall. Perfect!
Or…was it? Something seemed to be missing. I attended Mass faithfully, and even started praying every morning and evening during my commute, but somehow God was not a part of my 9-to-5 routine. My life seemed to be disjointed: a deep joy and consolation after attending Mass or Holy Hour, but a spiritual laziness during the rest of my week. My fellow parishioners and my Catholic friends helped me piece together the puzzle. God was calling me to a life that was wholly devoted to him, a life that was integral and not fragmented, a life that was permeated by his presence day by day. I could not live that life in my world. And so I quit my perfect job, moved out of my perfect condominium, and turned my path towards seminary—and towards Perfection himself.
Mother Theresa used to say that “God draws straight with crooked lines”. As a “second career” vocation I couldn’t agree with her more and thankfully so! I first heard the call while in college. After meeting with my pastor he suggested I continuing discerning while in school and then working for a while. Who knew that discernment would span 25 years! During that time I moved to Washington DC (1987) where I was blessed to work in the fields of neurophysiology, information technology, and business development working in the private sector and the federal government. Wonderful and lasting friendships were formed and I had a real sense of gratitude for the opportunities I was given. However, following the journey of Blessed John Paul II during the last years of his life occasionally would bring to mind some of those earlier desires that were in my heart when I was younger.
Then my mother and our Blessed Mother took over. One Christmas my mom gave me the gift of my grandfather’s Rosary. I started praying the Rosary before daily Mass every day, and the Blessed Mother has wrapped her arms around me every since leading me closer to her Son. I became more active in the parish as an altar server and lector, and as an RCIA sponsor. Then in the fall of 2007 I was blessed to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Praying at the tomb of our Lord in the Holy Sepulcher I offered my life to serve our Lord if that is was what He desired for me. This was confirmed for me the following year when, on a pilgrimage to Assisi, I encountered an inscription on the wall outside of the Basilica which said in part “on October 4, 1962, the Feast of St. Francis, Pope John XXIII celebrated Mass here”. That is the exact day, month, and year I was born, and I knew the seminary I would more than likely attend was Blessed John XXIII Seminary. So for me this was like an email confirmation from heaven.
Afterwards, I was on a business trip in Austin, TX sitting in a hotel room when I received the phone call I had been accepted. I wanted to shout out the window to share with the world the great joy that was in my heart. That joy grows every day. These journeys don’t happen alone, it is only with the support and prayers of so many people known and unknown to us that it possible. I offer my formation as a gift of thanksgiving to Almighty God and to all the countless people who make it possible.
In reflecting on what led me to enter the seminary to begin my studies for the priesthood, I would have to say it was the awareness of God’s loving presence in my life and how much I had to be thankful for. I knew that for me the only way I could respond to His many gifts was to give my life to Him, in loving service of the Church.
I grew up in a Catholic family, where our faith was important and formed who we were as a family, but it was your typical family with all its ups, downs and struggles. I was enrolled in the local public school and was involved in many activities, both after school and in other local organizations such as 4H. So when I think about it, I had a pretty normal life, but one thing sticks out in my life and it would have to be the first time I felt God calling me to the priesthood.
For me it came in a passing "what if" kind of thought when I was about 10 years old. I was an altar server at my home parish of Immaculate Conception in Mechanicsville, Maryland and I watched what my pastor Msgr. Paul Gozaloff did during Mass and how kind and loving he was to my family and me. This all got me thinking what it would be like to be a priest. While I entertained these thoughts off and on but once I started at the local junior high and got involved in different after-school commitments, filling my life with a lot of activity, the idea began to disappear. As I got older, the more involved I got in different activities, I began to put more emphasis on friends and trying to be a part of the "in crowd." All of this quickly caused me to worry about many other things and the idea priesthood very rarely came into the picture.
Luckily, one of the activities that I decided to add to my life was volunteering at my parish. My parents were volunteering for different things that need to be done around the parish so I took their example and joined in. It was okay, I was helping out and getting service hours that I needed for Confirmation and graduation, so I thought to myself if wasn’t too bad. But as I began to help out, I began to see the life of the parish, how the people came to the priest with all their joys, sorrows and concerns and how he became Christ for them and what a sense of peace he brought to their lives. I remember thinking what an amazing life it must be to be a priest and to be so much for so many people. And it was with that that the thoughts of priesthood came back. By this time I was around 14, I just had started high school and not to mention had my first girlfriend. I quickly tried to dismiss the thoughts but God had something else in mind.
