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Two paths lead to priest ordination in June

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SAN DIEGO — Bishop Robert McElroy will ordain Bradley D. Easterbrooks and Guillermo Hernandez to the priesthood June 24 at St. Gabriel Church in Poway.

As students at the Pontifical North American College, the American seminary in Rome, the men were ordained to the transitional diaconate last September at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

Deacon Easterbrooks, 37, will be assigned to Holy Trinity Parish in El Cajon this summer and, then, will return to Rome for another year to earn an advanced degree in Dogmatic Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

Deacon Hernandez, 30, will serve as associate pastor of St. Jude Shrine of the West Parish for the summer, before finishing a licentiate in Fundamental Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University for the next year.

Originally from Carlsbad, Deacon Easterbrooks was baptized as a Catholic, attended St. Patrick School and even received his First Communion, but he and his family primarily attended Protestant churches.

He identified as a non-denominational Christian until about mid-way through law school at Pepperdine University in Malibu. While seeking to deepen his faith life, Deacon Easterbrooks began reading the Church Fathers and became convinced that the Eucharist truly is the Body and Blood of Christ. As a third-year law student, he entered the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults process and received the sacrament of confirmation.

After passing the bar exam, Deacon Easterbrooks joined the U.S. Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG). He was stationed in San Diego, where he began attending Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Little Italy. He even had a fiancée.

“However, I realized that, despite my desire for marriage, there was another interest that I simply could not shake: Catholic priesthood,” said Deacon Easterbrooks, who had thought about the priesthood ever since returning to the Catholic Church.

He accepted his pastor’s encouragement to consider the possibility of a priestly vocation and, in 2017, he left active duty to enter the seminary.

“I want to be a priest to help people experience the love of Christ through the worship of God and service of God’s people,” said Deacon Easterbrooks, who is co-sponsored by the Diocese of San Diego and the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, meaning that he will also serve as a Navy chaplain.

“I love to teach the faith because I see how faith can heal and change lives. The Eucharist is the center of our faith, because it’s Jesus. I hope to be a priest who brings Jesus to people and people to Jesus through faith, hope and love.”

“I am filled with joy and thanksgiving knowing that I will be able to start ministering as a priest very soon,” said Deacon Easterbrooks. “In some ways, I know very little about what comes next, because life with God is always an adventure.”

A San Diego native and son of a Mexican immigrant, Deacon Hernandez grew up in a Catholic family in the North Park neighborhood of San Diego and is the product of local Catholic schools, including Our Lady’s School in Barrio Logan and St. Augustine High School in North Park. He speaks both English and Spanish.

His family attended Mass every Sunday at St. Joseph Cathedral Parish and prayed the rosary together almost daily. The frequency of the family’s Mass attendance increased as Hernandez got older; they would attend Mass at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish on the other days of the week.

“Coming from such a strong Catholic family, I actually always considered the priesthood; I knew it was something I should at least be open to,” said Deacon Hernandez, who says his classmates from Our Lady’s School would say that they always knew he would be a priest.

But, for Deacon Hernandez himself, priesthood didn’t always seem like a certainty. He also had been attracted to the idea of becoming a firefighter and, after high school, even entered the San Diego Fire Department’s cadet program for a short time.

However, those two paths are not as divergent as they might appear.

“As a firefighter, your job is to save lives; as a priest, it is to save souls,” he said. “I will never forget when my mom told me about the back of a firefighter’s shirt she saw, in church actually, that read, ‘We fight where the devil dances.’”

It was the notion of sacrifice and service that attracted Deacon Hernandez to the priesthood.

“The fact that a man sacrifices himself and gives up marriage and family life to devote his life to Christ and His Church is truly moving and inspiring,” he said. “I always wanted to show God that I loved Him, and I knew I could never be true to that unless I was willing to fulfill that same sacrifice. I always wanted to be a man of service and do something exciting, and that is what has attracted me to this vocation.”

As his ordination day draws near, Deacon Hernandez is awed by the ministry of which he will soon be a part, which includes the ability to transform bread and wine into the Eucharist and to forgive others’ sins.

“It is a true gift that I find myself crying about when considering how someone so unworthy could work such marvels.”

The ordination Mass, held at 4 p.m., June 24, will be live-streamed.

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