Father Juan Carlos settles in as vicar for priests
By Peggy Moraczewski
In January, Bishop Joe Vásquez assigned Father Juan Carlos Lopez as the diocesan vicar for priests. Father Juan Carlos, as he prefers to be called, has served in parishes across the diocese since his ordination on May 31, 2003. Most recently, he was pastor of St. Anthony Marie de Claret Parish in Kyle. Previously Father Harry Dean served as vicar for priests for seven years.
Father Juan Carlos explained that as vicar for priests, he serves on behalf of Bishop Vásquez and Bishop Danny Garcia to ensure the optimal management of priestly resources throughout the diocese. He gathers and tracks information pertaining to the priests, such as date of ordination, years of service as an associate pastor or pastor, who is retiring, placement of the newly ordained, etc. All of this information becomes a part of the discernment process for new assignments of diocesan priests. After this information is compiled and submitted to Bishops Vásquez and Garcia, a team of priests –– the Personnel Board –– discerns the future assignments of their brother priests. Ideally, a priest is placed in a position where his individual gifts reap the best results for the people of the diocese, Father Juan Carlos said.
As vicar for priests, he wants to know all of the priests in the diocese, but has specific time allotted to work with newly ordained priests. He meets with them four times a year during the two years following their ordination to provide support and help them fulfill their ministry to the best of their ability. Additionally, he screens inquiries from international priests interested in working in the Diocese of Austin. Father Juan Carlos processes petitions and acts as a liaison between the local diocese and the diocese of the priest requesting the new assignment. He also assists with a workshop on enculturation for priests coming to Central Texas from other countries.
Other duties require insight into human relationships and needs. In this capacity, the vicar for priests serves as a resource for diocesan priests, ministering to those who may be struggling during a period of transition or are in need of personal wellness care. And, in situations where conflicts arise, whether it is between priests, between priests and the diocese, or priests and lay people, Father Juan Carlos acts as a mediator, a resource for ideas and guidance.
On a personal note, Father Juan Carlos grew up in Mexico, blessed with hardworking parents and a heart open to the Holy Spirit. His parents and pastor from the local parish were good role models of the Catholic faith for Father Juan Carlos and his five siblings.
A major turning point in the faith life of young Juan Carlos happened at age 17 when he attended a Mass where seminarians talked about how God called them to the priesthood. Leaving Mass with questions about the priesthood swirling through his mind, he went home, complaining to God, “Why did you choose them and not choose me?”
Although he was afraid, he returned to visit with the seminarians who invited him to a retreat and after discernment, he entered the seminary. His formation began in Mexico where he received a degree in philosophy and began to study theology. Upon arriving in Texas in 1997, he studied English for one year and then entered St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston.
“I believe God was calling me to the priesthood. At the same time, I was so thankful to God for his goodness and many blessings he has given me and I just wanted to respond to that,” Father Juan Carlos said. He draws strength through prayer and begins each day with the “Prayer of Abandonment,” by Blessed Charles de Foucauld, but also treasures the prayer, “Fall in Love,” by Jesuit Father Pedro Arrupe.
He has come a long way from the frightened teenager who questioned why God did not call him.
“Being with the people, being touched by their stories and experiences is a great privilege. I love being able to provide the presence of God through the sacraments, to offer healing on behalf of God,” Father Juan Carlos said.