Odessa High School senior Mauricio Romero is a regular student with big aspirations.
The 18-year-old international baccalaureate diploma candidate is considering becoming a priest. He plans to attend Conception Seminary College in Northwest Missouri in the fall.
“It’s something that’s been in the back of my head for quite a while. … The priests at our church had been talking about vocations and it just interested me. One of the things I think is important is us responding to God’s call and he emphasized that not a lot of people do that nowadays,” Romero said.
The seminary operates like a regular college, but it is all male, Romero said. Regular college vacations, sports and volunteer work are available, along with morning and evening prayers.
Students attend for four years to earn a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, but it’s another four years at another seminary to get a master’s in theology before one can be ordained as a priest, Romero said. Most priests receive their master’s in theology.
“What’s especially unique about this seminary is that there’s an abbey there, which is where monks live and they regularly pray with the monks,” Romero said.
He acknowledged that two of the hardest things for him will be staying single and being away from his family and friends.
“That’s one thing that gets to me sometimes, but I’m willing to do the sacrifice for what God wants,” Romero said.
His family can visit him and the seminary has guest rooms. “A lot of tourists go and sometimes celebrate mass with the seminarians and monks,” Romero said.
Romero attends Holy Redeemer Catholic Church. He and his family moved to Odessa when he was 3 or 4 years old. He has a 15-year-old sister.
The Diocese of San Angelo will pay for his tuition and he said he will receive a stipend. People from the diocese may also send food, clothing and toiletries, he said.
Romero said his family supports him going to seminary.
“My mom has always been open to whatever God wants for me and my dad as well. It’s funny because a lot of people tell me that I’d be a good priest,” he said.
He has been thinking about following the calling for a couple of years.
“I remember ever since I was little, because I would go to mass every Sunday, I would look at the priests and how they did everything; how they did the mass; how they looked happy with what they did; how they cared about the people and I thought it’d be pretty cool to do that. Recently I have grown closer to a few priests that I know and seminarians. They tell me that life is good being a priest and seminarian. I just want to try it out and see if it’s my calling or not,” Romero said.
He added that a lot of people have told him he’s smart enough to attend any college he wants. He added that he’s in the top 5 percent of his class.
“Even though I have that chance, I don’t want to be selfish and just do what I want because ultimately I want what God wants and that will make me the happiest,” Romero said.
If he becomes a priest in the future, Romero said he plans to be there for the people and he enjoys listening to them.
“When I think of a priest, I think of someone who is there for others. It’s not their lives; it’s the people’s. If there is someone sick in the hospital, they call a priest he goes. If he’s not there, who’s going to do the anointing of the sick and other sacraments like that, so the priest is important to the people because the people need him,” Romero said.
In seminary, students are discerning the call. “There are many that are still discerning until the moment that they become priests, their ordination. It’s a very long process – their discernment that can only be done in prayer. This goes for all vocations marriage, religious life or single life because we’re all called to one of those three. They all have their difficulties …,” Romero said.
Fr. Michael Rodriguez, director of seminarians and vocations for the Diocese of San Angelo, said high school students deciding to potentially become priests is not as common as it was 30 or 40 years ago. Usually, students have some college under their belt, but currently most of the diocese’s candidates are from high school except one who is studying pre-theology.
He said the diocese has had more inquiries.
Rodriguez said the church looks for candidates who are a good sense of balance and maturity. He added that if they decide to discern out, the students can carry those credits to any college. Out of 10 students, Rodriguez said probably two or three out of 10 will stay with pursuing the priesthood.
“Seminary makes you take a good look at yourself (and) listen to what God is asking of you,” Rodriguez said. “… I see in Mauricio a very talented young man, respected by his peers with a good sense of humor. He really gets along well with his peers. That’s real important.”
“He’s a regular kid. That’s what we’re looking for …,” he added.