'Hearts of service'

  • Written by Northwest Catholic
  • Published in NW Stories
Photo: Stephen Brashear Photo: Stephen Brashear

The Archdiocese of Seattle will gain three new priests this month when transitional deacons Ben Bray, Tyler Johnson and Carlos Orozco are ordained during a 10 a.m. Mass at St. James Cathedral on Saturday, June 22.

The ordinands represent the diversity of the archdiocese in more ways than one, said Father Bryan Dolejsi, director of vocations.

“They have different interests, they have different personalities, they have different backgrounds,” he said, but they all have “hearts of service.”

It just goes to show, he said, “There’s lots of different ways that God calls people, and there’s lots of different personalities and gift sets that the Lord can use in the priesthood.”

What do they have in common?

“Each one of them is going to bring a lot of energy, I think, around the New Evangelization, around youth ministry and reaching out to youth and young adults, and around helping integrate different cultural communities in the church,” Father Dolejsi said.

To learn more about vocations to the priesthood or religious life, visit SeattleVocations.com or search SeattleVocations on Facebook and Instagram. 

Benjamin Aaron Bray

Born: April 5, 1991, in Kirkland

Home parish: St. Anthony, Renton

Seminaries: Bishop White (Spokane) and Mount Angel (St. Benedict, Oregon)

Favorite field of study: I enjoyed studying spirituality, as we learned how to integrate and teach various approaches to the spiritual life. It’s unfortunate that the thought of a spiritual life to many seems boring, impractical and unattractive. But the truth is spirituality is exciting! The Catholic Church has a plethora of schools founded by various saints over the past 2,000 years. There is a spirituality that speaks to every personality type.

Favorite saint: That’s a tough one! I have several, but my role model for priesthood, after Jesus, is St. John Paul II. His deep love for people made him a wonderful example of spiritual fatherhood, as he witnessed God’s immense love for each and every one of us. I hope to reflect these values in my priesthood as well.

Hobbies: I enjoy following sports, especially college football with the Washington State Cougars. Go Cougs! I also enjoy spending time with family and friends, visiting coffee shops, going out to eat, board games, watching movies, taking walks and reading.

Appointment: St. Charles, Burlington; Immaculate Conception, Mount Vernon; Immaculate Heart of Mary, Sedro-Woolley; Sacred Heart, La Conner; St. Catherine Mission, Concrete

What was your life like before you began formation for the priesthood?

I am the second oldest of five siblings, with three brothers and one sister. My parents homeschooled all five of us and had us involved in various activities. I attended Running Start at Bellevue College, where I gained an associate’s degree specializing in elementary education. My plan was to transfer and begin studying for my bachelor’s degree in the same field. I applied to several schools, but God had other plans as he continued inviting me to consider priesthood. It took five years, but his persistence paid off!

What person or experience most influenced you to answer the call to the priesthood?

I would say the priest who inspired me is my childhood pastor, Father Gary Zender. Father Gary came to St. Anthony when I was 8 and he clearly loved being a priest! He would laugh and welcome everyone while at the same time preaching with passion and conviction. I also witnessed his care and fatherly heart on multiple occasions when I altar served funerals for him. Not only could I see myself being a priest, but it helped knowing that priests could be joyful, smiling and happy!

I would also say that my father, Richard Bray, has inspired me in my call to the priesthood. My father is not a priest, but he has lived a life of sacrifice and love. He has taught me the importance of commitment with his marriage to my mom — in fact, the day I’m ordained is their 34th wedding anniversary! He gave his time to be with us and will do anything to help us. This example has helped me look at my priesthood through the lens of commitment, sacrifice and fatherhood. I hope to reflect my father’s qualities in my priesthood.

What do you most look forward to about being a priest?

Working with the people of God! Whether it’s through teaching classes to students, meeting a couple, hearing confession or other similar encounters, I look forward to walking with and helping others in any way I can. It’s exciting and a little terrifying because priests get to work with a wide range of people, and no two encounters are ever the same! Even though I don’t know what will happen, I look forward to these encounters as I begin my priesthood.

Tyler Johnson

Born: August 16, 1985, in Seoul, South Korea. I was adopted to the U.S. at the age of 3 and have lived in Washington ever since.

Home parish: St. Mary, Centralia

Seminaries: Mount Angel (St. Benedict, Oregon) and the Pontifical North American College (Rome)

Favorite field of study: My favorite field of study is Christology. As Pope Benedict XVI says, everything stands and falls on the person of Christ. The credibility of Christianity rests on Jesus. Christ himself is a mystery; but better understanding who he is and why he came on earth will certainly impact and affect our life.

Favorite saint: My favorite saint is the humble St. John Vianney. He is the patron saint of parish priests precisely because he understood the dignity and grandeur of the priestly vocation. As he says, “The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.” The great love he showed to his small flock in France, I think, is a testament to how much he loved Jesus Christ the High Priest.

Hobbies: I enjoy a variety of things, most especially music, baseball and movies. I regularly play the guitar and sing, and love watching baseball games and new movies. I also enjoy the outdoors, particularly camping and hiking. Other activities such as spending time with friends and family, or going out for a nice meal, are also things I love to do.

Appointment: Holy Family, Kirkland

What was your life like before you began formation for the priesthood?

I was raised Catholic and have been a parishioner at St. Mary’s in Centralia my whole life. I was an altar server and helped in the choir for many years. Although I was active in my parish, I never seriously considered a vocation to the priesthood as a young person.

