HARLINGEN — From an early age, people began telling Pedro Hernandez, 29, that he was called to the priesthood.
Pedro admits, although he’s been a practicing Catholic since his baptism, he didn’t view becoming a priest as a possibility for himself.
He imagined himself getting married, attaining a successful career and starting a family.
So he decided to walk away from the prospect of joining the priesthood.
However, after years of not acknowledging his call, Pedro went from not wanting to become a priest to having an interest and ultimately becoming one.
Pedro, along with Joe Luis Hernandez and Robert Moreno, Jr., two transitional deacons from the upper-Valley, were ordained to the holy priesthood by Bishop Daniel E. Flores on June 20 at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine.
Pedro said being a priest is such a beautiful thing because now he can finally save souls in a deeper way.
“That’s the only reason why a priest should ever want to be a priest, to save souls to the best that you can,” he said. “I think God has given me enough gifts for me personally to be able to do what I do and do it joyfully.”
His journey toward priesthood
Upon graduating from Harlingen High School, Pedro studied biology at the University of Texas-Pan American, which is now the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
“I felt I had purpose, direction and confidence in what I was doing,” Pedro said. “So for the first two years, I kind of just basically focused on my degree in biology.”
However, Pedro said everything began to change during his third year of college after he became involved with the Newman Catholic Student Center.
“I guess most of us have a hard time, even when we’re kids because I didn’t really acknowledge the call until I was 21 when I was in college,” Pedro said. “That’s when I started to figure it out on my own.”
After meeting campus minister Joe Garcia and Bishop Raymundo Peña, Pedro said he began witnessing the joy of priesthood thanks to their mentorship.
“No one actually ever told me this is what the priesthood is,” Pedro said. “So when I was exposed to Bishop and Joe, they put some sense into me and gave me better direction and it became an option.”
So at the age of 21, Pedro decided to follow his path toward becoming a priest.
While in formation at the Holy Trinity Seminary, Pedro earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and letters from the University of Dallas.
He completed his studies at the University of St. Thomas during his time at the St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston.
“The Lord pours out his love to satisfy our hearts, and we receive ultimate happiness,” Pedro said. “As a priest, I get to participate in the unfolding of God’s grace in other’s lives.”
The family aspect
Pedro said his parents never pressured him to become a priest, but believes they are the stepping stones toward his formation in faith and becoming closer to God.
“I felt like it was an obligation to take Pedro and my daughter to church to get catechized and also learn the Catholic customs, such as the rosaries,” Pedro’s dad, Jose said. “For Pedro to be able to achieve the next sacrament, which is priesthood, I feel very happy about that. For me, it’s a sense of duty and obligation as a parent.”
Pedro’s mom, Maria, said she believes it was the best path they could give him.
“By doing this, I feel like God has given us the fruit of our labor as a result of taking him to church,” she said. “I think God is always with us because I never feel God abandoned me or Pedro. It wasn’t easy, but with God all things are possible.”
Pedro said when one becomes a priest or begins the process, people start treating them differently.
However, this isn’t the case with his family.
“My parents never changed. They still get after me, respect me and joke with me,” Pedro said. “They treat me like their son, which I think is very important because it keeps you humble.”
For Pedro, learning how to love, respect and have good manners begins at home.
“A young man preparing for the priesthood can learn to become a man of communion beginning with family, and the family is very important,” he explained. “So it’s not like the family is on the sideline while the young man is pursuing priesthood. The family is with them all the way to the end because it makes it a lot easier.”
The next part of his journey
Pedro was assigned by Flores to the San Martin De Porres Catholic Church in Weslaco where he will serve as a vicar starting in July.
“There’s a lot of wisdom to be learned in a church because a seminary can’t teach you everything in eight years, believe it or not,” Pedro said with a smile and a laugh. “God willing, that will be my exposure to running a parish as far as administration and other things.”
San Martin De Porres Catholic Church priest Father Steve Hernandez said he is happy to have Pedro join the parish.
“I feel very grateful because we’re short in supply,” Steve said. “At the moment, I’m by myself and I have to take care of not just the parish, but the house, school and two missions, which are two chapels that we take care of. It’s a lot.”
As an ordained priest with nearly 33 years of experience, Steve will train Pedro to conduct sacraments, such as baptisms, first communions, anointing of the sick, funerals and the celebration of Mass.
“This is his first year so I need to make sure he understands the rules and regulations of the parish, experiences in the ministry and so forth,” Steve said. “So I’ll be helping him with that.”
Another one of Pedro’s assignments includes being an associate director of vocations, which recruits young men in the mid-Valley to join the priesthood.
Words of guidance
Pedro admits, for most young men, becoming a priest is unique.
“We’re not called to a normal path. We don’t consider our calling a career. A lot of people use that word,” he said. “It’s a supernatural calling. It goes beyond the natural.”
Pedro advises young men to acknowledge their call and not be afraid to join the priesthood.
“If you have some kind of curiosity about priesthood, ask a priest because I was too afraid to do that and no one really told me what priesthood was really like,” Pedro said. “So find a priest that’s willing to help you.”
Pedro said those interested in joining the priesthood shouldn’t be afraid because they can always step out of the process if they don’t want to pursue their calling anymore.
“When I joined seminary, it was 18 of us that joined and out of the 18, only six of us had finished the seminary so less than half made it,” he explained. “It’s a wonderful vocation, but always try to find a priest that’s willing to help you and give you guidance because that helps a lot; at least, it helped me.”