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Meet Giovanni

    I had the privilege of being born into an amazing family. When I was born, my parents were told that I would not make it, but my father asked for St. Joseph’s intercession that I would be saved and I was. I was later baptized at Saint Anthony’s in San Bernardino. I often reflect on how the saints have been working in my life and the life of my family; I came into the world in an unexpected manner and relied on God and the saints to help me through.

    I can’t remember much of my early childhood, other than my mom lying on her bed pregnant with my younger brother and she asked my sister and I whether we thought the baby was going tobeagirloraboy.Ihadaprettynormal childhood, my parents were very loving and nurturing, and my siblings and I were extremely close. We would attend mass on Sundays, catechesis on Saturdays, and choir practice on Wednesdays.

    Some of my best memories with my family were going to Mass on weekends. We would see some of our church friends and then, after Mass, we would go out for ice cream and then play at the park. When I was six, my mom was in an accident and lost the ability to walk; she was in a wheelchair for most of my childhood. I can remember her physical therapist coming to the house on a weekly basis. Being in a wheelchair didn’t slow her down, I remember on the weekends she used to wake up early and bake pizzas and churros, then we would watch cartoons together.

    High school was difficult because we moved halfway through my studies. My new town was different, the kids were different. Divorce was the norm, so me having two parents was odd to my classmates. Around my junior year, I began to seriouslyconsider joining the Franciscans after high school. I continued to receive good grades, though I was torn in what I thought I should be doing next. As graduation rolled around, I prepped for entering the religious life, with one hesitation: I wanted to “see the world,” so I delayed for a year. During that year my father fell ill and, providentially, I was around to help. In 2008, my father injured his spine and pelvis and ended up in a wheelchair. My mom and I now took care of my father while my younger brother continued his high school education. So, any thought of going back to school or into the seminary was out of the question now.

    I got a regular job and helped my parents during this time, though priesthood was always in the back of my mind. In 2009, my mom felt sick, so we took her to the emergency room where the doctors gave her medication to bring down her blood pressure and sent her home. That night she fell into a coma and was rushed again the following morning to the emergency room. She suffered nerve damage that would slowly begin to take a toll on her body. Both of my parents were always optimistic and hopeful; they used to sit outside on the porch and talk for hours. I would find them playing chess or praying their rosary, but always with a smile.

    It was a normal day in 2010 on February 21st that I would lose my mother. I can remember it like it was yesterday, I walked into her room and by this time the nerve damage had taken its toll on her. She had suffered from loss of vision and her legs were frail, so that morning she wanted us to take her to the hospital so that she could be seen. While she sat in her wheelchair and was being wheeled out of her room I noticed that she began to shake. I asked if she was okay and she said yes. She continued to shake, so I asked if she was going to faint and she once again said yes. She then closed her eyes and fell asleep.

    It was before the Blessed Sacrament that I once again felt called to serve God as a priest. Fr. Cristobal, my parish priest, helped me with my discernment, challenging me about my view of the priesthood and what it meant. In 2012, I was confirmed by Bishop Barnes, that day was a bit scary and sad, for I didn’t know what was going to happen or what to expect. All I was told was that oil was going to be rubbed on my forehead and that I had to reply to the bishop. When Bishop Barnes began questioning us, I was really afraid that he would call on me, although he didn’t and moved into the rest of his homily. It was powerful, daring, and challenging: it made me want to be a better me, someone who could conform myself more closely to Christ.

    I applied to the diocesan seminary; at this point in my life I felt a deep conviction to pursue my vocation to the priesthood. Though I had always been attracted and called to religious life, I felt the need to remain in the diocese with my siblings and father. After meeting with Sister Sarah, the vocation director, and being accepted into Serra House, I began formation in the Fall of 2012. On December 27th, 2013, my father passed away in his sleep; his prayers of being reunited with the love of his life were finally answered. I thank God that I was allowed to stay another year in San Bernardino instead of going to the seminary in Chicago. The following year I was sent to Texas, where I became ill and had to leave the program and return to Serra House.

    Thankfully, God sent Holy Apostles Seminary College in my direction, which has a strong online program, and I was allowed to join the BA program where I double- majored in Philosophy and Theology. I began work on an MA in the History of Philosophy when I was sent to study at St. John’s Seminary in 2017.

    Intellectually I felt nourished by my philosophical studies, but community and the spiritual life felt lacking. I was part of the fourth largest diocese in the United States: 1.7 million Catholics and growing, 100 parishes, and 10 missions, but with only 50 diocesan priests. In my “tour” around the diocese, I discovered that the people were thirsty for their faith, they yearned for companionship. I felt called to accompany the people of this diocese in this manner, to give myself wholeheartedly to them. But the life for me in this diocese seemed like it would be a nine-to-five job, a life which lacked prayer, a life that embodied that of a CEO of a small company, rather than one that was centered in prayer and sacrifice, one that had community and accountably. But the life that was being proposed to me was one of solitude and isolation... So my obvious response to this realization was to leave the diocese.... Except I didn’t. I was instead inspired to work harder, to promote vocations, to visit all of the different parishes and challenge young men and women to answer the call to serve.

    At the same time, I got to know Bishop Barnes very well. I volunteered to accompany him to many confirmations around the diocese, specifically those in Throna, Blythe, and Needles. Parishes that seemed to be forgotten or abandoned, the places I had heard priests refer to as the places the bishop would send them if he didn’t like them. Yet the faith was alive and kicking; the people here were inspiring and their faith was vibrant. I told bishop Barnes that after ordination I wanted to be assigned to one of these parishes, and he answered, “Okay, you asked.”

    So, now that I had asked for my “assignment” and I was working hard to promote vocations, what was missing. The answer was still community. The priests who did live in twos and threes were still living like bachelors, independent of one another. Inspired by St. Augustine, I set out to create community, to begin friendships and fraternity among seminarians that would later continue as priests.

    My friends and I spent time discerning religious life and many of us felt called to it. Whenever we would talk about it, we would always conclude that the life of Canons Regular made so much sense: they are the middle road between the monk and the diocesan priest. As St. Thomas said, they are the religious cleric. In my discernment of joining the Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception, I could see how they cared for their people, the parishes that have been entrusted to them, and how they live out community life. The charism was what settled my discernment, because the liturgy is the dialogue between God and His people, where the covenant is fulfilled in the Eucharistic sacrifice. After so much time looking for how to answer God’s call, Ifinally found a home in a community that would care for the people and draw them to grow in holiness.

    But I was wrong, God was not calling me to stay with the CRIC's, he had long before put into my heart the desire to found a community to better give Him Glory in the Blessed Sacrament. So, my journey continues towards the priesthood, towards doing God's will.