‘The Church will be Blessed’

Transitional deacons Anh Tran, Justin Ryan, and Louis Cunningham will become the Archdiocese of Seattle's newest priests when they are ordained this month by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain. Photo: Stephen Brashear Transitional deacons Anh Tran, Justin Ryan, and Louis Cunningham will become the Archdiocese of Seattle's newest priests when they are ordained this month by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain. Photo: Stephen Brashear

Meet the Archdiocese of Seattle’s next three priests

Transitional deacons Louis Cunningham, Justin Ryan and Anh Tran will become the Archdiocese of Seattle’s newest priests when they are ordained this month by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain.

While the ordinands’ personalities, interests and life experiences differ, their backgrounds share some key features, said Father Bryan Dolejsi, director of vocations.

“They were all born and raised Catholic, they all come from very supportive, good family structures … and all three of them come from large, suburban, working-class parishes with long-serving pastors.” And, he added, “all of them are quite faithful and prayerful and have a deep relationship with the Lord.”

Father Dolejsi concluded, “The church will be blessed by all three of these men — they’re going to be very good priests.”

The ordination Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 9, at St. James Cathedral. For coverage of the event, visit NWCatholic.org/ordinations2018. To learn more about vocations to the priesthood or religious life, visit SeattleVocations.com, facebook.com/SeattleVocations and instagram.com/SeattleVocations.

Louis Cunningham. Photo: Stephen Brashear/Doing CrossFit at seminary. Photo: Courtesy Deacon Louis Cunningham

Louis ‘Lou’ Cunningham

Born: June 26, 1992​, in Seattle

Home parish: St. Anthony, Renton

Seminary: Bishop White (Spokane) and Mundelein (Mundelein, Illinois)

Favorite field of study: Latin translation has been a favorite field of study for me since high school, so any way that I can translate untranslated texts, I do — like the homilies of Charles Borromeo. I have also enjoyed reading the texts of theologians from the last 150 years, especially Luigi Giussani. Authentic development and reform in the church is really interesting to me too.

Favorite saint: ​This year, I went through the calendar and wrote down the saints for which I felt an affinity, and I came up with at least two saints or events in Christ’s life per month! St. Charles Borromeo has been a particular inspiration because of his positivity and joy, and he was quite the young vocation. We have a beautiful community of witnesses who recognize how Christ has fulfilled their own circumstances and personalities!

Hobbies: CrossFit, hiking, photography. I also enjoy music, from indie/folk to rap to opera. Being Italian, I like food and community — anything that involves a good meal, a nice glass of red wine (or bourbon!), or coffee, with friends or family.

Growing up, Louis Cunningham’s family was “just kind of ‘normally’ Catholic.” Sunday Mass, even on vacation, was a “no-brainer,” they prayed before meals, and their house had “an image of Jesus or a crucifix here and there.”

The faith “was just an integrated part of our lives,” he said. His maternal grandfather, Louis DeFranco, was a big influence.

“From a young age I would go with him to Mass during the week when he would take care of me, and we would help out at the St. Vincent de Paul [Society] at ​St. Edward Church in South Seattle,” he said. “In many ways, he helped to introduce to me what it meant to live a beautiful Catholic life filled with prayer, trust, and cooperation with the grace that Jesus wants to pour out on me.”

Louis started thinking about the priesthood early. When he was 5 or 6, he told his pastor, Father Gary Zender, that he wanted to do what he did.

He soon became an altar server; in middle school, he served almost every day before school. “I enjoyed being able to be close to what was going on, being able to help … the priest and help the people worship,” he said. He broke up with his sixth-grade girlfriend because he wanted to be a priest.

At Kennedy Catholic High School, he was “a pretty normal student,” played tuba in the school band and enjoyed hanging out with friends. But “the idea of becoming a priest continued to be in the forefront of my mind and Jesus continued to tug me in that direction.”

“Some of my friends probably rolled their eyes at my zeal at times,” he said. But no one tried to discourage him, even as he was affectionately nicknamed “Father Lou” and “Father Freshman.”

