by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.
Dr. Knight: Your journey is fascinating and multi-faceted. Where did you study for the priesthood?
Father Don: I started young with my seminary formation. I went to Immaculate Conception Minor Seminary for high school. Then I moved to San Jose Seminary for college and theology, located inside the Ateneo de Manila University Campus in Manila and run by the Jesuits.
Dr. Knight: What have you noticed about the process of the seminary here and in the Philippines?
Father Don: It’s basically the same, and with the changing times, seminaries are now focused on providing holistic formation. At San Jose Seminary, there’s this non-academic year for us in the middle of our theology stage (between second year and third year) where we undergo psychological sessions, urban life exposure (living with the poor), factory work, clinical pastoral education (CPE) and bringing all these experiences to our 30-day Ignatian retreat.
Dr. Knight: Why did you decide to serve in America?
Father Don: I came from a small family. My sister and her family moved to the United States sometime in 2005 from London. Every year, my parents and I would visit them, just in time for her birthday and Thanksgiving. However, after my sister’s divorce, my parents came more regularly to be with her and the kids. That made me re-examine my ministry and I felt that I had to minister to my family as well. So that started the discernment to move to the United States. And I feel so blessed to have been warmly welcomed by the Archdiocese of Chicago and of course, my current assignment, Holy Name Cathedral.
Dr. Knight: What are some of the customs and practices that you have brought with you?
Father Don: I was born and raised a Filipino so I must say that in all the things that I do, there’s a Filipino touch to it. Love for God and family tops the list. Filipinos are known for gentleness and warm hospitality too. So don’t get me wrong when most of the time, I’m smiling when you encounter me or when we talk. And I should hesitate to mention our love for food and fellowship. (especially good chocolate!)
Dr. Knight: At the Cathedral you oversee the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) and yet you don’t have that program in the Philippines. What stands out for you?
Father Don: To begin with, RCIA is not commonly practiced in the Philippines because we’re a predominantly Catholic country. Infant baptism is the norm. That is why I got so excited when I was offered to help facilitate the RCIA program here. It was something new to me. I am amazed at how God works in people’s lives. He just does not give up on us and he’s willing to meet us where we are in our journey. But the other side to that is also the capacity of humanity to respond to this invitation. Whenever I talk to our RCIA participants, I would sense the longing in their hearts for a genuine and true relationship – and that can be found in and with God alone. It inspires me whenever I see them start working on that relationship as they also begin to take ownership of their faith. I’m sure that’s God’s grace at work!
Dr. Knight: You are involved in many aspects of parish work and yet you are studying. Can you describe your program?
Father Don: Loyola University is close to Holy Name Cathedral so I decided to take advantage of it and grow more in my ministry. I’m a priest of almost 10 years and I still desire to learn more. We deal with a lot of people in the parish so I decided to enroll in the Counseling for Ministry program. People really are in need of counseling to sooth their souls and hearts and with God’s grace I will do that for them. I believe that with the knowledge I get from it, I can be of better service to people knocking at our doors.
Dr. Knight: Are the majority of y oung adults in the Philippines Catholic?
Father Don: Mostly Catholic. Since there are also other denominations (the young ones sometimes affiliate themselves with those Churches). Since most of these young adults were baptized when they were infants, I think the challenge is how to make them truly appreciate the faith and practice it as they leave their homes and run their own lives. Being a Catholic is a joy and a challenge in which they can practice their faith.
Dr. Knight: Social media is a big part of our life right now. Is it used as much in the Philippines or is it used differently?
Father Don: Yes, call it a Third World Country, but the Philippines is always updated. It is fascinating how Filipinos use the social media to stay connected with loved ones, especially with those living abroad (thus the reason why I have to create my own Facebook account). My former parishioners wanted to stay in touch with me so I would post photos once in a while. On a broader level, I see the social media as means for Filipinos to express themselves and showcase their talents and creativity. I just hope it’s used responsibly and for good.
Dr. Knight: What are some of the joys of your priesthood and the difficulties?
Father Don: As a priest, I have left my own family to be able to serve. But God just knows exactly how to comfort his priests as we are introduced to a bigger family. That gives so much joy! Above all, the opportunity to touch a life and be an instrument for one’s transformation (even just one soul!) – that is something that brings me immense joy that no amount of money could buy. I would not deny that there would be moments of desolation too. We live in the world and are constantly challenged by the world. It is evident that the people really need our help and guidance as well as offering us Mass everyday. When I was in the minor seminary, I heard someone say “But if the priest dies, there is nobody to take his place.” There may be moments of desolation, but the grace of God far outweighs them. God never abandons his priests.
Dr. Knight: You were a pastor in the Philippines. Will you be a pastor in the United States some day?
Father Don: The moment I decided to become a priest, I have learned to practice spiritual detachment (thanks to my Ignatian training). Wherever I am, I give myself entirely to the work of the parish but if I am moved I get to do God’s will somewhere else. I go wherever the Lord takes me. Be it Pastor or Associate Pastor, my passion for serving God and his people will just be the same.
Dr. Knight: Our readership includes several thousand people globally. What would you want to tell them?
Father Don: I simply would like to echo what Pope Francis always tells in his encounters with various people, “Pray for me.” Yes, please keep us priests always in your prayers. We really need it.