St. Mary’s High School nurtures rich seedbed of religious vocations

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These St. Mary’s alumni — Nathaniel Glenn, Valentine Rodriguez, Jesus Martinez, Sr. Annie Gignoux, Esteven Wetzel, Erik Ochoa and Roberto Huerta — are all actively discerning a priestly or religious vocation alongside Sam McClelland (not pictured), former faculty, and Br. Robert Serrano Salgado, OFM (not pictured). (Courtesy of Patrick Madigan/ST. MARY’S HIGH SCHOOL)

If a seed grows in fertile soil, then St. Mary’s Catholic High School has rich earth and is reaping a great religious harvest. Seminarians Valentine Rodriguez, Erik Ochoa, Roberto Huerta, Nathaniel Glenn, Jesus Martinez, Sam McClellan and Estevan Wetzel and Br. Robert Serrano Salgado and Sr. Annie Gignoux — St. Mary’s grads from different years — are all following a vocational call to ordained or religious life.

Fr. Robert Bolding, president-rector of St. Mary Catholic High School, said though the call to religious life comes from God alone, the priest hopes to help his students hear the call more easily through four ways — developing a prayer life, celebrating the sacraments, being in a state of grace and being open to what the Lord wants.

“We want every young man and woman to ask the question, ‘What is God calling me to?’” Fr. Bolding said of his students. “We are in a time when people don’t ever ask themselves that question.”

Since Fr. Bolding arrived on campus in 2012, the school now has two daily Masses and offers Reconciliation for an hour each day during lunch period. The school also has a full-time chaplain on staff, Fr. Oliver Vietor.

The priest said that too often there is an attitude that high school and college years are “throw-away years” rather than a time for students to take themselves seriously.

“This is the time for them to be preparing themselves to hear God’s call and to be able to live out that call,” Fr. Bolding said.

St. Mary’s alum Estevan Wetzel said his curiosity for the priesthood began in third grade, when then Bishop Thomas J. O’Brien visited his parish. After becoming an altar server in sixth grade, he began a personal prayer life of reciting the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be. Parishioners began telling him he would make a great priest, but he said he discounted the idea. Then during Adoration at a Steubenville West retreat while at St. Mary’s, Wetzel heard God’s clear voice.

“… He said, ‘You are not a face in the crowd.’ He knows me by name, and He loves me. He was calling me to be a saint. He had a plan for my life,” Wetzel said. “It changed my mindset on how I was living. It gave me the drive to follow the Lord in a deeper way.”

Wetzel is now at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver. God-willing he is scheduled to be ordained a transitional deacon next May and ordained a priest in June 2020.

Roberto Huerta graduated from St. Mary’s this year and will enter the Pontifical College Josephinum, in Columbus, Ohio this month. He said he first felt a “tug” toward the priesthood in eighth grade at St. John Vianney in Goodyear.

“I knew in the back in my mind, maybe, but I pushed it out,” Huerta said. He said that in Adoration during a Kairos retreat, he felt he heard the Lord asking him when he was going to stop running. He said that also at Adoration at a Steubenville conference in Tucson he heard the words “Be not afraid” and “Come follow me.”

“At that moment all the stories from the Bible, when Jesus called His disciples, they all came into my mind,” Huerta said. “These things actually happened. The Lord called them and now He was calling me.”

Fr. Bolding said that the call to vocation is often unnecessarily shrouded in mystery and “the biggest thing we can control is to ask people to consider it.”

“We have this vocation crisis and it is not as if God has stopped calling people,” Fr. Bolding said. “It must be that we are not hearing it. God has not abandoned His Church.”