Bishop Vásquez will ordain five priests on June 8
By Mary P. Walker
Bishop Joe Vásquez will ordain Deacons Augustine Ariwaodo, Jason Bonifazi, Ventura Alejandro Caudillo, Barry Cuba and Timothy Nolt to the priesthood June 8 at 10:30 a.m. at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Austin.
While all of the deacons are united in their dedication to the Catholic faith and look forward to serving as priests in the Diocese of Austin, they come to the sacrament of holy orders from very different paths. Two are converts to the Catholic faith. Two had conversion experiences that drew them deeper into Catholicism, and one knew that he wanted to be a priest from a young age. Geography also adds to their diversity. Two of the deacons grew up within the boundaries of the Austin Diocese, while the others come from Pennsylvania, Mexico and Nigeria.
Deacon Jason Bonifazi, age 33, graduated from Groesbeck High School and considers his home parish to be St. Mary in Mexia. The youngest of three boys, his parents are Michael Bonifazi and Sheli Hanson.
After earning a business degree from Sam Houston State University, Deacon Bonifazi worked as a salesperson for a wine distributor in Houston. During this time, he also pursued an MBA at the University of St. Thomas. Raised as a Mormon, he felt drawn to the Catholic Church and began the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) process at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston.
Baptized in 2004, he quickly became active in parish life while continuing his job and graduate studies. He characterized his life as "OK," but he was not happy.
"I started questioning what God was asking of me," Deacon Bonifazi said.
He began considering whether God was calling him to become a priest. Because he was newly baptized, he was not sure if this interest was a prompting from God or his own enthusiastic response to becoming Catholic.
He continued to discern this question with a priest at the co-cathedral while he finished graduate school. Knowing he could not enter the seminary until he had more experience as a Catholic, he contacted the Assumptionists, a religious order that also sponsors lay missionaries. Under their direction, he went to the Philippines. After returning, he entered the seminary, about two years after his baptism.
At first, Deacon Bonifazi found some aspects of seminary life challenging. Used to the "right and wrong" answers in his business courses, he had to learn a different way of thinking to study philosophy and theology. Also, living in a dorm and sharing the structured lives of seminarians was an adjustment to a man used to being on his own.
Anticipating his ordination, Deacon Bonifazi said, "I look forward to being in a parish, sharing my faith, and bringing people to Christ. It is an exciting time for the church and world."
Deacon Tim Nolt, age 46, also converted to the Catholic faith and considers St. John Vianney in Round Rock to be his home parish. His parents are Steve and Doris, and he has two younger sisters. He grew up in Lancaster, Pa., in an evangelical Christian family that emphasized sharing their faith. When he was 10, his father took a sabbatical from his teaching job, and the family went to Kenya for missionary work. While there, Deacon Nolt attended a school for the children of missionaries.
When asked what brought him to the Catholic Church, he said, "It’s all about the music." Growing up in a family that shared their many musical talents through church, Deacon Nolt received a bachelor’s degree in piano performance from Juilliard. He then came to Texas to study piano at the University of Texas at Austin, where he received a master’s degree. While a student, he taught piano to the daughter of a Catholic family. Through this family, he learned about Catholicism and had opportunities to play for Mass.
With experiences in the "house church" movement and as a youth minister in a Presbyterian church, Deacon Nolt explained that in his "head" he was not considering Catholicism. However, he was drawn to the faith.
"The Holy Spirit exposed me to Catholic liturgy. Catholics believe that Christ is present through the liturgy, and I wanted to learn more about it," Deacon Nolt said.
After a few weeks of fervent prayer during an intense time of his life, he felt a desire to become Catholic to deepen his relationship to Christ. While waiting to participate in an RCIA program, he went on a men’s retreat. His roommate planted the seed of a possible religious vocation when he asked Deacon Nolt if he had ever considered the priesthood.
After becoming Catholic in 1999, he spent the next eight years working in infor
mation technology for the city of Georgetown, as a part-time musician and performing in a chamber group. He entered the seminary in 2007. In addition to his studies and formation for the priesthood, seminary life also gave him the opportunity to improve his organ playing skills.
Although his parents had a period of adjustment to Deacon Nolt’s conversion, today they are proud that he is dedicating his life to God as a priest.
"My years of discernment and formation have impressed on me how much priestly formation is a family affair. It is humbling to receive the prayers of the Christian faithful during this time," Deacon Nolt said.
After ordination, he looks forward to being part of a parish family, serving them through Mass and the sacraments, and helping them in their times of need.
