Diocese of Juneau seminarians share their stories

By Mary Stone

The Diocese of Juneau is fortunate to have two seminarians who are currently following the call of discernment and education toward priestly ministry in Southeast Alaska—Gerard Dominic Juan and James Wallace. Both young men are pursuing their studies at Mt. Angel Seminary in Oregon; James is in his 2nd year of college seminarian study, and Gerard is in his first. (A third seminarian, Michael Galbraith, has completed his academic formation and is currently serving a Pastoral Year in our diocese. Read more about Mike in next month’s issue.) A diocesan priest’s education will typically include: a four-year undergraduate degree in any field of study; a two-year Pre-Theology program; a four-year Master of Divinity degree from a Catholic seminary; and, a final Pastoral Year spent in the diocese.

Attracting people from different backgrounds and parts of the world, our small diocese continues to be a ‘melting pot’ where culture and Catholic tradition combine to create rich communities of faith.

James Wallace thinks of himself as a ‘small town fellow raised in the big city.’ Brought up in what he happily admits was a loving, Catholic family and living near the beach in southern California, he remembers enjoying surfing more than school. “Fr. Peter would let us keep our sticks (surfboards) in the narthex at Mass time after our dawn patrol surf session,” he recalls.

“Initially, I was a 2.0 student, barely passing school, and didn’t seem particularly promising to my Irish Catholic grade school teacher.” Then, jokingly, “Oh man, she’d lose it if she knew I was the future of the Church… I’ll have to give her a call.”

But James shares about his 8 years spent in the U.S. Coast Guard serving in a variety of locations, including Southeast Alaska, “I grew closer and closer to God when I entered the Coast Guard in 2005, and over the years, God spoke… to my heart. This is where He wants me, in service to you.”

Gerard Dominic Juan was born and raised in the Philippines. Brought up in the culturally rich Filipino Catholic tradition, he began attending a minor seminary at age 11. Along with his parents and younger siblings, he emigrated and moved to Juneau at the beginning of his junior year in high school, graduating from Thunder Mountain High School in 2010 at the age of 15. Drawn toward the arts, music and video gaming, he continued to follow this passion after high school graduation by entering the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and studying game design, animation, and music production.

“I had signs that God was calling me to the priesthood, but I ignored them,” admits Gerard. As many teenagers, his sights were on other pursuits, “…going to parties, playing video games, eating junk food, and sleeping.”SEMGDZJUAN

During a Thanksgiving break after three semesters of university, Gerard remembers one particular day. “I was going to join my friends to go around town and find the best Black Friday deals, but my mind was saying, ‘Go to Church… go to Church.’” He didn’t go shopping, but instead drove to St. Paul’s Church, just missing the noon Mass.

“Ok, I missed Mass, so now what? What am I going to do here?” he recalls thinking. And then an insistent response, “Talk to the priest… talk to the priest!”

The conversation that began that day with Fr. Steve Gallagher and continued over the following months led to Gerard’s application to the diocese, and then to the seminary.

Gerard’s mother wasn’t at all surprised. “My mom told me that she knew it was going to happen eventually… I guess when I was three years old I told her that I wanted to become a priest someday.” Gerard expresses his gratitude for the prayers and encouragement he receives from his family and friends.

James Wallace relates that his own family’s support of his choice to attend seminary and their own recommitment to the Church has been a great blessing. “Well, after they laughed for a few weeks, absolutely… my parents are very compassionate and funny… and very supportive.”SEMJWALLACE

Both men have found life at Mt. Angel Seminary to be a time of surprises, challenges, new experiences and grace — grace that is calling them to a more full version of themselves.

For Gerard, the physical beauty of the location was a surprise.
“The seminary is located on top of a hill, so it has beautiful views with mountain ranges, the orchards and the fields that surround it. Sometimes I sit down on the grass in silence, meditate, and just soak in the beauty of God’s creation.”

Just recently, on the Feast of Santo Niño, Gerard was elected as the Filipino Community president for the seminary. He expects this leadership position to be a big responsibility on top of his already challenging academic load (he’s carrying 19 credits this term), but considers it a great opportunity and honor. The new leadership position will entail planning celebrations such as the Feast of Sto. Niño, and the memorial of the Filipino martyrs St. Lorenzo Ruiz and St. Pedro Calungsod, as well as coordinating with the Filipino community of the Archdiocese of Portland.

James Wallace has found himself surprised and grateful at seminary in ways he had not anticipated. One way has been through the reading of great literature. Not an avid student in his earlier years, he now finds himself being willingly led through the treasures of both fiction and non-fiction by what he considers his world class literature professors. A Mt. Angel seminary education focuses not just on theology, but on a broad and rich classic education. “I’m very impressed with how they (varied literary works) are brought to the seminarians,” he shares.

James has also found new joy at seminary in dedicating himself to pro-life activities.

“It feels good to be pro-life—to (value) full-fledged humanity. The prayer dedicated to it, the Marches for Life, and the perspective that all human life is precious has been one of my great pleasures (to have discovered) while in seminary.”

What’s a typical day like at the seminary? James says laughingly, “Basketball…prayer…reading… great food… and we get to wear collared shirts and ties.” Having grown up wearing sandals every day and typically dressing down, “It’s nice to be proper once in awhile, right?”

“We’re a fun crowd, and we like to study together, work together, and pray together. The only complaint I have is the internet!” (It’s apparently slow.)

Gerard Juan
Gerard Juan, a seminarian for the Diocese of Juneau, stands in front of the Santo Niño de Cebú altar, January 18, 2015 on the Feast of the Santo Niño. He was recently elected as the President of the Filipino Community of Mt. Angel Seminary.

Gerard likes to think of Mt. Angel as his second home. “Living in the seminary is like being at home with your family members. I might have some struggles and conflicts here and there, but my brother seminarians are always there to help me…”

A typical weekday at Mt. Angel begins with Morning Prayer and Mass, followed by classes from 9am – 4pm with lunch at noon, then Evening Prayer and dinner. The rest of the evening is generally used for homework, recreation, fitness activities and sleep.

“Seminary is a great blessing, because our formation staff encourages us in all things creative, and encourages us to be inventive, generous, and fun,” adds James. “They restrict us only where experience and prudence know not to go.”

To anyone considering a consecrated life, Gerard shares,
“If you feel that you are unworthy of being called, just remember the saying – ‘God does not call the qualified, He qualifies the called.’ Don’t be afraid to approach a priest and talk about what you feel for priesthood.”

James concurs enthusiastically, “…God has your plan in mind, and believe me, it’s the best adventure you’ll ever have. Take a chance on him, and he’ll do things for you that you wouldn’t even have dreamed…”