CATHOLIC HERALD STAFF
After years of discernment, prayer and study, four men are preparing to be ordained as priests to serve the Archdiocese of Milwaukee on Saturday, May 16. Here are profiles of those soon-to-be priests.
Dcn. Carlos Londoño
Home parish: The Shrine of Our Lady, Help of Christians in Sabaneta, Antioquia, Colombia
Teaching parish: Queen of Apostles, Pewaukee
Dcn. Carlos Londoño’s earliest recollections of Mass are from the Holy Thursdays of his childhood, when his father Heriberto would carry little Carlos on his shoulders to see over the crowds to the altar at the local Shrine of Our Lady, Help of Christians in their hometown of Sabaneta, in the Colombian state of Antioquia.
It was Holy Thursday that was particularly cherished in the Londoño family, when Heriberto and his wife Angela, together with Carlos and his older sister Elizabeth and their grandparents, would walk the one block from their house to the shrine for morning Mass. “Always, the themes of Holy Thursday — the priesthood, the Eucharist and the commandment of love — that has been very strong in my life,” said Londoño.
It would probably not surprise anyone who knew Londoño growing up that he finds himself in Milwaukee, preparing to serve the Church as a priest. His childhood was marked both by an enthusiasm for the English language and a love of God, and when the thought of becoming a priest first occurred to him as an altar server at the age of 7, he told his pastor, who encouraged the young boy to become further involved in the shrine parish. Londoño took the advice: “Really, my teenage years and late childhood, I spent between home, parish and school — proportionately,” he said, with a laugh. He was so young when he became a lector that they had to bring a box to the ambo so he could see over it, and he became a catechist for First Communion students at the age of 12.
But it was the influence of his pastor, Fr. Albeiro Maldonado (now the bishop of Mocoa-Sibundoy in Colombia), through a group called “La Escuela de Jesus” that truly transformed Londoño’s relationship with Christ. The group consisted of 12 young men, in the fashion of the 12 apostles, who met weekly to read and discuss the Gospel and to pray together. Londoño was particularly inspired by Fr. Maldonado’s references to Christ.
“He would never call Jesus just ‘Jesus.’ He would talk about Jesus like he had a really deep, personal relationship,” he explained. “There is an expression in Spanish that he used a lot to refer to Jesus that I don’t think I translate perfectly into English. He called him ‘La persona adorable de Jesus.’ Literally, it means ‘the adorable person of Jesus.’ Someone that’s worthy of your whole life, of your whole worship, of your entire commitment. That caught my attention.”
An associate pastor at the parish connected Londoño with a Milwaukee priest that later introduced him to the archdiocese. Londoño had always felt a keen interest in serving God’s people in the English language, both because of his affinity for the language and because of the dire need for priests in the English-speaking world. “I have this missionary call within me, of serving places that don’t have five priests in one parish, like my home diocese,” he said.
He visited Milwaukee twice, in 2010 and 2012, and in 2014 he moved to St. Francis to become a seminarian. Luckily, he has found that he is able to adjust to the climate. “Every time it snows, I’m the happiest person,” he said.
Fr. Luke Strand, director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and vice-rector of St. Francis de Sales Seminary, described Londoño as a conscientious, talented student who excels at music and languages and has proven himself to be “one of the most sacrificial men I have met.”
“Because he continually receives from the Lord through his deep life of prayer, he is able to pour himself out generously in service to Jesus and the Church,” said Fr. Strand.
During his time in the seminary, Londoño has developed a deep connection to his teaching parish, Queen of Apostles in Pewaukee, and said he considers himself to be a son of the parish. “It was really a teaching parish, and the people there became my family,” he said. “It has not been an easy journey for them. The parish has been through bumps in the road. But the people really impress me; when I hear the parable of the man who built his house on a rock, I always think of them. Every time I hear them recite the Creed, I get goosebumps — that’s faith built on a rock.”
Looking forward to the priesthood, he said, “I’m sure it’s going to be beautiful, and the happiest years of my life. Of course there will be sacrifices, but they will always be, I’m sure, flavored with the joy of being what you wanted to be and what you know God wants you to be.”
Though the final months of his time in the seminary are not unfolding in the way he anticipated, it has only led to a “deeper purifying of my intentions and my desires.”
“It has led me to realize that Jesus and his priesthood is what brought me here, and what will always be there, that no virus can affect or change,” he said. “Everything else can change and be postponed, be moved, but the person of Jesus and his priesthood that I aspire to be configured to cannot.”
Dcn. Edward Sanchez
Home parish: St. Anthony, Milwaukee
Teaching parish: St. Michael and St. Rose of Lima, Milwaukee
As a kid growing up, moving about from place to place for his father’s job as a university librarian, Dcn. Edward Sanchez had a faint idea that he might be called to the priesthood.