Born and raised in Austin, Deacon Barry Cuba, age 27, considers St. Catherine of Siena his home parish. A graduate of James Bowie High School, he is the son of Karen Cuba, and has a younger sister.
During his early high school years, Deacon Cuba worked in a grocery store and thought he might continue in a management career through the store chain. A friend gave him a copy of the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" and advised him to read it to grow deeper in his faith.
"I fell in love with the beauty of the faith. The teachings are coherent," Deacon Cuba said. He explained that after reading the catechism, he "got really into being Catholic," and wondered if God was calling him to the priesthood. Not knowing how to become a priest, he turned to the Internet, where a website advised him that most large cities have vocation directors. He decided to track down the one for Austin. At that time, Father David Konderla was the vocation director for the diocese.
"He is a good model of a happy priest. His happiness was contagious. I saw the possibility of living such a happy life, and entered the seminary after high school," Deacon Cuba said.
In addition to the responsibilities of seminary life, Deacon Cuba served in the U.S. Navy Reserve for three years. He has traveled extensively, visiting Costa Rica, which he particularly enjoyed, most of western Europe, Canada and Korea. He even speaks some Korean.
After ordination, Deacon Cuba looks forward to preaching and teaching, and believes that a priest has a great privilege and responsibility in serving people in times of joy and sorrow and through the sacraments. He also looks forward to the administrative responsibilities of the office, and he admits that he is a bit unusual in that regard.
Originally from Abia State in southeastern Nigeria, Deacon Augustine Ariwaodo, age 36, marvels that God’s plans for his life brought him to the Austin Diocese. He considers St. Elizabeth of Hungary in Pflugerville his home parish. He is the son of Monica and Matthias, who is deceased. One of six children, Deacon Ariwaodo grew up in a devout Catholic family. He has a brother and sister living in Nigeria, a sister who is a nun with the Handmaids of the Holy Child of Jesus in the United Kingdom, and another brother in London. His sister, Joy, whose name Deacon Ariwaodo says described her disposition, died in a car accident in 2003. They had a close relationship, and he believes that her prayers in heaven have helped him on his journey toward the priesthood. He is hoping his mother and all his siblings will be able to attend his ordination.
Deacon Ariwaodo’s father was a primary school teacher and assistant to his pastor.
"I was surrounded by different priests and nuns. I just loved the way they served people. That’s what I wanted to do," he said. Considering the priesthood at a young age, he was especially influenced by the stories he heard about a deceased pastor, who was known for his sanctity and selfless service.
In 2005, he received a degree in theology from the Pontifical Urban University in Rome, which was affiliated with his seminary in Nigeria. In 2008, he came to the U.S. to attend a friend’s ordination, and was asked to continue as a seminarian for the Diocese of Savannah, Ga., studying at St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, Pa. Shortly afterwards, he transferred to the Austin Diocese, which now feels like home to him. He expressed his appreciation for the welcome and support he has received, and he is in the process of becoming an American citizen.
Hoping to return these blessings, Deacon Ariwaodo said, "I want to be an inspiring presence, a good example, just like the priest I heard about. I want to help people realize that God is present in their midst. He loves them and is closer than they could ever imagine."
Deacon Ventura Alejandro (Alex) Caudillo, age 32, was born in Mexico and came to the U.S. when he was 15 with his parents, who sought better educational opportunities for their children. The youngest of 13 children, he is the son of José and Maria, who is deceased. He hopes that his father, who lives in Mexico, and most of his siblings will be able to attend his ordination.
After arriving in the in U.S., Deacon Caudillo lived in Tyler for a short time, moved to California, and then came to Waco in 1998. St. Francis on the Brazos is his home parish. He graduated from Midway High School, attended McLennan Community College and received a bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Texas at Arlington.
Deacon Caudillo had been away from the church for a period of time, and credits God, some powerful spiritual experiences and his search for meaning with bringing him back. He became very involved with parish life, serving as a lector, a member of the RCIA team and an extraordinary minister of holy Communion. He also visited the sick and was involved in retreats and the religious education program.
He believes that three things led him to listen and respond to God’s call to the priesthood: he wanted to lead a life of meaning and purpose; others asked and encouraged him to consider becoming a priest; and finally, the example of a priest he knew transformed the idea of becoming a priest into the desire to become a priest.
Deacon Caudillo praised the formation process with helping the seminarians discover what God calls them to do as priests. He said that he wants "to serve others, to be there when they have difficult times and need somebody to trust, and help them know that with God, there is something better in life."