by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism
Dr. Knight: Would you please share with us your early Catholic formation.
Fr. Jake: I was born and raised in a devout and humble Catholic family in the Philippines. My grandparents from my father side were daily mass goers. Our grandparent’s house was very near the parish Church. We literally can hear the Church bells ringing every 5am for daily mass. I was an altar server at age 10. I loved serving at daily mass even if I did not fully understand what was taking place at that time. I just sense that early in my life a sense of awe and wonder around the altar. I kept serving until age 12 then at age 13, I decided to enter the minor seminary (High School seminary).
Fr. Jake: As I mentioned earlier, at age 13, I discerned a call to enter the minor seminary. I have learned the discipline of prayer, study and a community life. I felt very blessed that we had good priests- formators who showed us priestly characters and molded for us what it means to live a balanced, joyful, and dedicated life as a priest of Jesus Christ. One priest in particular, Fr. Bernard Calilao was an awesome exemplar of priestly life and ministry.
Dr. Knight: You went to college and joined the seminary. How did you make that decision?
Fr. Jake: Right after minor seminary (High School), I decided to apply at the college seminary. I majored in Philosophy. The decision to enter college seminary was the direct result of my prayerful discernment. The more I pray, the more I felt being called by the Lord to serve Him and His Church as a priest.
Dr. Knight: You spent formation finding out your abilities and gifts through discernment. How was your discernment helpful to you personally?
Fr. Jake: All my life since I have entered the seminary, I have dedicated time to prayerfully discern God’s Will in my life. I was open to discern whatever vocation the Lord was calling me to follow be it in marriage, priesthood or single blessedness. After graduating from college, I applied for a year of pastoral internship at one of the local parishes in our Archdiocese in Tuguegarao. This experienced was very helpful in my discernment. I was assigned with a parish priest who truly loved his priesthood and showed me how to be a good shepherd to his people. I have seen the concrete needs of God’s people and how a priest can make a difference in their life bringing hope, healing and mercy through the ministry of the priest.
Dr. Knight: Do you think that your life is somewhat a mosaic of your different gifts?
Fr. Jake: Yes, absolutely. I think all of us are like a beautiful mosaic that is a reflection of God. After all, we were created in the image and likeness of God. Hence, we are divine reflections of God in the world like a mosaic reflecting the different gifts and charisms that God has generously bestowed in each of us individually and communally. All these gifts are meant for the building of the Body of Christ, the Church.
Dr. Knight: What do you want the readers to understand after reading this interview about being a priest who is the vice-rector of the seminary? About being involved with the next generation of priests?
Fr. Jake: First, I want to express my profound gratitude to Dr. K for her patience and for taking the time to interview me as well as the paper who will publish this interview. I thank the readers for taking the time to read this interview and it is my hope and prayer that something that I have shared have touched or inspired you to follow the way of the Lord especially as you say ‘YES’ to His call either to priesthood, religious life or marriage. Let us pray for the spiritual and moral renewal of all families. Holy vocations come from families. The Lord said in the Bible “Pray that the master of the harvest will send more workers in his vineyard.” I say, let’s pray but at the same time work to cultivate culture of holy vocations that will produce a rich and bountiful harvest in God’s Kingdom. So, what are we waiting for? Let us together unite to foster this culture of holy vocations in our families, communities, and society.
I consider it a great opportunity and awesome experience to be part of the priestly formation of our next generation of priests who will continue to respond to the call of making disciples and in spreading the Gospel of the Lord in the growing secular world. Our seminarians of today are to be commended for their generosity and commitment to respond to the Lord’s call to serve in His vineyard and to give incredible witness to the presence of the Lord in our world.
Dr. Knight: You were called by God to be a priest who served in the military. What is the significance of your call to be a follower of Christ in this capacity?
Fr. Jake: I believed that the Lord called me and all priests after the heart of the Good Shepherd. After 13 years of priestly formation, on December 10, 1987, I was ordained a priest of Jesus Christ. I have served in different roles as Director of youth ministry, coordinator of indigenous apostolate, and pastor in a rural parish. After 12 years serving in the Philippines, I came to Chicago to join my family. My late father was a U. S. Army veteran (WWII). My first parish assignment was at Sacred Heart in Winnetka, IL. God has a good sense of humor in my life. After serving with the indigenous people for 6 years in the Philippines and in the rural area, the Lord called me to serve in a very affluent parish. The parishioners at Sacred Heart as well as their beloved pastor, Fr. Bob Ferrigan helped me tremendously to transition to my new parish reality.
After serving Sacred Heart parish as an associate pastor for a year, the Lord called me to serve as an associate dean of formation at Mundelein Seminary. I served in this capacity for 11 years. I have enjoyed this ministry so much that I stayed for a long time until finally the Lord called me to serve as pastor at Most Blessed Trinity in Waukegan. I have learned so much as a pastor in a consolidated parish. It was considered one of the largest parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Majority of our parishioners are Latino.
Our parish was vibrant, and our people are filled with faith and devotion to the Lord and the Church. After serving as a pastor for 6 years, I felt a call to serve as a U. S. Navy chaplain. I have transitioned from reserve chaplain to active-duty chaplain. I did a back-to-back deployment in the second, fifth and sixth fleet area of operations. I served as the only Catholic priest along with 7 other Protestant chaplains in the Carrier Strike Group 8 for nine months. They flew me through “Holy helo” (helicopter) to celebrate the Eucharist and other Sacraments on different ships. Easter Sunday of 2020 at the height of Covid-19- they flew me to 3 different ships to be able to celebrate Easter Sunday mass first on a destroyer then to a Cruiser and finally to a Carrier (TRUMAN). Every time I celebrate mass during deployment, I would start by saying “welcome to our worship on warship”. The Archdiocese for Military Services (AMS) has this beautiful slogan as chaplain “ we serve those who serve.” Indeed, it was such an honor and a privilege to be able to serve our men and women in the U.S. Navy as well as the Marines and their families. I truly admire how our service men and women serve our beloved country day in and day out. I have the highest respect and admiration to all those who serve in the military.
Dr. Knight: What are some of the joys you’ve experienced as vice-rector of Mundelein seminary and a priest of Christ?
Fr. Jake: I’m humbled and honored when I learned that I was appointed as vice-rector and director of admission at Mundelein seminary. As I have mentioned earlier, I have served at Mundelein seminary for 11 years (2001-2012) as associate dean of formation. I was not expecting this new position. But I’m honored to accept it and it has been a joy to work with our rector, faculty, seminarians and staff. We say that the seminary is the heart of the Archdiocese or diocese. One of the joys of being a seminary formator is to work closely with our seminarians as they discern well the Lord’s call in their lives. To be able to be a part of this important process of discernment is truly a joy for me. Knowing that a candidate to the priesthood has prayerfully discerned in the spirit of freedom and charity.
Dr. Knight: As vice-rector what are some of the duties that you perform/pray?
Fr. Jake: As vice-rector, I directly represent our rector and Mundelein Seminary especially with our sending bishops (currently from 22 different dioceses). I am also the director of admissions for Mundelein Seminary. One of my duties is to reach out to the different vocation directors and to assist them with admissions for their new candidates in the priesthood. I also travel to represent our rector and our seminary in other official functions such as diaconate or priestly ordination and other important meetings and gatherings.
Dr. Knight: Thank you for this awesome opportunity to share my thoughts, prayerful discernment on priestly ministry.