At the Lord’s service: Luis Valencia

Story By Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald
Photo By Frank J. Methe, Clarion Herald

On May 18 at St. Louis Cathedral, five seminarians of the Archdiocese of New Orleans will be ordained as transitional deacons – the final step before ordination to the priesthood. The ordinands are Sylvester Adoga, Luis Duarte, Dennis Obienu, Luis Valencia and John Yike. The Ordination Mass will be live-streamed at nolacatholic.org.

Luis Valencia

Age: 32

Hometown: Medellin, Colombia

Diaconate internship: Visitation of Our Lady, Marrero

Most looking forward to:  “I think I am a very good listener – and my happiness. I think happiness is the best way to show the face of God. I feel I am a happy person.”

School widened his vision of priesthood

Luis Valencia says his life has been a journey. He grew up in Medellin, Colombia – nicknamed the “City of Eternal Spring,” due to its pleasant climate – as the youngest of three children in a family that was Catholic and attended Mass, but not overtly religious.

“My family is not really religious,” he said. “I grew up Catholic, but my father’s side is not Catholic. My mother’s side is Catholic. My father became Catholic to marry my mom. We used to go to Mass every Sunday because of my mom.”

What began opening his eyes about a religious vocation was his time at a boarding high school, the Instituto Tecnico Industrial-Manuel Antonio Bonilla, in La Victoria, eight hours from his home. It offered religious studies one day a week. While it wasn’t the Catholic high school his mother attended or wanted for him, it taught him a respect for faith.

“That school was really good because a priest came every Wednesday,” said.

The school required service work, so at age 16, he began teaching in a Catholic parish nearby, where he learned much about the church.

After high school, he chose Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, a Catholic university in Colombia, studying philosophy and psychology. There, he attended classes alongside Salesians who were young and vibrant, not like the parish priests he knew. They revealed a side of the priesthood he didn’t know existed.

Priests not only celebrated Mass and heard confession but could traveled the world as missionaries or educators.

“I could be myself,” said Valencia, who loved education. “I had a different impression of religious life. I thought it was a very boring life. … I really liked their spiritual life. They led and showed me how God was present in their life. Their life left a huge impact on me. I think it was the first step.”

Valencia’s father thought studying philosophy was a waste of time and didn’t like the idea when his son said he was contemplating the priesthood. Valencia knew he had to live his own life and had the support of his mother and siblings when he joined the Salesian order. He studied with them for four or five years and took temporary vows.

In 2012, his mom got sick with terminal cancer and he asked for a year off to take care of her. She died within seven months, but Valencia chose not to return to the Salesians even though he had grown in his spirituality there.

“I came to the U.S. and to Georgia State University and took intensive English classes,” he said. While in Atlanta, he met a priest who invited him to study for the priesthood for the Atlanta Diocese.

Valencia accepted and was sent to Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, where he has been for approximately five years. He came to like it here so much that he asked to study for the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

“I switched for many reasons,” he said. “I felt like New Orleans was my home. I love the culture. People are very friendly. People say hi.”

He said there isn’t a specific incident he could pinpoint that influenced his decision to pursue a vocation. There were many little incidents along the way.

“God’s working in his way,” he said. “God called me, Luis. I am a man of God.”

As a transitional deacon, he’s looking forward to putting into practice all the formation he’s had and to serve the people.

“The formation gives a lot of tools, but I can put into practice my pastoral work from every semester,” he said. “To be involved in parish life, I can put into practice my pastoral formation and practice my English.”

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarionherald.org.

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