Political activist to priest may be an unsual journey, but it’s the route Deacon Mauricio Fernández-Boscán has traveled on his way to becoming a priest for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
For Deacon Fernández, 32, who will be ordained a priest for the archdiocese by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, on Saturday, May 16, striving for fairness and justice began when he was a teenager in Maracaibo, Venezuela.
“I got pretty involved in many social justice activities,” Deacon Fernández said. “I belonged to several political parties.”
As a teenager, Deacon Fernández evaluated issues affecting his country and wanted to be a part of organizations that were making an impact.
“When I was 18 and I had the right to vote, I saw that there was so many people fighting. Fighting for a change in the country,” he said. “I got immersed in those groups.”
He became politically connected in Maracaibo, a city of nearly 1.5 million in northwestern Venezuela, and says even today, people still recognize him.
“If you go to Maracaibo and you ask for my name, all the people will know who I am,” he said.
Almost a public servant
“One of my dreams was to one day become the mayor of the city,” Deacon Fernández said.
Because he felt the politicians lied and didn’t look out for the poor and marginalized, he said he wanted to be a different politician.
“When you’re a politician that wants to act with honesty and love for the needy … that kind of thing is wonderful,” Deacon Fernández said. “I wanted to change that kind of face of a politician … I wanted to do something for the other, but God changed it.”
After high school, Deacon Fernández studied electrical engineering at Universidad Privada Dr. Rafael Belloso Chacin, and became a campus minister.
“I got pretty involved,” he said, explaning he taught English, mathematics, physics and religious education.
The ministry allowed him to serve people in the community and he got involved in “activities that led us to work with the outcasts, the suffering and the marginalized.”
During that time, a nun said to him that he would make a good priest. Deacon Fernández laughed off the comment. He saw himself as a married man with 12 children – maybe more, he said.
Seed of vocation grows
Deacon Fernández continued to think about the priesthood and it began to “weigh” on him. During one moment in confession, he told the priest what he had been thinking.
“I had a tough week and I was thinking of this idea whether becoming a priest or go for the marriage way of life,” he said. “You have so many doubts and you have to put so many things on the scale and then you have to weigh them.”
He didn’t know what to do.
“I don’t know how to deal with this,” he remembered telling the priest. “The priest that I was talking to was actually the vocation director of the Archdiocese of Maracaibo.”
After more discussion with the priest, he decided he would enter the seminary right after he graduated from the university in 2005.
“I was pretty afraid to tell my father. My father was not in favor of me becoming a priest,” he said, adding his parents have come to embrace the idea and now are fully supportive of his decision.
The only boy in a family that also had four girls, Deacon Fernández said his parents placed high expectations on him, hoping he would take care of them financially after he began working as an engineer.
From empty to fulfilled
He began his seminary formation in Venezuela, but said he felt empty.
“I was getting dry, spiritually,” Deacon Fernández said. “I was experiencing a time of doubt.”
He continued his education, getting another degree in philosophy in 2008, and a master’s degree in educational management in 2009, but he struggled with the direction his life was going.
To help maintain his faith, Deacon Fernández went on a mission in Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, to be back with the people.
“In that year, I was able to be a servant and a minister for people dealing with AIDS, prostitutes, alcoholism,” he said, adding he taught elementary school and found his faith again.
During that time, he got a call from Fr. Javier Bustos asking him if he would be willing to continue his formation in Milwaukee.
Fr. Bustos, a native of Maracaibo, had known the Fernández family and when he learned Deacon Fernández was contemplating the priesthood, he thought he should be in Milwaukee working with bilingual parishes.
“I knew he had the skills to succeed in this country as a priest,” Fr. Bustos said. “He brings so many talents that will enrich the ministry of the church, but especially the ministry that we do for Hispanics.”
Deacon Fernández accepted the invitation and Fr. Bustos picked him up at the airport in July 2010.
“Since that moment, Fr. Javier Bustos became my mentor,” Deacon Fernández said.
Learning English and much more
Although he “taught” English to others in Venezuela, Deacon Fernández’s English wasn’t good enough for him to start his formation, so he began taking English as a second language classes at Sacred Heart School of Theology.
To help him learn English, Deacon Fernández wore a sticker that read, “If you love me, talk to me in English.” He also lived with Fr. Bustos, who labeled household items such as the refrigerator and stove in English.
Fr. Bustos also had a rule.
“He was only allowed to speak Spanish on the weekends,” Fr. Bustos said. “He was very faithful to the rule … with a lot of pain and a lot of watching TV in English.”
Fr. Bustos said Deacon Fernández learned the language in about six months. But for Deacon Fernández, it was a long six months.
“It wasn’t easy at all,” Deacon Fernández said. “Sometimes my English gets better. Sometimes my brain doesn’t work.”
The language was just the beginning of his American culture education. Deacon Fernández remembers seeing snow for the first time through a window at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary.
“As I got closer to the window … I saw all white,” he said. “The first thing I wanted to do was touch the snow.”
He went outside with another seminarian and they made snow angels.
“Even though I come from a tropical country, I have to say that I love the snow. I love the cold,” he said.
When it comes to food, he said he learned to eat on a different “schedule.” He said in Venezuela, breakfast is small and lunch is the main meal with a small dinner.
“But I learned to love my eggs in the morning … now I dream for my bacon in the morning,” he said.
Living in Milwaukee has forced Deacon Fernandez to learn to cook.
“I don’t know how to cook, but I heat food in the microwave,” Fr. Bustos said. “I told Mauricio, ‘You have two options: you either eat my food or learn how to cook. ‘ And he actually learned how to cook.”
Deacon Fernández said he especially loves Caribbean and Italian food.
“Let me tell you a secret,” he said. “When I came from Venezuela I wasn’t able to cook because I never cooked in my house…. I have four sisters and one mother, which meant they were in charge of the kitchen,” he said. “I learned this kind of ability myself.”
Food has become an avenue for Deacon Fernández to relax.
“When I’m stressed out, I get into the kitchen, I put on a little bit of music — if it’s merengue it’s better — then I start cooking,” he said. “I just get relaxed.”
Deacon Fernández said, “Indeed, I belong to this land.”
He has also developed a love for American football, especially cheering for the Packers.
“I enjoy the polka music. I enjoy a piece of cold pizza,” he said. “I love movies.”
The movies, especially, have become a hobby for Deacon Fernández.
“When I am so tired I go to the theater, I pay my ticket and I just enjoy a wonderful movie,” he said. “You have to see what the people are seeing … you got to know because you are going to be a minister for those people.”