By Denise Peterson
Special to CS&T

Two young Hispanic men are pursuing religious life this fall. Manuel Flores from St. Hugh of Cluny Parish started as a first year College spanision student at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood in August. Jesús Ríos from St. William Parish began his first year at Montgomery County Community College as part of a discernment program where he will be participating in the common life of the Capuchin Franciscan Friars in Washington, D.C.

Their stories have similar threads. Both men are Puerto Rican and have family members here and back home. Both were encouraged by members of their parish to consider the priesthood.

“My mom signed me up for catechism classes, and that’s when I started to grow spiritually. I started to go to that, and I met Sister Rachel (Sister M. Rachel Torrieri, I.H.M., pastoral minister to Hispanic Catholics at St. William Parish) who was a big help. She provided me with my first Bible, and spoke to me about the Catholic Church. That’s when I started to think about the priesthood,” Ríos said.

Manuel Flores remembers encouragement of St. Hugh’s director of religious education, Nancy Sanchez. “She is kind of the reason why I’m here. She has been praying for me for years. She said that she knew I had a vocation to the priesthood even before I knew.”

Both men remember specifically hearing the call from God.

“When I accepted the call it was a Wednesday in mid-March. I’ll never forget that day,” Flores said. He was on his lunch break from jury duty and passed by a newsstand, where a book caught his eye. “I bought a book called ‘Bible Prophecies,'” he said.

“Two days later I was reading it, and something I read made it clear that this was my call. I started crying, and I felt like there was a peace in me. I knelt down and prayed, ‘Lord, if this is what You are truly calling me to, to be a priest, let Your will be done.’ And I accepted the call,” he said.

Ríos received the call on a retreat. “On Feb. 6, I went to a retreat in Cleveland, Ohio. A cousin of mine recommended that I go. I really liked the retreat, I felt touched by God, and I felt like becoming a priest was what God wanted me to do. So I decided to go for it, and here I am,” he said.

As the Hispanic population of Philadelphia has grown, so has the need for priests who can speak Spanish and relate to many first and second generation immigrants. Msgr. Joseph Prior, rector at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, said that although they try to encourage vocations among people of all backgrounds, Hispanic men have been underrepresented at the seminary. “We need more men of Hispanic background, whose families have originated from Central and South America,” said Msgr. Prior.

What are their goals as they hope to become priests? “I will go wherever the Church needs me,” said Ríos.

And for Flores, “I like helping people and doing charity work. I like to offer whatever help I can, especially to those who are homeless,” he said. “It comes from wanting to serve God. Jesus is in all of us, and you can’t deny Him.”

Denise Peterson is a freelance writer in Philadelphia.