Hello and welcome!
As regular readers know, each year around this time, I like to give some of our newly ordained priests a chance to share their stories with you. Last week, we heard from Father Nathaniel Sanders, and this week, we have a reflection by Father Steven Restrepo.
I hope you enjoy this opportunity to get to know these two new priests!
– Cardinal Seán
I am honored to be a guest on Cardinal Seán’s Blog.
My name is Father Steven Restrepo. I was born and raised in East Boston. Both of my parents are immigrants from Colombia. I have three older brothers who were born in Colombia, making me the First-Generation American in my family. I grew up in a Spanish-speaking home, which is my native language.
My family and I attended Most Holy Redeemer Parish in East Boston when now-Bishop Robert Hennessey was the pastor there. Looking back, I realize there were signs of a possible vocation to the priesthood very early in my life because I would often repeat the words of consecration under my breath as then-Father Hennessey celebrated the Mass. I remember my father telling me to pay attention at the consecration, unaware I was already paying close attention to the words the priest said.
Faith and prayer have been a staple in my family life for as long as I can remember. My parents emphasized the importance of attending Sunday Mass and saying prayers at home. Some events in our family life before I went to college challenged our faith and conviction in God, but through these questions and struggles, my family and I looked to remain faithful to Jesus Christ.
I attended public schools in East Boston and graduated from East Boston High School in 2011. I entered Boston College that fall as a nursing student. It was there that I began to grow in my faith and explore my vocation, beginning with a course called “Exploring Catholicism.”
I took this course as a requirement from Boston College and this is what began my intellectual curiosity about the faith. Up to that point, I had the faith that my parents had passed down to me and what I was able to learn at church. However, with this course, my curiosity and discovery of the “what” and “why” of Church teachings piqued my interest.
I usually say that my vocation started with an intellectual curiosity for the truth and then a spiritual curiosity for the faith. Though I started as a nursing student, I knew by the end of my freshman year that nursing was not for me and that Theology was beginning to be of significant interest.
It was around this time, before the end of my freshman year, that someone asked me to pray with the words of Jeremiah 1:4-9, “The Call of Jeremiah.” I did, and those words began to resonate with me.
Over the next three years at Boston College, the grace of God began to challenge my faith in different ways. Christ was calling me into a deeper relationship and friendship with Him, but I remained afraid to admit that priesthood may be my vocation. Why would God call me? How am I worthy of such a call? There was so much that I knew I would have to change to be ordained — if the Lord was calling me — that I was not sure I could make those changes.
During my final three years at Boston College, I involved myself in multiple service trips, Kairos retreats and other Catholic events on campus that continually pushed me to grow in my faith life.
Sometime during my junior year, the archdiocese’s assistant vocation director visited Most Holy Redeemer Parish. The priest invited any parent whose children might have a vocation to the priesthood to see him after Mass. At the end of Mass, my mother introduced herself and me and invited him to visit our home.
I began to meet with multiple priests from the Vocations Office and sought spiritual direction from a priest to discern the call to the priesthood.
By the spring semester of my senior year, 2015, I made the decision to apply to St. John’s Seminary. I knew that if I started to work in the secular world, I may not give God a second look — though He would have been persistent.
I was accepted and entered St. John’s Seminary in the Fall of 2015. At first, I had many difficulties adjusting to an environment so different from my life experiences, both in the inner city and in college.
After two years in formation, I was asked to participate in the Institute of Priestly Formation (IPF) summer program in Omaha, Nebraska. That experience was the first time in my life that I was away from everyone I knew and everything I was familiar with.
Truly, my vocation and life changed at IPF. During the eight-day silent retreat, I reflected on my life and my vocation. While I still wanted to be a good practicing Catholic, I began to think that perhaps I was not called to be a priest. I recalled my struggles in seminary up to that point and that I was not seeing the change I needed to have as a man discerning priesthood.
It was on the third day of the retreat that I decided to go to confession with a Jesuit priest. It was at this moment in the confessional when God’s grace came in to begin the change of heart I needed. This priest spelled out what I needed to change and do better as a seminarian.