During Quo Vadis Days one summer — he has attended the three-day discernment camp every year since 2005 — he swam over to the archdiocesan vocations director and asked for an application to become a seminarian.

He entered seminary after graduating from high school in 2010. Each year since, he’s had “a new experience of the Lord saying, ‘This is where I want you, this is where I want you,’ and me being able to joyfully accept that every step of the way.”

He’s excited to serve as a priest in the “super-secular” Pacific Northwest. “We have millions of people that are moving into our area … that are yearning for community,” he said, “and I think as a church we have a great opportunity to show what true communion and true liberation looks like in Christ.”

In addition to celebrating Mass, he’s most looking forward to hearing confessions. “Mostly because I’ve received a lot of mercy and true forgiveness in that sacrament and I want to pass that on to others.”

Justin Ryan. Photo: Stephen Brashear/Playing soccer in the Holy Land. Photo: Courtesy Deacon Justin Ryan

Justin Michael Ryan

Born: July 30, 1988, in Seattle. I grew up initially in Edmonds, but for most of my life I’ve lived in Mill Creek.

Home parish: St. Brendan, Bothell

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

Favorite field of study: Spiritual theology, because it helps analytical thinkers like me engage in prayer. While the best advice regarding prayer remains “Go to the chapel and just spend time with the Lord,” spiritual theology helps us process those experiences with God and gives us the confidence to say, after encountering the Lord in prayer, “Wow, God, that really was you!”

Favorite saint: ​St. Anthony of Padua, because I misplace things all the time. He is also an inspiration for living out the faith. His dedication to Scripture and passion for preaching are an example I hope to follow as a priest.

Hobbies: Sports — playing, watching and even officiating. In many ways, I can best articulate who I am on the soccer field. I also run quite a bit. I’m a Seattle sports fan through and through (with the exception of Gonzaga basketball). I’m often in the attire of my favorite teams, ready to watch a game with friends.

Justin Ryan had what he describes as a “practicing Catholic” — but not overly devout — childhood. Weekly Mass was “a given,” but there were no family rosaries. “In fact, we rarely even ate dinner together, because sports drove a lot of what we did as a family,” he said.

“You wouldn’t look at the Ryan family as like, ‘Oh gosh, there’s the super-holy Ryan family.’”

But they were “fairly involved in the parish,” and Justin and his three younger siblings all attended St. Brendan School. In fourth or fifth grade, he and his dad started going to the Stations of the Cross during Lent. “There’s something very attractive about anything that helps you consider Jesus’ humanity,” he said.

That experience of “walking with Christ” made an impression on him. As a cross country runner at Archbishop Murphy High School, he wore a scapular — a pair of cloth patches attached by a string around the neck — as a reminder to unite his pain and fatigue with Christ’s suffering.

It was an experience on the soccer field that prompted him to take the idea of a vocation seriously. Since sixth grade he had dreamed of winning a state soccer championship — even prayed for it. Then, as a sophomore, his dream came true when Archbishop Murphy clinched a come-from-behind victory in the Class A-B final.

Justin had expected the moment to be some “huge emotional experience.” But, he said, “while I was excited that we won, I remember standing on the field thinking, Is this it? The lack of fulfillment that I experienced on the field revealed just how deep our desires go.”

He came to understand that his deepest desires could only be fulfilled in eternity by God. He saw the importance of living a Christ-like life and asked himself, “What’s the most efficient way to do that?”

“And then I was like, ‘Oh, well, priests are supposed to be like Christ, so maybe I should be a priest.’”

He continued to discern as a student at Gonzaga University, where he studied accounting. His spiritual director, Father Paul Vevik of the Diocese of Spokane, helped him to ask not only, “Am I called to be a priest?” but also, “Do I want to be a priest?”

After a few years working as a commercial real estate appraiser, he entered seminary in 2013. It’s been a “very joyful experience,” he said. Early on, he especially enjoyed that people understood his Catholic humor. He’s also experienced a “real deepening of my relationship with God.”