While living in North Carolina as a child, he took piano lessons, and one of his instruction books contained an activity that asked students who write in the blank what they wanted to be when they grew up.
“I remember writing down ‘a priest’ — and then erasing it really quickly,” he said.
Over the next decade or two, Sanchez would continue to wrestle with that question of his vocation. Was God really calling him, or was he only imagining it? “That’s a thing that a lot of guys wonder about,” he said. “The worry that maybe this isn’t from God; maybe this is just from me.”
When he was 16, Sanchez’s parents Ed and Teri moved their brood of nine to the Milwaukee area for Ed’s job at Marquette University. Their faith journey, as a family, had experienced a beautiful evolution over the years, said Sanchez. “Faith was always present in my family,” he recalled. “We would go to church on Sundays; I had all my sacraments. As I got older, as my parents got older, they started to find more and more ways to practice the faith. I think they were kind of growing in their understanding of what it means to be Catholic and how they could live that out and give back to the Church even more.”
Homeschooled through high school, Sanchez attended the University of Notre Dame to study math. A desire to discern the priesthood began to grow during his college years.“But I think I got distracted — I thought, ‘Well, maybe I’m just making this up,’” he said. He decided to pursue graduate school and plan for a career as a math teacher, and in 2013 he was accepted at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
But while spending time in prayer shortly before his graduation from Notre Dame, “I just had this thought of, ‘Wow, the priesthood is still on my heart and on my mind. There’s this sense of joy and excitement. Maybe this is from God. Maybe I could go and do this,’” he said. “It was a remarkable thing. I remember walking out of the chapel thinking, ‘I don’t think I made that up.’”
Later on that same day, he found out that a dear friend of his had fallen away from the faith. It was a heartbreaking revelation that gave the soon-to-be college grad a clearer perspective on the true importance of “the seriousness of this walk of faith.”
“Either you are going to go all-in, live from your prayer and act according to what you think God is guiding you to do, or you don’t,” he said. “And if you don’t, then you’re on this other path that is going to lead you to ultimately separate from the Church, and maybe even lose your faith in God.”
He went ahead with his plans for graduate school, but he assisted at Mass daily, deepened his commitment to prayer and became involved with the campus FOCUS mission. While attending the 2015 SEEK conference with his Bible study friends, he prayed that God would help him to embrace his will.
“I had this image of myself as being Peter, standing in the boat and looking out at Jesus and saying to the Lord, ‘If that’s really You, help me to come to You somehow,’” he recalled. “I didn’t really know what that meant at that time.”
One of the speakers at the conference gave an address that resonated deeply with him. “He said that to some people, the Lord heals them and sends them out. To some, he heals them and says, ‘Come,’ and to respond, you really have to change your life to follow Jesus in the way that he invites you to,” he remembered. “I came back from that conference and I said, ‘I can’t imagine his voice coming through any more clearly than it has in the last four years of my life. I can’t pretend that all these things are happening just because of my own imagination. I’ve got to at least try it.’”
Later that year, he applied and was accepted to Saint Francis de Sales Seminary. During his years of discernment and formation, he said, the Lord has further revealed himself through the people he has encountered. At his teaching parish of St. Michael and St. Rose of Lime in Milwaukee, he said, he has learned much about pastoral ministry. At first, the assignment presented unique challenges because many of the parishioners do not speak English. “You have to try to communicate in non-verbal ways — with smiles, with reaching out, with having a little bit of reverence, just by showing up,” he said. “You try to communicate that you care for them, that as far as you’re concerned you belong to them in a certain way and they belong to you, in a way that a priest belongs to his people. You live that, and pray for them.”
At his teaching parish of St. Michael and St. Rose of Lime in Milwaukee, he said, he has learned so much about pastoral ministry. At first, the assignment presented unique challenges because many of the parishioners do not speak English. “You have to try to communicate in non-verbal ways — with smiles, with reaching out, with having a little bit of reverence, just by showing up,” he said. “You try to communicate that you care for them, that as far as you’re concerned you belong to them in a certain way and they belong to you, in a way that a priest belongs to his people. You live that, and pray for them.”
Following his ordination to the priesthood, he said, what he is most looking forward to is living out that very sense of belonging.
“When you’re a priest, you step into a parish not just as yourself, but as a representative of Jesus Christ, and people love you not just for yourself, but they love Jesus Christ in you,” he said. “So you’re stepping into this relationship between Jesus and the Church, and you receive and share all this love that you’re not the source of.”
