Seminarians declare their intention to follow the path of Jesus

“Go out to all the world, and tell the good news! Go out to all the world, and sing ‘Alleluia!”

-        Psalm 117

       CEDAR LAKE – From the moment a young man enters seminary, he is following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.

      Two Diocese of Gary seminarians, Ivan Alatorre and Alexander Kouris, took a big step forward on Aug. 4 by publicly declaring their intention to continue that journey during the formal Rite of Admission to Candidacy for Holy Orders conducted by Bishop Robert J. McClory during a Mass hosted by Holy Name of Jesus parish. Their path will now take them to Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, where both will pursue a four-year bachelor’s degree in Theology.

      Welcoming Alatorre and Kouris into the Rite of Candidacy, Bishop McClory said the ceremony “marks not just these men making their own public commitment, but the Catholic Church’s public acceptance of them and pledge of resources.”

      Highlighting a priest’s call to evangelize, the bishop compared their mission to that of the patron saint of priests. “How appropriate it is that today is the Feast Day of St. John Vianney,” he noted. A young priest sent to the small community of Ars, France, in 1818, St. John wrote that his parish “will not be able to contain the number of people” who would soon want to worship there.

      Then, just as “Jesus went around to the towns and villages” preaching to people “because they were troubled and abandoned like sheep,” the bishop noted that St. John visited farm families at dinner time, “managing to turn the subject to the Lord” and establishing relationships with his flock. “He had a heart for those on the margins,” noted Bishop McClory.

      “We are called to do that, minister not only to those who come in the doors, but to those who are not here that should be,” challenged the bishop. “St. John certainly did that.”

      “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” (Mt. 9:37), the bishop quoted from the day’s Gospel.

      “You need to go where they are,” he told the two new candidates and their brother seminarians. “Every Christian is a missionary … but we are the missionary disciples. We have found the Messiah.”

      “You are publicly stating, ‘Sign me up, I’ll do my best,’” said the bishop in asking Alatorre and Kouris if they resolve, “to prepare yourselves in mind and body to give yourselves to the work of the Church?”

      After they answered affirmatively, Bishop McClory prayed, “that these men will be able to witness to God in the world,” and become ministers “who will strengthen the faith of their brothers and sisters through their example.”

      Entering seminary from high school, Alatorre recently earned a bachelor’s in Philosophy from Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona, Minn., and spent this summer as a Totus Tuus missionary. “I took a week to go over the Rite of Candidacy closely and reflect on it, and it hit me that four years of seminary have gone by,” he said. “Seeing how God has worked in me, (tonight) felt real. I’m ready to see where the Lord takes me next.”

      The Lake Station native, a parishioner at St. Joseph the Worker in Gary, was supported by a large contingent of family members at the Mass, including his two triplet brothers and his mother, Luz Alatorre.

      “I felt a lot of emotion, and a little anxious,” she admitted. “How quickly four years have gone by, and now I just hope that all goes well (as he continues) and that it is a fruitful experience.”

      Kouris’ mother, Rosanne Kouris, witnessed the Rite of Candidacy with her husband, George, “and took lots of pictures. I’m very happy for him, and very proud,” she said of her son. “I ask everyone to pray for him, all seminarians, and all who may hold in their heart a (religious) vocation.”

      The proud mother revealed that when she was pregnant with Alex – the fourth son of five biological siblings in addition to five adopted children – “I really wanted a daughter, so I told God, if you are going to give me another son, he’d better be a priest.”

      After receiving a bachelor’s in Psychology from Marian University, Alex Kouris followed his calling and spent the past two years adding a Philosophy degree from Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary. “He is very much changed,” said George Kouris, “more grown up, more enlightened. He knows his mind, and I know this (vocation) is really in his heart.”

      Alex Kouris agreed that he felt, “Joy in my heart as I said ‘I do’ tonight. This is my free acceptance (of my vocation). Even though I have felt unworthy at times, (I know that) God does not call the qualified, he calls you to qualify.”

      When he first entered seminary, Kouris admitted, “it was a selfish thing, me saying, ‘I’m going to be a priest.’ But during formation, I realized this is God’s vocation for me, and in the last year, I have felt a deeper call to the gift God is giving me.”

      Unable to travel to Mexico this summer for the seminarians’ usual Spanish-language immersion, Kouris experienced a “homegrown immersion” based at his home parish, St. Joseph in LaPorte, combining classwork with bilingual Masses, ministry to the Hispanic community and home visits.

      Father Chris Stanish, diocesan vocations director, called the Rite of Candidacy “a continuation of the path to magnanimity (a lofty and courageous spirit), to striving for excellence in what you do and who you are.”

      He likened the first years in seminary to “Jesus’ hidden years (before he started his public ministry), when young men are receiving formation and education, allowing their hearts to be formed, learning what it means to be a great man.

      “Now, they have said that they want to pursue the priesthood, and their formation will be much more geared toward what it means to be a priest,” Father Stanish said. “Their focus shifts to, ‘Can I do what a priest does and be a what a priest is?’

      “It’s so important to allow your heart to be formed after the heart of the Good Shepherd,” he added. “This is the beginning of what it means to understand the priesthood of Jesus Christ.”