He’s “pretty stoked to be finally returning home” to Western Washington, and he’s looking forward to celebrating the sacraments and serving the people of the Archdiocese of Seattle. As ordination day draws near, he’s “getting excited.”

“It’s like I’ve waited in line for this roller coaster, and now we’re climbing.”

Anh Tran. Photo: Stephen Brashear/Playing table tennis with Father Bryan Dolejsi. Photo: Courtesy Deacon Anh Tran

Anh Bao Tran

Born: February 27, 1982, in Saigon, Vietnam

Home parish: St. Vincent de Paul, Federal Way

Seminary: Mount Angel (St. Benedict, Oregon)

Favorite field of study: Liturgy, because liturgy is the church’s gathering together to praise and worship God. In the Mass, the church is led by Jesus, its bridegroom, and is brought to the throne of God — heaven and earth become one. Also at Mass, each member of the church offers his or her own voice of praise and petition. He or she encounters the God of the universe, who has only one desire, to make his love known to all his people.

Favorite saint: ​My favorite saint would be the Blessed Virgin Mary, because she is our Blessed Mother. A great joy is to have Mary as a mother. She knows and understands my needs whenever I pray the rosary. When our Lord calls each of us as his disciples, the role of Mary as our Blessed Mother is also a part of our relationship with the Lord. Most importantly, Mary points my eyes to her beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

Hobbies: I enjoy playing table tennis and flying stunt kites on a sunny afternoon.

As a child in Saigon, Anh Tran spent a lot of time at church. At least a couple of times a week, he’d wake up early and go to 5 a.m. Mass with his mom (his dad had fled Vietnam before he was born and landed in Western Washington). On days when they didn’t have school, he and his friends would hang out at Tan Phu Church and play all day.

As a young teenager, he started thinking about the priesthood, but when he immigrated to Federal Way in 1999, “the idea of wanting to become a priest kind of disappeared in the background, because I had to learn a new language, I had to learn the culture and everything, so it took over.”

He began to think about how he could succeed in America and what he could do to support his aging parents. He attended Highline Community College, earned his pharmacy technician certification and started working at Tacoma General Hospital, with an eye toward going to pharmacy school.

A powerful experience with the sacrament of reconciliation changed the course of his life.

“I felt like when I confessed my sins … that God has taken away so much weight that I have to bear because of my sins,” he said. “I felt like God was present in this priest, that he said, ‘I forgive you, and I love you.’”

At the same time, he sensed that his coworkers weren’t very happy, even though they had good jobs and were well-paid. He asked himself: “Why aren’t they happy? What makes me happy? What fulfills my life?”

He realized he wanted to share the sense of peace he received in the confessional with others. “And the most effective way that I can do that is being a priest,” he said, “so I began to discern again.”

And, he added, “When I think about the priesthood, I feel like God gives me the strength to understand that this vocation can give me the most joy, the most happiness that I can get in my life.”

He entered the seminary in 2011 and immediately felt “this is where God wants me to be.”

For others who might be discerning a vocation, he recommends spending time with God in silence.

“It’s only when a person is able to come to God in silence, be with God in silence, that he or she can hear God in his still voice, and I think that’s when people will be able to listen to God and know what God wants to do with his or her life.”

As he approaches his ordination to the priesthood, he is realizing more and more “how blessed I am that I would be able to give this gift to God and to his people, and I’m looking forward to really being his instrument to lead others closer to him, to God.”

ARCHDIOCESE OF SEATTLE VOCATION PRAYER

God our Father, You call each of us to use our gifts in the body of Christ. We ask that you inspire those whom you call to priesthood, diaconate, and consecrated life to courageously follow your will. Send workers into your great harvest so that the Gospel is preached, the poor are served with love, the suffering are comforted, and your people are strengthened by the sacraments. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Northwest Catholic - June 2018

Kevin Birnbaum

Kevin Birnbaum is the interim editor/associate publisher of Northwest Catholic and a member of Seattle’s Blessed Sacrament Parish. Contact him at Kevin.Birnbaum@seattlearch.org.