I attended public school and graduated from Centralia High in 2004. I then attended Centralia Community College, and eventually transferred to Central Washington University, receiving a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. During my college years, I was away from the faith, studying graphic art and trying to pursue a career in music. I was in several rock bands and really enjoyed performing, and I seriously desired to be a professional musician. Once I graduated from college, realizing that a career in music was not possible, I worked for a few years as a graphic designer at a small advertising firm in my hometown.

I felt the call to come back to the faith through volunteering in youth ministry. I later left graphic design to become the youth minister at my home parish. This played a huge part in my calling to become a priest, as God showed me the many gifts I possessed, and that he had bigger plans for my life. After a couple of years working with youth, I strongly felt God’s call and decided to enter seminary to pursue the priesthood.

What person or experience most influenced you to answer the call to the priesthood?

There were two people who really helped me answer God’s call to the priesthood. The first person was the youth minster at my home parish when I was volunteering in the youth group. Her zeal and love for the faith eventually led me to love the faith more deeply. She also helped me realize the many gifts God had given me and showed me through her own witness that there is great joy in serving Christ and his church.

Secondly, Father Todd Strange, one of our parochial vicars at that time, was the first priest to ever directly ask me to consider a priestly vocation. While I have been influenced and inspired by all the priests I’ve encountered in my life, it certainly makes a difference when a priest asks you point blank, “Have you ever considered becoming a priest?”

What do you most look forward to about being a priest?

Pope St. John Paull II once said that people look to the priest because they look to Christ. This always reminds me that people seek out priests not because they want the priest, but because they want to encounter Jesus. The priest is God’s chosen instrument, and that’s a great honor. What I look forward to most in being a priest is simply being able to journey with people and help them to encounter Christ. Obviously, I am excited to celebrate the Holy Mass and the other sacraments, but just being able to accompany people in the different states of life gets me most excited for priestly ministry.

Juan Carlos Orozco

Born: August 14, 1987, in Michoacán, Mexico

Home parish: Holy Family, Seattle

Seminaries: Mount Angel (St. Benedict, Oregon) and Mundelein (Mundelein, Illinois)

Favorite field of study: My first love since childhood has been biological anthropology and the natural sciences. In seminary, I was drawn to theological anthropology, and I am interested in looking at faith through the framework of evolution. We are called to love God, and our neighbor as ourselves. In this call, it is important to understand what it means to be human, in all its dimensions.

Favorite saint: My spiritual life is highly influenced by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Thomas Merton. Though they are not declared saints (I hope someday they will be), their spiritual writings have deeply influenced my creative way of relating to God, the world, and the Eucharist.

Hobbies: Too many?

Artist: I draw with charcoal, mostly portraits and life art, and I dabble in sculpting. I also make digital art, including video, but mostly photographs. Art is inherently spiritual and a powerful evangelization tool, so I share my experience of God and the world through art in social media (Instagram

Earth Explorer: Hiking is an important part of my spiritual life. I have a goal to hike all 58 national parks; by my ordination, I should be at around 35. I enjoy learning about the history/geology/ecology/biology of the park and taking landscape and wildlife photos (Instagram @eyeofcarlos).

Exotic Pet and Plant Keeper: I have kept exotic pets and plants since childhood, mainly fish, reptiles and amphibians. I enjoy observing their behavior and making naturalistic enclosures for them. I also keep orchids and carnivorous plants (Instagram @petsofcarlos).

Other: I also enjoy cutting hair, trying new ethnic foods, working out, and watching wildlife documentaries.

Appointment: St. Louise de Marillac, Bellevue

What was your life like before you began formation for the priesthood?

I was 8 when my family moved to the U.S. from Mexico. I thought I would eat hamburgers every day and my hair would turn “yellow.”

I was the youngest of five with four older sisters. Faith was always an important part of family life, and my mom and sisters were involved in various ministries at our parish.

As a teen, I got involved in youth group and excelled in high school, receiving the Student of the Year award and being crowned prom king. I was living what many would consider the teenage “American dream,” but I began to experience
the weight of existential questions, questions of meaning and the future.

I was the first in my family to continue my education after
high school. I took classes at a local community college with hopes of getting a degree in biology and doing research for the Seattle Aquarium, where I volunteered. It was in college that my existential crisis led me to doubt my faith, becoming an agnostic and then a closet atheist. I wanted to believe,
I just couldn’t.

What person or experience most influenced you to answer the call to the priesthood?

It was Holy Week of 2006, a few months after I secretly declared atheism, and I found myself helping organize the youth group ushers for Holy Thursday Mass.

After the homily, my pastor, Father Philip Bloom, called up 12 people for the washing of the feet, something I witnessed yearly. This time, something was different.

I was completely captivated by every gesture of the priest. At the moment of kneeling and pouring water on the feet of the first person, I was overcome with grace. All my doubt of God’s existence became certainty of his love for me and for others. I had an unexplainable desire, a need, to take the priest’s place. I had an encounter with Jesus Christ that night — he met me in my doubt and gave meaning to my life, and all I wanted was to respond with a life of service.

What do you most look forward to about being a priest?

God is incredibly loving and personable with each of us and meets us where we are. I look forward to being there with people in their own journeys of faith, which, though personal, are ultimately communal and oriented towards the other. I look forward to offering my own gifts and talents to help build creative, mission-oriented parish communities. To fall in love with Christ is to fall in love with the world.

Northwest Catholic - June 2019