To end our celebration of Catholic Schools Week on a highpoint, Deacon Paul Ybarra, C.S.C., shares with us the story of how God called him through his work as a teacher in the Alliance for Catholic Education to enter Holy Cross as a seminarian. Deacon Paul will be ordained a priest in Sacred Heart Basilica on Saturday, April 30. What a great day that will be for Paul, for Holy Cross, and for the Church as he enters into a new and definite chapter in his ministry as an educator in the faith.
The biggest obstacle for me to entering the seminary was family, or to be more specific, the desire to have one of my very own. I had it in my mind throughout my time as an undergrad at Notre Dame that I would eventually move back to California, live close to my immediate family, marry, and start a family of my own. However, Holy Cross loomed large in my thinking. I knew the men of Holy Cross to be kind, caring, and very generous with their time. Fr. Paul Doyle, C.S.C., was a great example of what it is to be a Holy Cross priest, a man dedicated to the faithful entrusted to him, in this case, the men of Dillon Hall. Priesthood was always in the back of my mind though, but the idea of family and returning home was more dominate.
Wanting to give back to the institutions that led to me going to Notre Dame, most particularly the schools and the Church that formed me, I decided to join the Alliance for Catholic Education. It was there that I came to encounter other dynamic priests who would influence my vocational path. There were men like Fr. Tim Scully, C.S.C., Fr. Sean McGraw, C.S.C., founders of ACE. I got to know Fr. Nate Wills, C.S.C., who was a classmate a year ahead of me in the ACE program, and Fr. Joe Corpora, C.S.C., who built the school that I worked at for two years in Goodyear, AZ. I am eternally grateful to Fr. Joe for his commitment to St. John Vianney Parish in Goodyear, for it was there that I finally discerned that Holy Cross was the path I should take.
It was during my time teaching in the ACE program at St. John Vianney that I thought seriously about abandoning the dream of a family of my own and following another dream by joining the family of Holy Cross. My service to that school and parish community opened me up to the possibilities of religious life. I spent my day teaching other people’s children, sometimes spending more time with them than their own parents. I realized that the raising of children requires a community of people, one that would ensure the formation of good loving Christians. In order to further that endeavor, there needs to be institutions dedicated to Christian formation, places like the parishes, schools, and universities that Holy Cross serves at and programs engaging the laity of the Church to be that force for change, like the ACE program, founded by Holy Cross priests.
As I was discerning the good in my life, whether it be my teaching, my commitment to the future of the Church, or my service to those most in need, I came to find that Holy Cross was already there, ready to meet the needs of Christ’s Church. I was aided in my choice to enter seminary by St. John Vianney’s Holy Cross community at the time: Fr. Tom Eckert C.S.C., Fr. John DeRiso C.S.C., and Fr. John Herman C.S.C. Their dedication and joy in serving the people of St. John Vianney helped make the decision clear for me: If priesthood was the path I was going to take in life, then it would be through the Congregation of Holy Cross.
Now, it is just a few more months until I am ordained a priest in Holy Cross, and I cannot wait! I cannot wait not just to serve the Church and the world as a priest, but to do so side-by-side with my brothers in Holy Cross. In ways I never fully anticipated, Holy Cross has become the very family I always longed for. I know that in the family of Holy Cross, I am a better man of God, a better servant of the Good News. And so, together with my brothers in Holy Cross, my great hope is that we will become ever more men with hope to bring.