Two new priests
Two transitional deacons will be ordained to the holy priesthood at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 10 at St. Anthony Church in Harlingen.
Bishop Daniel E. Flores is set to preside at the ordination of Deacon Ernest Ukwueze and Deacon Derlis Garcia with Bishop Emeritus Raymundo J. Peña and other priests concelebrating.
A native of Nsukka, a city located in Enugu State, Nigeria, Deacon Ukwueze spent the first years of his life “not going to church at all.”
“I was not baptized as an infant,” he said. “I was baptized when I was 11.”
When he was five years old, a girl in his neighborhood, a distant relative, invited him to attend Mass for the first time.
“She was a member of the choir and she would take me to church,” said Deacon Ukwueze, 33. “I fell in love with what I saw at Mass on the first day.
“I thought those altar servers were the sons of the priest. After the Mass, I was introduced to the priest and asked him, ‘Can you make me one of your sons?’ The priest laughed and laughed.”
From that day on, Deacon Ukwueze said he started getting closer to the Church.
“I started feeling this call (to the priesthood) from that young age,” he said. “I would gather the other kids and pretend to be priest, using cookies as the Body of Christ and Coca Cola as the Blood of Christ.”
Deacon Ukwueze also joined a pious society for children and young adults.
“Every day, the other kids and I would gather in different homes and pray the Rosary,” he said. “One of the older kids or their parents would also give us some kind of catechetical instruction.
“For example, we would read the Bible and then listen to a reflection or discuss what we just read. I was a staunch member of the society even before I got baptized and was the president for many years until I left for the seminary.”
He studied philosophy in Tanzania and moved to Chicago “in the dead of winter” to join a small religious community. However, he was the only seminarian and found that the community was struggling. Adjusting to the cold weather was also quite challenging, he said.
The leaders of the community encouraged him to apply to serve as a diocesan priest and suggested a few dioceses, including the Diocese of Brownsville.
“They recommended the Valley because of the need for priests here and the warm weather, but I was seeing God’s hand throughout the process,” Deacon Ukwueze said.
The son of Teresa and the late Joseph Ukwueze, he is scheduled to celebrate his first Mass of Thanksgiving at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, June 11 at Our Lady Queen of the Universe Church in San Benito, his adopted home parish.
As a priest, he hopes to reach out to the youth and encourage them to get involved in the Church and learn more about their faith, just as others did for him.
Deacon Derlis Garcia, 35, was born in Monterrey, Mexico, grew up in Valle Hermoso, Tamaulipas, Mexico and returned to Monterrey for high school and university. His parents, Roberto and Tere Garcia, however, have been living in the Harlingen area for 17 years. Deacon Garcia considers St. Anthony Church in Harlingen, where he will be ordained to the priesthood, as his home parish.
After his graduate studies in Madrid, Spain, Deacon Garcia joined his family in Harlingen in 2010. He attended a vocations retreat sponsored by the Diocese of Brownsville in the summer of 2011.
“I went not really thinking about the vocation, but mostly for quiet time. And then during the retreat I had the revelation or inspiration that I should go to the seminary and so I did,” he said.
A month later, he was officially a seminarian.
Deacon Garcia said he was lukewarm in his faith throughout his childhood.
“We went to church every Sunday, but I wouldn’t call that overly religious,” he said. “I sort of left the faith for junior high and high school and came back my senior year in high school.”
He experienced a conversion during a mission trip to a poor community south of Monterrey.
“It was wonderful experience,” Deacon Garcia said. “It was a realization that Christ was the living God, first and foremost manifesting through the other missionaries. People’s witness of charity and faith did the trick for me.”
After the mission trip, he was close to the Church and was called to service, especially to work with the youth. He coordinated two mission trips a year for the youth, led prayer and fellowship groups and volunteered at his church. He was living what he describes as “an intense sacramental life,” and was a daily communicant.
“I was living with one foot in the church world and the other foot in the professional world, going to school and working as an executive,” he said. “I saw myself having a family someday while still serving the Church.
“At the vocations retreat, I realized that God was hinting for me to join seminary. I was given the great hope and joy to be able to dedicate myself fully to the Church.”
Deacon Garcia looks forward to working with families as well as the youth, immigrants and the pro-life movement in his priestly ministry – all ministries he served while in formation.
“The family is the nest where Christianity will flourish or not,” he said. “I would like to reach out to young couples and young families and help them succeed.”
He is scheduled to celebrate his first Mass at noon on Sunday, June 11 at St. Anthony Church in Harlingen.
Story by Rose Ybarra, The Valley Catholic