I left the confessional and prayed in front of a beautiful crucifix inside the church with the Blessed Mother on one side and St. John the Apostle on the other. As I knelt before this crucifix, I began to cry and prayed for a change in myself, to have a true conversion of heart.
I remember asking the Lord, “I do not know if I can do this. I think you are calling me to be a priest, but I need a change of heart. You need to do something here, something in me!”
I continued my prayer, looking at the crucifix and asking that the Lord would “break me down and build me up in your image.” After I said these words, I felt the Lord say, “Finally, my work can begin.”
I am not exaggerating when I say that my life, experience in seminary, and vocation changed for the better. My time in seminary formation became much more joyful after my encounter with God’s love and mercy in the confessional. I began to see the Eucharist in a new light and continued to receive graces every time I went to confession with an open heart.
Now, fast forward to the coronavirus pandemic. This prompted the closure of the seminary for a few months in 2020 and caused the transitional diaconate ordination to be postponed to October of that year.
Shortly after the pandemic started and the transitional diaconate was postponed, I began to have a motto of “day by day” or “one day at a time.” I would later come to find out this motto is very biblical, harkening to the letter of St. James. After I was ordained a transitional deacon in 2020, I was asked to go on a pastoral year. This is where the motto “day by day” became especially appropriate.
Throughout my discernment for the priesthood, there have been many transitions, which have not always been easy. I struggled to adjust to others’ expectations and my own. One could say I felt the pressure. The pandemic surely did not smooth away any fears or anxieties of our changing world.
So, as my classmates were ordained to the priesthood in May of 2021, I was preparing to go on a pastoral year in St. Joseph Parish in Needham. It was during this year that I was able to reflect a lot and pray with Jesus. I was able to go back to the foundation of what brought me to say “yes” to the diaconate and to look at the blessings that would come as a result of my pastoral year.
When I made the choice to live day by day, my time at St. Joseph Parish was full of blessings. The priests, deacon and all the lay faithful welcomed me with open arms and continued to be so supportive until my final day. To this day, I know many of them remain supportive of my vocation. They accepted and welcomed me into their spiritual home.
As the year turned to 2022 and priestly ordination approached, I reflected on how perfect God’s timing is. No matter what obstacles I placed on God or that others placed on me, God’s time and plan are perfect. The advice I give to others who await a big decision in their life, or to whatever vocation God is calling them, is to remain patient, steadfast in prayer and committed to Jesus Christ.
As May 21, 2022, approached, I could not believe how fast the year had passed. The years 2020 and 2021 had some rough stretches, not just for my life but in the lives of so many others who supported my vocation to the priesthood.
On my ordination day, I had many emotions cross my heart and mind as Mass started, but the main ones were: peace, joy, gratitude and thanksgiving to Jesus Christ. After persevering through many obstacles with prayer and the support of family and friends, we were all able to celebrate what Jesus Christ did at the Mass of Ordination.
At the end of the Mass, I looked for my parents to give them my first priestly blessing as they had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary a few months prior. I looked forward to hearing my first confession, as that sacrament played a pivotal role in changing my heart and my journey towards priesthood.
Since my ordination to the priesthood, I’ve been overjoyed with Christ’s grace working through me. I remain humbled by God’s gift, not only for me but for others through me. I hope to continue to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ as a priest by way of my humanity.
I started my priestly assignment at St. Thomas Aquinas in Bridgewater on June 1.
I look forward to seeing what Christ’s mission for me at Bridgewater is. Every place I have been assigned as a seminarian and deacon has taught me something, so I am sure God has a plan for me in Bridgewater. My motto of “day by day” remains a staple of my spiritual life. This motto keeps me grounded and humbled in the present moment and not look too far ahead.
Life is not something to be taken for granted. We cannot demand anything from Jesus Christ but to be present and ask for His guidance day by day. Once again, I am grateful to Cardinal Seán for inviting me to be a guest blogger this week. God Bless you all!