Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares presents the newly ordained Fr. Sebastian Sandoval-Ballesteros, OFM, to a packed St. Mary's Basilica Sept. 14. (J.D. Long-García/THE CATHOLIC SUN)

Twenty-five years to the day that Pope John Paul II prayed inside St. Mary’s Basilica came another historical moment: the first time that Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares conferred the sacrament of holy orders.

Bishop Nevares ordained Sebastian Sandoval-Ballesteros to the Order of Friars Minor Sept. 14 at St. Mary’s Basilica. The nearly three-hour bilingual liturgy brought together Catholics from the basilica and the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale where Franciscan Father Sandoval-Ballesteros served his diaconate.

The priest-to-be had every right to glue the smile on his face during the opening procession. His ordination day was a long time coming. He was among the last students to attend the Franciscan friars’ seminary high school before it closed.

Fr. Sandoval-Ballesteros, now 41, left home at age 13. He wanted something more than a diocesan high school. The idea of embracing a strong prayer and community life beyond the domestic church attracted him.

Mary Ballesteros, his mom, kept thinking during the ordination about the remaining teenaged years she missed out on with her son, but was confident in God’s will. She remembers her son interrupting an uncle’s wedding while still a toddler.

“This is where God was telling me that this is where he was going to be,” Ballesteros told The Catholic Sun.

He became an altar server by age 8, fell in love with the Franciscan lifestyle while studying the missions in fourth grade and would dress up as a Franciscan for Halloween.

Fr. Sebatian Sandoval-Ballesteros hugs his mom during the Mass of his ordination to the Franciscan priesthood Sept. 14.

“You can see how happy he is being up at the altar still,” Ballesteros said.

That’s not to say his path to the priesthood was direct. Fr. Sandoval-Ballesteros didn’t actively discern in college and shortly after. He began working as a district attorney. A retirement talk there caused him to re-evaluate his life.

“I was comfortable and moving up, but I wasn’t fulfilled,” Fr. Sandoval-Ballesteros told The Catholic Sun.

He thought there had to be more to life than office work and pushing papers. Encounters with the faith growing up led him to consider diocesan priesthood, Dominican life or Franciscan life.

The varied ministerial work of a Franciscan lifestyle attracted him. The province he now belongs to serves in parish ministry, outreach to the poor, retreat work, hospital and prison chaplaincy, education, social advocacy and foreign and Native American missions. Fr. Sandoval-Ballesteros loved walking with people on their journey back to God.

He also grew a fondness for hospital ministry and remained as a on-call chaplain following a hospital assignment while studying theology.

“There's something very sacred in the whole process of sickness and death,” Fr. Sandoval-Ballesteros said.

Fr. Joe Schwab, OFM, executive director of the Franciscan Renewal Center, served as a mentor for the friar’s diaconate. He recognized the ups and downs Fr. Sandoval-Ballesteros had learning about Franciscan life and the priesthood and the time away from formation to care for his mom.

“He stayed with it, he didn’t let anything get him down,” Fr. Schwab said.

In 10 months, Fr. Sandoval-Ballesteros made 59 entries in a diary chronicling his experience as a deacon and a Franciscan. Fr. Schwab, who was ordained at St. Mary’s Basilica in 2008, encouraged the time of personal reflection to better ensure Fr. Sandoval-Ballesteros was on track with his goals. He wanted to grow as a preacher, understand the financial workings of the church, work collaboratively in a ministerial community and develop a clearer understanding of the Franciscan priesthood.

He had regular evaluations from his mentor and lay people who worked with him at the Franciscan Renewal Center.

“Ultimately, you learn through the people. Books can only teach you so much,” Fr. Sandoval-Ballesteros said.

During the ordination it was Franciscan Father John Hardin, minister provincial for the Province of Santa Barbara who formally attested to his formation and readiness for holy orders.

When Bishop Nevares asked if he found then-Deacon Sandoval-Ballesteros worthy, in typical Franciscan style, Fr. Hardin, responded, with a very personal, “Oh yes, bishop, I do. In more ways that one.”

A nearly packed basilica, which included members from both local churches, a combined choir, a dozen — largely Franciscan — priests and 15 friars, laughed and applauded in consent. The bishop then reminded everyone that God has made His entire holy people, a royal priesthood in Christ.

“Yet he selected some to carry out the priestly office in His name. Priests are established co-workers in the order of bishops,” Bishop Nevares said.

As a priest, it will now be Fr. Sandoval-Ballesteros’s duty to joyfully preach the Gospel, shepherd His people and celebrate the sacred liturgy. In final words before the bishop ordained Fr. Sandoval-Ballesteros to the Franciscan priesthood, the bishop reminded him of his duty to strive to bring the faithful together into one family.

“Keep the example of Christ the Good Shepherd before your eyes. To seek out and save. To serve,” the bishop said.

After a litany of the saints while the community prayed for Fr. Sandoval-Ballesteros, Bishop Nevares ordained the friar a priest by the laying on of hands.

“May he be joined with us, Lord, in imploring your mercy for the people entrusted to his care and for the whole world,” the bishop prayed.

Fr. Joe Schwab, executive director of the Franciscan Renewal Center, lays his hands on Fr. Sandoval-Ballesteros during his ordination Sept. 14.

One by one the other priests in attendance — including Fr. Schwab, Franciscan Father Dale Jamison, director of the diocesan Office of Native American Ministry and Fr. Dennis O’Rourke, V.F., vicar of the northeast deanery, silently did the same.

Fr. Schwab said that was the most profound moment during the ordination because it connects Catholics to the roots of the church community.

“It’s a moment where history comes alive, where the power of the spirit is in action,” Fr. Schwab said.

That’s when the power of God is passing through the priest’s hands to the deacon and the deacon becomes a priest. It was Fr. Schwab who then helped the newly ordained Fr. Sandoval-Ballesteros put on his priestly vestments for the first time.

Fr. Sandoval-Ballesteros, who earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master of divinity from the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, Calif., is now one of roughly 180 friars of the Province of Santa Barbara.

“This was one of the most proudest, happiest days of my life,” the priest’s father, Hector Sandoval, said after the ordination.

His son’s first assignment is parochial vicar at St. Francis of Assisi, Franciscan-run community in Sacramento.

There are on average 40 men in formation as simply professed friars, novices and candidates with 200 inquiring annually about a vocation. Over the summer, the Santa Barbara Province invested two new novices and celebrated the first vows of three new friars.

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Ambria Hammel is the staff writer for The Catholic Sun. She began reporting for the award-winning newspaper in 2006.