Janna Reynolds, The Catholic Virginian
According to Father Patricio Alcantara, family has a very important role in a vocation to the priesthood.
“I’ve heard and learned from my former formator that the role of the bishop is to ordain and lay hands on the man to become a priest, but the family is the one making the head being laid by the bishop,” he said.
Father Alcantara grew up in Sorsogon City in the southern part of Luzon, the northernmost island of the Philippines.
He said he first felt called to the priesthood while he was a student at Colegio de la Milagrosa in Sorsogon City, an elementary school run by the Daughters of Charity. The school had daily Mass, and Father Alcantara became an altar server.
“They had daily Mass at 6 in the morning, so I had to be in the school before that time. So I would leave around 5:30 at home and then be at the school before 6. And after the Mass, the school begins again. So that’s when it started,” he recalled.
The priest said his father, mother and six siblings were his support group and provided encouragement and prayers from the very beginning of his vocation.
“They are my prayer warriors, my family. Especially my mom. When I became a priest, the support of my family is always there from the very start of my ministry,” said Father Alcantara, adding that his siblings still offer some critiques to help him improve himself and his ministry.
His family home was located very close to the seminary, which provided the priest with an unforeseen link to his later formation.
“I didn’t know during the time that the place where I usually played with my kite when I was still in elementary (school) is the place where the seminarians are studying to become priests,” he said.
Roots of formation
When he graduated, his mother encouraged him to take the entrance examination for Our Lady of Peñafrancia Seminary High School, which he passed.
As a high school student, Father Alcantara assisted the priests at Masses in the barrios.
“I loved serving the priests, and I loved doing the ministry and coming with the priests and serving during the Mass. That grew and developed and deepened my vocation,” he said.
Following graduation in 1985, Father Alcantara continued his formation at the college seminary and earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1989.
Later that year, he entered formation at Divine Word Theological Seminary in Tagaytay City.
After his second year of theology, Father Alcantara completed his clinical pastoral education, which is similar to the pastoral year seminarians have in the Diocese of Richmond.
During the first half of the year, he served as a hospital chaplain.
“We are being trained how to minister to people and how to adapt to a situation or anything with regards to ministry and ministering to people. That’s what we do,” he said.
Father Alcantara said the second half of the clinical pastoral education was in a “community situation” where the seminarians “process your way of relating to people” by examining any issues that arise and learning “how you can improve and how you can make good ministry to people.”
He graduated from Divine Word Seminary with a bachelor’s degree in Sacred Theology in 1994 and was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Sorsogon on August 15, 1995.
Love of priesthood
Father Alcantara said what he loves most about priesthood is his ministry to the people.
“That’s what makes my ministry as a priest become more meaningful, by bringing God to the people and by serving the people of God in that way. So whatever help, not only spiritual needs of the people, but also the total formation of the person, is what makes my priesthood more meaningful.,” he said.
Father Alcantara said that priesthood “is not easy,” but love for Christ and his Church gives meaning to his life as a priest.
“Whatever you choose in life, there’s always trials and difficulties, but once you learn to love what you are undertaking, especially learn to love priesthood, all of these things will become easy because of the love in your heart,” he said.
Father Alcantara said the brotherhood and the camaraderie with his brother priests “gives me strength to continue.”
“Only your brother priests can understand you. People will listen to you, but the struggle you are having as a priest, only your brother priests can understand. So, for me personally, that’s what keeps me on my vocation as a priest,” he said.
‘All grace from God’
Father Alcantara came to the Diocese of Richmond in October 2019 on loan from the Diocese of Sorsogon thanks to a partnership established in 1998 between Bishop Walter F. Sullivan of Richmond and Bishop Jesus Y. Varela of Sorsogon.
“I’m happy that the Diocese of Richmond continues to welcome us here, that the legacy of the two bishops continues,” he said.
He has served as parochial vicar at Prince of Peace, Chesapeake, since October 2019, and said he is learning to love the Diocese of Richmond.
“It’s another challenge for me and another way of doing ministry because it’s a different kind of community, a different kind of people, a different culture,” said Father Alcantara. “It’s a challenge and somehow is helping me develop more of my ministry as priest.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Father Alcantara intended to celebrate his 25th anniversary at home in the Philippines while jointly celebrating his father’s 80th birthday. Now he will mark his silver jubilee at Prince of Peace with a simple celebration “to thank God for all the blessings and the graces that I have on my 25th year as a priest,” he said.
He added that if there is a COVID vaccine and travel is possible next year, he will celebrate again with his family in the Philippines at that time.
“In my life as a priest, I can say it’s all grace from God. It’s all grace. Pure grace. Because looking back, I don’t know how I survived, but I believe that there’s really a Holy Spirit and there’s really the grace of God. All my failures, all I’m lacking in the ministry, are being supplemented by the graces of God,” he said.