Filipino priest is ready to spend rest of his life in Texas
By Michele Chan Santos
Father Ramon D. Frayna is the pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Rockdale, about an hour northeast of Austin in Milam County.
Rockdale is half a world away from Sorsogon province in the Philippines, where Father Frayna grew up. Sorsogon is the southernmost province of Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines. Although the humid, tropical atmosphere of the Philippines doesn’t seem like it would have much in common with Central Texas, the two places do share certain qualities: the importance of food in community and family celebrations and vibrant Catholic parishes.
When Father Frayna, 52, first thought of becoming a priest, he was a little boy and an altar server. In the Philippines, each village has a large annual fiesta, a major celebration involving everyone in town. The young Ramon noticed the priest was always served the best food.
At age 12, he saw a priest riding a motorcycle. “So as a child I knew a priest ate good food and could have a motorcycle,” Father Frayna recalled, laughing. “I thought it was the coolest profession.”
After attending high school in Sorsogon, and college in Naga City, he joined the Franciscan seminary in Quezon City in Manila.
“When I entered, it became clear to me that this is my calling,” he said. “I’m happy to be with people, to help people.”
The Franciscans in Manila cared for the poor in the slums, and for the sick, including those in a leper colony. Brothers with the Franciscan order have served in the Philippines since the 1500s; the Franciscans have established many Filipino hospitals and schools.
Father Frayna was ordained in 1986 in Manila. A Scripture quote from his ordination remains very important to him:
“But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us,” says 2 Corinthians 4:7.
Reflecting on this passage, Father Frayna said, “That is the definition of the priesthood. The power is of God, not from us. It is a very precious gift. I am humbled and grateful every time I celebrate the Mass.”
After his ordination, he continued to work with the Franciscans in Manila. After several years, he decided to apply to be a priest in the U.S., because he was looking for a new adventure. At first, he applied to work as a priest in California, but then “God’s will brought me to Texas,” he said. “I found the people in Texas to be warm, hospitable and friendly.”
He has been with the Diocese of Austin for about 12 years. He was assigned to St. Joseph Parish in Bryan from 2003 to 2005, and then from 2006 to 2011 served at St. Joseph Parish in Dime Box and Holy Family in Lexington. He was assigned to St. Joseph Parish in Rockdale in 2011.
Father Frayna chose to incardinate with the Diocese of Austin in 2011, which means he is permanently part of the Diocese of Austin.
Texas “is my second home now,” Father Frayna said. “This is where I will spend the rest of my life.”
He still visits the Philippines regularly, and went for a visit in May to celebrate his mother’s birthday.
Among his good friends in Texas is Father Benji Magnaye, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Mexia. Father Magnaye is from the same province in the Philippines –– Sorsogon –– as Father Frayna.
Another good friend and mentor is Msgr. John Malinowski, chaplain at St. Joseph Regional Health Center in Bryan. One of his pieces of advice to Father Frayna was “Take good care of these people, especially the sick and dying, and they will never forget you. The people that need you most, you should always be there for them.”
Msgr. Malinowski “is a good role model for me,” Father Frayna said.
In his spare time, Father Frayna enjoys gardening. He has vegetables, fruit trees and flowers in his garden.
St. Joseph Parish in Rockdale recently underwent a huge remodel. The renovated church has a new circular stained glass window depicting the Holy Family, new restrooms and a new day chapel; improvements were also made to the sacristy, ceiling and other areas.
Father Frayna and the entire Rockdale community were very proud when Bishop Joe Vásquez rededicated the church on Feb. 26.
After 28 years as a priest, Father Ramon said he is still very thankful every time he celebrates Mass.
“I am humbled and grateful because God has blessed me in so many ways,” he said.