Five priests will be ordained on July 9
By Mary P. Walker
Bishop Joe Vásquez will ordain Deacons Payden Blevins, Sean R. DeWitt, Greg Gerhart, Froy Jerez and Amado Ramos to the priesthood July 9 at 10:30 a.m. at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Austin.
Deacon Payden “Red” Blevins, age 28, is the son of Angelia and David Blevins and has a younger sister. His earliest memories are attending Mass at a small country parish near Lafe, Ark. While his mother held him, he would stare at the image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help holding the infant Jesus. His family welcomed priests into their home, and his family history includes a priest who founded many parishes in Arkansas.
“My story is one where everyone else knew I had a vocation before I did,” Deacon Blevins said. He tried to convince himself that he wanted a profession that paid well and would allow him to be a husband and father. Yet, he felt God’s call through others, who told him he would be a good priest.
Because the shortage of priests caused the parishes where he had been baptized and where he grew up to close, Deacon Blevins felt a great responsibility to discern his own calling. After high school, he entered Holy Trinity Seminary in Irving as a seminarian for the Diocese of Little Rock. He began his studies with the intention of making a decision about the priesthood within two years.
His discernment led him to conclude that God was calling him, but he believed that he was also called to exercise this priestly ministry in a different place. He left the seminary for six months and lived in the St. Charles Borromeo discernment house before becoming a seminarian for the Austin Diocese. While at the discernment house, he participated in the parish life of St. Louis King of France in Austin, which he considers to be his home parish.
Deacon Blevins looks forward to being a priest and encourages young men and women considering the priesthood or religious life to “be open to listening to how God is showing you his will for your life.”
Also born outside of the diocese, Deacon Sean DeWitt’s family moved to Dripping Springs when he was 10. Now age 26, he is the son of Brenda and Charles DeWitt, and has two younger brothers. Growing up, he enjoyed basketball and marching band, was an altar server at St. Martin de Porres Parish, played the trumpet in the choir, and led the youth band.
When he was in fifth grade, Father Jim Evans spoke to his religious education class about the priesthood.
“I remember an overwhelming feeling that he could be talking to me,” Deacon DeWitt said. In eighth grade, while attending a penance service at a Catholic HEART Workcamp, he felt another call to the priesthood. He also attended diocesan Project Andrew vocation events.
Right before college, Deacon DeWitt explained that he had an “intellectual conversion” of falling in love with his studies, especially as they related to the faith. He enrolled at the University of Dallas and studied philosophy for two years. There he met Dominican Father Philip Neri Powell.
“His willingness to spend time with me and ‘hang out’ allowed me to see myself more and more as a priest,” Deacon DeWitt said.
While spending a semester in Rome, he attended a silent retreat and had what he describes as a profound experience of prayer. This led him to enter Holy Trinity Seminary. He continued his studies at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.
There he has enjoyed being surrounded by the intellectual and cultural riches of the faith, and the opportunity to study with seminarians and religious from 40 different countries. Deacon DeWitt has also discovered a love for canon law and an appreciation for its contribution to world law and culture. He will return to Rome to continue this study after ordination.
“As a priest, I look forward to celebrating Mass, hearing confessions, and helping people experience God’s mercy and grow in their personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” Deacon DeWitt said.
Also studying at the Pontifical North American College, Deacon Greg Gerhart, age 29, grew up in Allen, just north of Dallas. He is the son of Melinda and Toby Gerhart and has one younger brother.
While in high school, he participated in Life Teen at St. Jude Parish in Allen. He started to seriously think about the priesthood at The Pines Catholic Camp when he was 14.
“I felt an incredible desire to not only give my Sundays to the Lord, but my whole life to the Lord,” Deacon Gerhart said. Without pressuring him, his parents, pastor, youth minister and parish community encouraged him to consider the priesthood.
After high school, he attended Texas A&M University and graduated with a degree in English in 2009. During this time, he taught religious education and served as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in College Station, which he considers his home parish. He then entered St. Joseph Seminary in Covington, La., continuing his studies at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.
Deacon Gerhart cites two factors that influenced his life and faith while in Rome. First, being surrounded by beautiful churches, Catholic art, culture and opportunities for devotions has helped him grow in faith. Second, in Rome he has encountered many poor, and was forced to reflect on what it meant to preach the Good News to those who are struggling to live.
After ordination, Deacon Gerhart looks forward to being part of a parish family, celebrating Mass, baptizing children and hearing confessions. He encourages young men and women who are wondering whether God is calling them to the priesthood or religious life to take the next step. Deacon Gerhart explained that even if he had discerned that God was not calling him to be a priest, his time in formation would not have been wasted.
“I would have considered this time of growth invaluable,” he said.
Deacon Froy Jerez, age 42, was born in Monterrey, Mexico, son of Juanita Rivera Reyna and Froylán Jerez Santos. Shortly after his birth, his father died, and Deacon Jerez feels blessed to have also been raised by his stepfather, Valentin Antopia Lara.
Although his parents worked many hours at low-wage jobs, the family was active in parish life. Deacon Jerez participated in missions, devotions and Eucharistic adoration. From an early age, he worked to help support the family and cared for his younger brother and sister, which he believes fostered his desire for service.
He first thought about becoming a priest when he was 12. At 17, he participated in a Franciscan vocation program, but did not feel that it was right for him. He returned home, got a job, and began studies in psychology, graduating in 1996.
A series of jobs in a hospital and business allowed him to help pay for his sister’s college and help support his family. In 2001, Deacon Jerez joined Regnum Christi, a lay Catholic organization. There, he was invited by a Legion of Christ priest to consider becoming a seminarian for the order, and joined the novitiate in 2002. His experience includes work and study in Rome, Venezuela and Spain.
Eventually, Deacon Jerez left the Legion, and was accepted as a seminarian by the Austin Diocese in 2012. His home parish is St. William Parish in Round Rock. Because his path to becoming a priest was long and had many stops along the way, he encourages men and women wondering whether they have a religious vocation to trust that God will help them discover the right path.
As for his plans after ordination, Deacon Jerez said, “My goal is to be a holy priest. I want to be the bridge that God uses to bring many souls to him.”
Also originally from Mexico, Deacon Amado Ramos, age 34, was born in Saltillo, son of Maria Guadalupe Hernandez and Amado Ramos. The youngest of five children, he has three older sisters and one older brother. He credits his family, friends and the community of believers with nurturing his desire to become a priest.
“My family taught me about the love of God, and I discovered the loving God with my friends and people around me,” Deacon Ramos said. His home parish in the diocese is Santa Cruz Parish in Buda.
He prayed every day, and asked for the Blessed Virgin Mary’s intercession to help him discover God’s desire for his life. It was during quiet moments of listening to God that he received his answer.
“In each of my challenges, I wondered what God had in mind for me. Often we don’t know what is good for us, but God does,” Deacon Ramos said.Bishop Michael Sis, formerly vocations director for the diocese, helped and encouraged Deacon Ramos to apply to become a seminarian. He attended Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, and believes that the seminary was only the beginning of the lifelong learning process that God calls priests to undertake. After ordination, he looks forward to celebrating Mass and the sacraments, and hopes to serve as a sign of Christ’s love for his people.
Deacon Ramos encourages young men and women to entrust their vocation to God. “Psalm 37:4 says ‘Find your delight in the Lord who will give you your heart’s desire.’ God will guide you and lead you,” Deacon Ramos said.