The thoughts kept coming off and on and at times I could not think of anything else. It was like it consumed my thoughts. I wanted to talk to someone about it, but I thought that it was some crazy idea that would pass, much like it had done in the past. Besides, I thought my parents would not understand, and very few of my friends were Catholic and besides what would they think if I said I wanted to be a priest. I surely was not going to tell my girlfriend at the time and my pastor, a priest, was the last person I was going to tell that I was thinking about it. So I went on with life, ignoring the fact that God could possibly be calling me to the priesthood.
It was not until the end of my sophomore year of high school that my pastor came up to me after Mass and invited me to a Project Andrew dinners sponsored by the Archdiocese. At these dinners, young men who are invited by their parish priest are invited to consider the possibility of the priesthood. I was so relieved he had done it for me; he had opened the door for me to be able to talk to someone about it. So, I told my parents and they were supportive -- not pushy, but supportive -- and I told my pastor that I would go. It was a great experience; I got to meet other men my own age who were thinking of the priesthood and I got to meet seminarians that were studying for the priesthood. The whole evening just filled me with a great desire to know more. So I asked my pastor question after question, I attended the summer "Come and See" retreats and I asked a local priest near my high school to be my spiritual director.
I continued to pray and discern the possibility throughout my high school years, all the while staying involved in my school, living the normal high school life and continuing to date. Then at the end of my junior year I decided to quit dating and asked the vocation director to begin the application process and in March of 2000 I was accepted as a seminarian for the Archdiocese.
I began my seminary formation in the fall of 2000 at St. Pius X Seminary, located outside of Scranton, PA. At St. Pius, I prayed and lived in community together with other college age seminarians and studied at the nearby University of Scranton, a Catholic university run by the Jesuits. For me the college seminary experience was great, I was able to go to attend a great Catholic university, while having that great gift of seminary formation.
After completing degrees in philosophy and theology, I was sent by the Archbishop of Washington to complete my studies for the priesthood at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. My time in Rome has been truly a blessing. I have the unique opportunity to study with men and women from around the world and to experience the universal nature of the Church. Most importantly, I have the honor of being able to be close the Holy Father, the successor to St. Peter as he teaches and leads the Church. It is a great place to be formed as a Priest. My years in Seminary have been years of many blessings and has lead me in to a deeper relationship with the person of Christ. I have never regretted the decision to enter the seminary, and am thankful for the awesome life Christ is calling me to.
Mi nombre es Jaime Hernández, fui ordenado sacerdote para la arquidiócesis de Washington el 24 de mayo del 2003 y mi primera asignación sacerdotal es en el Santuario de San Judas, en Rockville, Maryland.
Nací el 23 de agosto de 1973 en Santa Clara, El Salvador. Tener que crecer en mi país durante los años más difíciles de la guerra civil fue todo un desafío. Los retos y el dolor que me esperaban tendrían como apoyo el ejemplo de esperanza, convicción y dedicación a la fe católica de mi familia. El 19 de abril de 1985, me convertí en víctima de la guerra: al pararme en una mina perdí mi pierna derecha. Mi accidente, a la edad de 11 años, ha sido uno de los retos más difíciles que he tenido que superar.
Después de que el hospital me dio de alta, pasé dos años buscando diferentes centros de rehabilitación en El Salvador. Estaba muy seguro de que alguien me ayudaría a conseguir una prótesis para tratar de rehacer mi vida. No fue fácil quedar inválido con once añitos de vida. Es la edad de socializar, de buscar horizontes y crecer. Pero mi fe fue un cimiento firme en medio de la violencia que me rodeaba y en los instantes más difíciles del proceso de rehabilitación sentí la ayuda misericordiosa del Señor.
