PORTLAND---Four seminarians of the Diocese of Portland will openly declare their intention to complete their preparation for the priesthood during the Rite of Candidacy, also known as Admission to Candidacy for Ordination as Deacons and Priests, on Friday, December 11, at 5 p.m. at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland.The Mass, celebrated by Bishop Robert Deeley, will be live-streamed and shown on Facebook.
Though the seminarians have already been in formation for several years, the Rite of Candidacy signifies they have reached a point in their discernment where they and the Church are ready to make their intentions public. The seminarians will promise to prepare themselves in mind and spirit to “give faithful service to Christ the Lord and his Body, the Church.”
“We come together to mark a particular moment in the vocation journey of these seminarians who, in this ceremony, express their intention to receive the sacrament of holy orders,” said Bishop Deeley. “They have been conscientious in the many ways in which they have embraced the formation program, but the statement they will make on Friday is not just a product of formation in seminary. It is the fruit of a life of prayer and drawing closer to the Lord and Savior they seek now to serve more fully in the priesthood.”
Matthew Valles is in his second year of theological studies at Saint John’s Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts, and is a native of Barrington, Rhode Island. He came to Maine in 2009 to study physics at Bates College in Lewiston.
While at Bates, he participated in an engineering internship in Boston. When four members of the group discovered that being Catholic was something they had in common, they decided to attend Mass together.
“That was how, I think, I came back to the Church,” said Matthew. “I felt something really powerful.”
It led him to begin going to weekend Mass at the churches of Prince of Peace Parish in Lewiston. Each time, Monsignor Marc Caron, now moderator of the curia and vicar general for the Diocese of Portland, was the celebrant.
“He asked me about who I was and things like this, and then, ‘It’s nice to have you here.’ I can hear him saying it to me now,” said Matthew. “God speaks to us in a way that we’ll understand, and those were the right words he spoke to me at that time.”
Matthew became an altar server at the Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul and, later, would also serve when Mass was celebrated at Bates. He then pursued his master’s degree at the University of Maine, where he credits the guidance of Fr. Bill Labbe and FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionaries for helping him make the next step.
“From talking with them and spending time with them, I started to become more intentional about seeking Jesus in the Catholic Church, not just the Catholic Church but Jesus in the Catholic Church, such that my faith grew immensely,” said Matthew.
“If I don’t have spirituality, I have nothing. My prayer life feeds everything I do.”
Erin Donlon, who is in his first year of theological study at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, is originally from Good Shepherd Parish in Saco and comes from a devoutly Catholic family of seven children.
“From a very young age, I attached a great importance to the Mass and the sacraments. I started as an altar server when I was eight and was extremely involved with serving at St. Joseph Church in Biddeford,” said Donlon. “In high school, I was involved in a local discernment group but never really put much serious thought to entering seminary. I ended up attending and graduating Maine Maritime Academy. While I was there, I helped start a college Knights of Columbus Council and also a Catholic group, where previously there had not been one.”
He didn’t really start to discern the priesthood seriously again until he was overseas in Japan working for a military supply company.
“While I was there, I saw the desperate need for priests, not just here in Maine but also for the Armed Services.”
While in Japan, he suffered a shoulder injury that required him to come home.
“Oddly enough, because of that, I was able to attend an ordination Mass for the first time. After that, I really started receiving the sacraments more frequently and attending Mass as much as possibly could.”
Since graduating from the academy, Erin has become a seminarian at Mount St. Mary’s and is thrilled at the path that awaits.
“I’m extremely excited to be a part of this diocese and am looking forward serving the great people of Maine.”
Hoa Nguyen is in his first year of theological study, also at Mount St. Mary’s.
“I wanted to become a priest ever since I was in middle school. I admired people who followed the religious vocation, especially priests.”
A native of Vietnam, Hoa attended Phu Xuan University from 2007 to 2011 and majored in literature before earning a master’s degree at the Hue University of Sciences in 2014.
“During my breaks from school, I enjoyed attending youth group activities and doing charity work for the Quang Binh province. This was the meaningful time for me to pray and rethink about my vocation. In the light of the Holy Spirit, I prayed a lot and I felt the impulse coming from God that I needed to return another way to follow the vocation that I desired before.”
For the next decade, Hoa worked as a missionary for two parishes in Vietnam.
“While serving there, I had many chances to communicate and learn from the people whom I was serving. I learned about their struggles and life of poverty and because of these experiences, my desire for the priestly vocation burned stronger in my heart. I often asked myself if I am ready to follow Jesus Christ. I also realized that it is not easy to follow the priestly vocation. However, I am convinced that if I follow Jesus, he is always with me and will strengthen my spirit.”
In 2017, he was accepted by the Diocese of Portland as a seminarian.
“I see myself as a man of faith who has confidence in God's divine providence. I love the poor, the homeless, and the children of God. I always realize that living with the poor and helping them recognize God is an important goal and is linked to the pastoral life of a priest because this mission that is rooted in Christ and is also the Church's demand for priesthood.”
Thanh Pham, who is also in his first year of theological studies at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, is from Saigon, Vietnam. He desired to become a priest as soon as he saw a priest say Mass at the altar.
“I was born in a big family; my parents have three sons and seven daughters. I grew up in a faithful Catholic family.”
When he was a child, he attended Mass each day with his grandmother.
“At my first Eucharist, I made promises with Jesus that ‘Death is better than sin, and Jesus and Blessed Mary are my friend’ just as St. Dominic Savior did. This commitment continues strongly to impel me to be a good child of God and to be a saint.”
In 2005, he was accepted as a candidate in the Society of Jesus.
“In this community, I learned many things to help me discover myself and my vocation more. In addition, I was trained in every dimensions of the vocation: human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral. In the vision of St. Ignatius, ‘Everything for the glory of God.’”
After four years in the community, Thanh knew his true vocation was elsewhere.
“Through prayer, I recognized my vocation was to be a diocesan priest rather than a religious priest. By the grace of God, I was accepted into the Diocese of Portland to continue my formation. I want to be ‘servant of servants of God’ because “the love of Christ impels me.”
For more information about the Office of Vocations, the history of the priesthood and religious life in the Diocese of Portland, and many other resources, visit www.portlanddiocese.org/vocations.