Dcn. Patrick Magnor
Home parish: St. Mary’s Visitation, Elm Grove
Teaching parish: Holy Apostles, New Berlin
God does not always speak in a booming voice. Far more often, he whispers.
That’s the main lesson Dcn. Patrick Magnor will take away from his time in the seminary. He certainly never expected his discernment process to be easy, but he admits that, at first, he may have expected it to be slightly more … obvious.
“There was an expectation, when I entered seminary, that I would know right away what my vocation was,” said Magnor. “I realized over time that God doesn’t always work that way. It’s not a giant voice in the clouds saying, ‘Patrick, I want you to be a priest.’”
And what he says he has discovered during his priestly formation is a keener appreciation for the magnificent subtlety with which the Lord reveals himself.
“As I look at how God has helped make me more confident in my priestly calling, it’s always been in little, simple ways,” he said. “Sometimes we look for the big show, but when we do that, we’re missing the point. It’s in quiet time in prayer, in different desires of the heart coming forth, in conversations you have with somebody.”
A simple restlessness of the heart was what really began the journey of discernment when he was a senior at UW-Whitewater. As he was preparing to finish his degree in operation and supply chain management, with an eye to working at his family’s metal fabrication business after graduation, he noticed “a growing tension that what I was doing, even though I liked it and enjoyed it, wasn’t what I was made for.”
He had always been a faithful Catholic. He was born in Chicago to Tom and Mary Magnor, and the family moved to Brookfield when he was 3. He grew up at St. Mary’s Visitation Parish in Elm Grove, attended Mercy Academy through fourth grade, was homeschooled for a few years and then attended Trinity Academy in Pewaukee until high school graduation. Regular Mass attendance, Confession and adoration had always been part of his life.
But sitting in church one Sunday listening to the story of the rich young man in Matthew’s Gospel, he realized that he “had been living the faith on my own terms,” he said.
“The rich man comes to Jesus and says, ‘I’ve done all these things with my life, what do I still lack?’ And what I realized was, there was something lacking in my life,” he said. “I was living my faith, but I wasn’t being generous with God.”
In the midst of this “turmoil,” he was encouraged by Fr. Peter Berger, pastor at St. Mary’s Visitation, to attend a discernment retreat at the seminary. It was on that retreat, in December 2013, as he prayed before the Blessed Sacrament, that a quiet, unassuming desire for the priesthood emerged in Magnor’s heart.
He applied and was accepted to the seminary the following fall, but he acknowledges that his first few semesters were difficult. “I would say one of the hardest years of my life was the first year I entered seminary,” he said. “You’re changing the whole course of your life, based off of a simple desire in your heart, a simple whisper you hear in prayer.”
He had a sense of disorientation; his whole life trajectory had been changed, and through discernment and spiritual direction, by the end of his first year he believed that “there’s no chance I’m going to be a priest.”
But that summer would prove to be a formative experience for him, as he lived at the John Paul II House of Discernment in Shorewood with Fr. Luke Strand. “My vocation was kind of shaky,” he said. At the time, Fr. Strand was undergoing treatment for prostate cancer. “To live with a priest who was going through a health crisis, and really struggling with his health, was a really beautiful thing,” said Magnor. “It helped me see the sacrificial side of the priesthood. He would offer Mass for us while he was sick, and in a lot of pain, and to see that was a really beautiful thing. I think that experience was something that helped me decide, I’m at least going to go back for another year.”
That decision would become “the best decision I ever made,” he said. “From there, gradually, over time, little by little, through prayer, I became more confident that this is in fact God’s will for me.”
At Magnor’s teaching parish, Holy Apostles in New Berlin, he has distinguished himself as someone who is eager to serve, willing to adapt to a variety of pastoral situations and anxious to witness to the power of prayer.
“He’s really good with people, and that’s a big deal in becoming a priest,” said Fr. Don Thimm, pastor at Holy Apostles. Fr. Thimm describes Magnor as “joyous.”
“He has great ability and skills, that’s very obvious, but he uses them very well. People have just been amazed at his preaching. He has incredible maturity as a preacher, in terms of messaging but also in his ability to connect with people.”
Looking forward to his future as a priest, Magnor said his greatest sense of excitement comes from the idea of being able to celebrate the Mass.
“Since receiving the catechesis as a kid of what the Eucharist is, it’s just something that’s always blown my mind. I don’t think I can ever get my mind over how amazing it is,” he said. “God can give us nothing better than the Eucharist, because he’s giving us himself. And to be a priest and to be a minister of that, and to offer that sacrifice and feed the people of God with the Body and Blood of Christ, that’s a huge privilege, a gift and a mystery.”