En junio de 1987, fui enviado a los Estados Unidos por medio de un programa de ayuda del Senado Americano y el proyecto HOPE. Vine al Hospital de Arlington, en Virginia, donde tuve una operación para que pudiera usar un pie artificial. Después de tres meses de tratamiento regresé a El Salvador con mi prótesis. Desde entonces, me propuse crecer en la vida espiritual y empecé a asistir a la Misa todos los días.
En 1989, vine a vivir a los Estados Unidos con toda mi familia. Una de las dificultades que tuve era la imposibilidad de asistir a la Misa todos los días y creo que mi vida espiritual vino a menos. Me encontraba en un país donde no podía practicar la fe como lo hacía en El Salvador. Además tenía un nuevo reto que enfrentar, el inglés. Por ello dediqué más tiempo a aprenderlo y practicarlo que a la vida espiritual. Unos años después empecé a ver la Misa por televisión que transmite el canal católico EWTN. La Misa diaria y la vida de los Santos eran mis programas favoritos y nunca me los perdía. Fue por medio de este canal que pensé en acercarme más a Dios, en regresar a la vida de fe, una experiencia ya vivida en mi país de origen.
Meditando en el futuro, empecé a pensar lo bonito que sería entregar mi vida al Señor como lo hicieron los santos. Entonces apareció la idea del sacerdocio. Reflexioné sobre ello cierto tiempo pero no tenía valor de hablar con el sacerdote de mi parroquia para decirle lo que estaba pensando. Después de sentir por algún tiempo el llamado a la vocacion sacerdotal, a la entrega total a Dios y a su pueblo, me di cuenta que no podía seguir huyendo. Después decidí hablar con mi párroco y decirle que deseaba ir al seminario. Él me invitó a colaborar en la vida litúrgica y pastoral de la parroquia y fui su sacristán por algún tiempo. El trabajo en la parroquia me ayudó a profundizar más en la vocación sacerdotal.
Inicié mis estudios de filosofía en agosto de 1996 en el seminario San Juan María Vianney, en Miami. Estudié la teología en el Monte Santa María en Emmitsburg, Maryland. Disfruté mucho de mis estudios en el seminario y disfruto mucho más de mi vida sacerdotal.
Estoy muy agradecido con Dios por haberme llamado a su servicio. Si tú sientes que Dios te está llamando al sacerdocio, yo te invito a responder con un corazón generoso. En verdad me da mucha alegría poder celebrar la Santa Misa, y poder reconciliar al pueblo con Dios por medio del sacramento de la confesión.
Each man who feels the urge, the call, the desire for priesthood must take it seriously. However, he must realize that the decision is not made the first day. The Church in her wisdom gives you years of formation so that when the Archbishop calls your name you can step forward with a free and certain heart. You don’t propose on a first date and the Church does not ordain you unless you and those responsible feel that you are certainly called by Christ.
We all have questions to answer so that we can freely answer yes to Jesus’ call to Holy Orders or move on to follow Him in another vocation. I learned how to embrace celibacy as a life-giving path to holiness. I learned to pray. I learned the power of obediently following my bishop and so finding true freedom in letting God’s "will be done."
I describe my parents as "professional Catholics" – daily Mass, First Friday. They are professional in that they take their faith very seriously, but they do so with a great deal of humor and joy. It is and was the perfect seed-bed for a vocation. Having a priest in such a family would bring them much joy, an answer to a Catholic mom-of-eight’s prayers. Therein lay the problem. Although I had taught school for three years after graduating from Holy Cross and I had brought an apartment with my brother, I still had to make sure that my decision to be a priest was a mature one, a holy choice. I had to make sure that I was not just saying yes because I knew it would make my parents happy. I had many areas where I needed to grow, but this was a definite area where I needed clarity. Eventually, through many hours in front of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, theology classes and seminary formation, I really began to hear the Lord and know it was His voice calling me to serve Him as a priest. The fact that my mom and dad were happy was an added bonus. My vocation was mine, a gift from Christ that I needed to cherish and guard as the precious gift it is.
People often ask me when I decided to be a priest, and I respond, "my third year of seminary." They look surprised as if I should have known the day I entered. It takes years of seminary to certify the initial desire to be a priest. That’s why seminaries exist.