A 30-year-old accountant. A 60-year-old dairy farmer/chiropractor/family man/widower. A 49-year-old former gang member/paraplegic/religious brother/hospital chaplain.
Their stories could not be more different, and yet their common destination will bring them together on Saturday, May 28, when these men and five others are ordained transitional deacons for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles by Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
The eight men will begin a year of service in LA parishes as deacons, while completing their theological studies at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo. Recently, several of them spoke with Angelus about the experiences that have prepared them for a life of ministry.
‘It’s about surrendering to God’
There are challenges to living in a wheelchair — like steps.
“Yeah, the steps are not my friend,” chuckles Brother Cesar John Paul Galan, a wheelchair user since he was shot and left paralyzed 21 years ago in a gang-related incident that took the life of his brother. “I have to remind myself not to give up, to push past steps or whatever obstacle there might be so I can serve the Lord as he wants me to.”
It was a lesson Brother Galan learned the hard way. Born in Torrance and raised in Artesia, he fell into gang life as a teen, which ended when he was shot by a rival gang member. While recovering at St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, he found his way out of bitterness and despair with the help of Brother Richard Hirbe, minister general of the Friars of the Sick Poor and a St. Francis chaplain.
Brother Galan eventually forgave the man who shot him, became a hospital chaplain, and in 2015 professed his vows as a religious brother with the Friars. “But the idea of being a priest had been knocking at my door,” he said. “I said, ‘Hey, God, I’m already serving you as a chaplain.’ The thing is, it’s not about you; it’s about surrendering to God.”
A doctor of souls
In all likelihood, few dairy farmers in the village of Sainte-Croix, Switzerland, can imagine themselves as priests. Nor can many race-walkers on the Swiss national team, nor many chiropractors in the Mid-Wilshire area. And certainly not many husbands or fathers, wherever they live.
Rene Haarpaintner, though, fits all of the above descriptions. And a year from now, when he is 61, he will be a father in more ways than one. Surprising? Yes, and no.
“I never expected the call to priesthood,” he said with a wry smile. “But God calls us in different ways and at different times, right? Because nothing is impossible with God.”
Haarpaintner remembers first hearing that “call” at age 18, when he was living close to a monastery, and was attracted to “the peaceful lifestyle and spirit’ of the religious who lived there.
While competing for the Swiss race walking team, he met Lauren Feder, a primary-care doctor and founder of the Center for Natural Family Medicine in Los Angeles. They became friends and then sweethearts, were married in 1991, and raised two sons, now adults.
Haarpaintner also graduated from UCLA with a degree in art history, and in 2002 became a chiropractor, joining his wife in her practice and becoming active at St. Brendan Church. Then in 2014, she was diagnosed with cancer and died that November.
Before that, however, Lauren — aware of her husband’s deep faith and desire to serve God — asked him, “Are you going to become a priest?”
Where they’re going next
Here are the new transitional deacons’ parish assignments for the next year (their home parishes, except where noted):
Michael DiPietro — St. Philip the Apostle Church, Pasadena
Brother Cesar Galan, FSP — St. Mary Magdalen Church, Camarillo (home parish: Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels)
Rene Haarpaintner — St. Brendan Church, Hancock Park
Hieu Nguyen — Incarnation Church, Glendale
Enrique Piceno — St. Pius X Church, Santa Fe Springs
Luis Gerardo Peña — St. Martin of Tours Church, Brentwood
Emmanuel Sanchez — St. Kateri Tekakwitha Church, Santa Clarita
Sergio Sandoval — St. Joseph the Worker Church, Winnetka
Full story at Angelus News.