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First-time pastor looks forward to building on great foundation

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SAN DIEGO — Father Corey Tufford will be a first-time pastor when he assumes that role on July 1 at Santa Sophia Parish in Spring Valley.

The San Diego native was ordained to the priesthood in 2016. He has served as associate pastor of St. Mark’s Parish in San Marcos for almost two years and was previously associate pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Chula Vista.

Father Tufford, 33, is also the chaplain of YCP San Diego, the local chapter of Young Catholic Professionals.

Question: What role did the faith play in your formative years?
Answer: I didn’t grow up with any real faith practice. Both of my parents had grown up Catholic, but had stopped practicing by the time I was born. I didn’t receive any sacraments as a child. My mom would take me to Protestant services every once in a while, and we would sometimes attend the Christmas and Easter pageants at the Crystal Cathedral in Anaheim.

When and how did you feel called to priesthood?
During the freshman overnight retreat at St. Augustine High School, I had a powerful encounter with Christ during a time of prayer. I presented Jesus with my sins and I experienced a flood of His mercy and an invitation to a new way of life. I still had a long way to go, but this was a big moment of conversion in my life.

I began thinking about becoming a priest when I attended a confirmation retreat, as I was preparing to receive baptism, confirmation and First Holy Communion. The priest was quietly purifying the chalice and paten after Communion during the retreat’s closing Mass. Deep in my heart, a thought rose up, saying, “What about priesthood?” I didn’t know what to do with this gentle question, but I was open to the possibility.

I received the sacraments of initiation at my home parish, Mission San Diego de Alcalá, on Dec. 4, 2004. Throughout high school, I wasn’t a model Christian, but I continued to seek God.

Through continued prayer, discernment with the Church, and mentorship, I realized that becoming a priest was most likely God’s call for my life. I still needed time for this to come into greater clarity, and to work through the reality of saying no to marriage and family life, but I wanted to give God a chance with the vocation to priesthood.

To further explore priesthood while undertaking undergraduate studies, I went to Franciscan University of Steubenville and was a member of their pre-theologate program. I graduated as a Philosophy and Theology double major in May 2011 and, that August, began my formation for priesthood with the Diocese of San Diego.

What have you found most fulfilling about priestly ministry?
The most rewarding part is interacting with people and being a bridge to grace in their lives. I love bringing people the sacraments. For those who aren’t Catholic, or who have been away from the practice of their faith, I am humbled to be a part of their decision to come into communion with the Church.

I have also enjoyed getting to work closely with the lay staff of the parishes and schools where I’ve been assigned. I see them day in and day out, and they become an important part of my life and ministry. They have helped to form me as a priest and as a person.

How do you feel about becoming a pastor? What are your greatest hopes for this new assignment?
I’m looking forward to it. After five years of being an associate and having really solid mentors, moving into the role of pastor feels familiar. I know I have a lot to learn, but I feel confident about the new responsibilities that come with being a pastor. I hope to build on the wonderful foundation that has already been established at the parish by the pastors and lay people who have preceded me.

What relationship would you like to have with the parochial school?
I hope to be very present at Santa Sophia Academy. My first assignment at St. Pius taught me that the priest’s presence is crucial for the full thriving of parochial schools. Through regular interactions with the parish priests, the school community can be reminded of our ultimate goal, which is Heaven. The priest also becomes more familiar and approachable for the school community when he is present, which humanizes the priesthood for many people and makes priesthood a more realistic possibility for students with priestly vocations. The school at Santa Sophia will be one of my priorities.

What advice do you have for those seeking to grow spiritually?
When it comes to growing in holiness, my counsel is to develop a life of prayer — in particular, silent prayer. Begin by working through rooting out sin and sinful habits. Read the lives of the saints and their writings. Learn and practice Lectio Divina (a meditative approach to reading Scripture) each day. Pray the rosary daily, focusing on the mysteries of the lives of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Find a priest you trust who can offer you good counsel along the way.

One of the practices that I’ve carried with me since high school is making time for silent prayer in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Being in the presence of the One who is most present, the One who is love, has helped me in my littleness and lack of love to be an instrument of God’s presence and love in the world.

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