Growing Need for Hispanic Priests Boosts New Spanish-Speaking Serra Club
HOUSTON — For every Catholic priest in the United States, there are 1,230 Catholics in the general population.
But that ratio is much higher in the Hispanic community, with 9,925 Hispanic Catholics for every Hispanic priest, according to a national report from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“There is a great need for more Hispanic priests,” said Candice Tyrrell, vice president of the American Council members of Serra International. “We desperately need more priests, especially Hispanic priests, to serve the growing Hispanic population.”
After receiving permission from Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Tyrrell began working with Father Miguel Solorzano, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Houston, and his parishioners to create the first Serra Hispanic Club. within the Archdiocese and the first in the United States.
“As the club becomes firmly established, it would be good to seek out members from other predominantly Hispanic parishes within the archdiocese,” DiNardo recommended.
Solorzano said the newly created affiliation has met several times to organize the charter and elect leaders.
The Serra Club, named after the evangelist Saint Junipero Serra, is an international Catholic association of lay people, men and women, of all ages and backgrounds, committed to promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
Members collaborate with the Archdiocesan Vocations Office through prayer, various vocations programs and annual dues. The group also provides financial support for seminarians and discernment retreats and summer camps to learn about the priesthood.
Relating to his personal experience, Solorzano described going on a professional retreat to Guadalajara, Mexico, as part of a “pre-seminar” experience after the 11th grade of high school.
“In grade 12, I went to a program called ‘seminars with their families’ where we met once a week and had a weekend retreat once a month,” he said. . “At the end of that year, I entered the seminary full-time, so a support program after a vocational retreat is essential.”
But Solorzano said there are academic and cultural barriers for those seeking vocations in the Hispanic community.
“One of the main challenges is the lack of academic training,” Solorzano told the Texas Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. “Without a high school diploma and without legal status in the United States, a young man cannot apply to enter the seminary.”
But there are spiritual groups involving the whole family that appeal to young people, he said.
One of these groups is the Neocatechumenal Way, implemented in small parish communities of up to 50 people and focusing on mission. In 2007, there were about 20,000 such communities worldwide, with about 1 million Catholic members.
“At St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Houston, most vocations to the priesthood come from the neocatechumenal path,” Solorzano said. “The young people in this group feel the desire to live in a seminary that carries the same spirituality that they experienced in the parish.”
Seminarian Brandon Badillo, 21, said he and his family had been among St. Charles Borromeo members for many years and attended worship with the Neocatechumenal Way.
Although he said the group was instrumental, Badillo felt the “natural pull” to the priesthood since he was 7 years old. And coming from a large family – he is the third of 13 – the call came from God in his heart.
He also attended Catholic schools and served as an altar server at Sunday masses, weddings and funerals.
He kept his prayer to become a priest mostly between himself and God until he attended World Youth Day 2019 in Panama.
Badillo shared his discernment process with Solorzano and soon the priest hired him to work in the parish office, as well as livestream Masses and help with social media.
He also credits the Serra Club with encouraging his studies and spiritual development, saying members of his prayer group sent him cards of support and the club also gave him financial aid.
For much of the summer, he worked at St. Ignatius of Loyola Catholic Church in Spring, Texas helping out in times of need and assisting the priest there.
In August, he will return as a third year student to St. Joseph Seminary College in Covington, Louisiana, for philosophy classes and other studies before later transferring to St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston for theology.
In this journey that takes at least seven years of schooling, Badillo prays to be ordained by 2029. But he said such a journey begins with a faithful family raising their children in the church.
“We need more Hispanic priests as more and more Hispanics become the majority of Catholics in the United States. All seminarians now have to learn Spanish, but it was my first language at home,” said he declared. “Our community is saying, ‘We need more priests, but don’t take my kids – I want grandkids,'” he added.
Mayra Meza Suarez, parishioner of St. Charles Borromeo, first president of the Hispanic Serra Club, said, “We are thrilled with the grand launch of the first-ever Hispanic Serra Club. This will benefit everyone – the whole community will gain more vocations.
“Our priests and our religious life need our encouragement and love these days,” she said. “We will definitely learn along the way with our serve. Indeed, we are making history as we embrace this incredible path for our Lord Jesus Christ.
Zuñiga writes for the Texas Catholic Herald, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.