Dcn. Justin Weber
Home parish: St. Killian, Hartford
Teaching parish: St. Mary’s Visitation, Elm Grove
Dcn. Justin Weber certainly didn’t expect the last months of his priestly formation to be marked by a global health crisis, widespread economic uncertainty, shuttered churches and the suspension of public Mass.
As a seminarian studying at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, Weber was in some ways a witness to the very epicenter of the European experience of COVID-19. The PNAC sent all of its students home in late March, and Weber returned to Saint Francis de Sales Seminary to await ordination, itself the subject of uncertainty as the governor’s Safer at Home order necessitated a rethinking of such large-scale events.
But in reflecting on all of this, Weber says he thinks it has actually been a valuable lesson in what, and more specifically who, the priesthood is really all about.
“This whole pandemic experience — it reminds me more and more that being able to serve God’s people in this way is such a gift. It’s something that is given to you,” he said. “It’s a good reminder that there’s only one priest — Jesus Christ — and we participate in his priesthood. We await the day when we’re given orders and sent out to minister to God’s people.”
And certainly, the priesthood itself was never Weber’s “Plan A.” Growing up in Hartford at St. Killian Parish, the son of Ron and Kris Weber managed to turn his fear of thunderstorms into a healthy obsession with meteorology — with the chaos, the beauty and the science of weather. After graduating from Hartford Union High School, he went to the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, where he studied atmospheric science.
It was in his sophomore year, when he transitioned from a shared dorm to a single room and found more time for silent reflection, that his Catholic faith underwent a “reawakening.” Growing up, the Webers had been a devout family, active at the parish school, praying together and attending Mass every Sunday; their roots at St. Killian’s stretched back generations. Perhaps it was that appreciation for parish life that spurred Weber to eschew the campus ministry setting for a downtown parish, St. Michael’s in Grand Forks, where he began assisting with the religious education program and joined the men’s group.
The summer before his senior year, an unexpected idea popped into his head: the priesthood.
“It was in a very quiet, unobtrusive thought, and my first reaction was, where did this come from?” recalled Weber. His life was in flux; he was applying to graduate schools and trying to chart his future course. “I thought that this thought wasn’t necessarily coming from God, but it was coming from me — a Plan B. And I thought to myself, God doesn’t desire Plan B. So I kind of squashed that. I put it away and continued on.”
He was accepted to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for graduate studies in atmospheric science, and he moved to Shorewood, living near St. Robert of Newminster Parish.
The thought of the priesthood continued to “percolate” in his mind, he said, and he sought spiritual direction from Fr. Gene Merz, S.J., who helped him to discern the hand of God in his everyday life.
“It became so clear that seminary was the next step,” he said.
It came as no surprise to Weber’s colleague and friend Bart Adrian, a senior lecturer at UWM who also worked with Weber in St. Robert’s teen ministry program.
“I wasn’t shocked by it, but trust me, there were people who were. Justin was arguably the all-star graduate student in our atmospheric science program,” said Adrian. But he was well aware of Weber’s “inherently deep spirituality.”
“Justin was always in the office early in the mornings, like me. Some mornings we would have discussions about, say, what the severe weather outbreak on the Southern Plains was looking like,” said Adrian. “Other mornings we would have discussions about things like God’s immanence versus His transcendence.”
He finished his MS degree and was accepted at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary in 2015. It was early the following year that Fr. John Hemsing asked him to consider traveling to Rome to study at the PNAC.
Adjusting to life and school in a foreign country was initially a challenge for the former student of sciences.
“The first few weeks in Siena (in the PNAC Italian immersion program), when I was learning the language, I was struggling to convey the things I wanted to say,” he said. “With my science background, precision of languages is prized. But here, I couldn’t speak any more than an elementary school student.”
As he later would in the coronavirus pandemic, it was a moment for him to embrace his own powerlessness and surrender to the will of God.
“The Lord knows everything on my heart and that I can convey everything that I desire to Him,” he said. “To just kind of abandon myself to His will was a very freeing experience.”
As a priest, Adrian said that Weber will bring a “realness” to his ministry that he thinks will resonate with congregations.
“Justin has always been someone, to me, that is just the real article,” he said. “I think he will be a very connected and relational person. I think he’ll be a priest that people will want to invite over for dinner.”
As he looks forward to his ordination, and to his life as a priest, Weber said he prays that he will, as St. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4:15, “be absorbed” in his calling.
“My desire is that this vocation will absorb me, and that everything that I do will be in His Hands. That my heartbeat will be with his heartbeat and my eyes will be with his eyes — and I’ll just be absorbed by this vocation for the good of the people,” he said. “It’s something I can’t do on my own; it’s something that has to be given. But if I’ve seen anything these last five years it’s that he doesn’t fail to give.”