Updated: Sep 14, 2020
By Fr. Art Gramaje, C.M.F.
I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would become a missionary priest! In fact, at my high school in 1978, Kennedy Catholic in Seattle WA, there was the last remnant of the Archdiocesan minor seminary. When I saw the boys walking over to class in the morning, I can remember thinking, “Why would anyone want to be a priest?”
But that all changed after I began working for Lanier Business Systems after graduating from university. It was decent money and exciting to be in a highly competitive business environment, but after countless sales calls, I would question myself: Is this why I was put on earth? At that time, I had rediscovered the practice of my faith. I was growing in my curiosity of God. The Young Adult ministry at Holy Family Cathedral in Orange, CA offered various opportunities to ask great questions, meet other young people who were on a similar journey and serve in various ministries. It was a wonder-filled time for me and the faith.
Eventually, I left that job and became a youth minister at the San Gabriel Mission parish near Los Angeles through the Claretian Lay Volunteer program. I lived, prayed and worked in community with other volunteers in Los Angeles. I continued to grow in faith, my sense of self and a life of service. In retrospect, serving within the volunteer program catapulted me forward. As I worked closely with priests at the parish, I realized how wonderfully human they were. It led me to ask myself the question: Might God want me to be a priest?
I entered into a process of discernment with a spiritual director and ultimately it led me to look into being a priest. I discerned with the Archdiocese of Seattle, the Augustinians, the Dominicans and the Claretian Missionaries. These different calls had their different advantages and disadvantages.
At the time, 1988, the Placita Church in L.A. was staffed by the Claretians and the pastor was Fr. Luis Olivares. There were various protests against the US involvement in Central America and the various human rights abuses against the people. Placita was the center of these protests. Fr. Luis was an outspoken, inspiring leader for justice and peace. My discernment became clearer as I saw Fr. Luis' example. I thought then, as I continue to think now: standing up for people who are oppressed is what priests ought to do in their ministry. My decision to join the Claretian Missionaries was set after this personal revelation.
After my novitiate, I was proud to make my vows to God as a Claretian in August 1990. I am grateful for my formation and studies at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, and my Pastoral Year with my Claretian brothers in the Philippines. These years strengthened my call and decision as a Claretian. I was ordained a priest in 1994 by Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen-- another peace and justice hero of mine-- in my home parish in Seattle.
I am thankful for my 30 years as a Son of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I pray that the Spirit continue to give me the needed graces to answer “yes” to my vocation as a Servant of the Word. I hope for the strength and guidance to share God's love in the world.
The vocation directors Fr. Rubi & Fr. Byron are ready to accompany you in your discernment and help you find a spiritual director if you don't have one. Contact them today!