My parents are from the Philippines. Dad entered the U.S. Navy before he and mom married. Their wedding took place in the Philippines, and I was born there in 1958. At the age of two weeks I received Baptism in a neighborhood church in the morning, and in the afternoon of the same day I received Confirmation at the local cathedral. At that time in the Philippines, the practice of infant Confirmation continued as a holdover from centuries as mission territory.

We moved to California before I was a year old. Because we were a navy family, I grew up chronologically in San Diego, Long Beach (California), Japan, San Francisco, Guam and Hawaii. Hawaii was my father’s last assignment as a sailor. In 1973, he retired from the military, we settled permanently in San Diego, and I entered the tenth grade at Point Loma High School.

I never attended Catholic school. I learned my catechism in once-a-week CCD ("Confraternity of Christian Doctrine" classes). I received my first Holy Communion in the second grade, in Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Chapel on the U.S. Navy base in Yokosuka, Japan. I continued in weekly CCD classes all the way through until the normal time for American teenagers to receive Confirmation. For me that would’ve been when we were living in Hawaii; however, since I had Confirmation as an infant, my CCD lessons ended definitively when my peers began their preparations for Confirmation. My memory of my early 1970’s CCD lessons is that they didn’t amount to anything substantial.

I don’t think of my childhood or family life as having been unusually devout. We were faithful to Sunday Mass. I don’t recall that we did anything more than that: not even family prayers at home. However, we did have a crucifix or a statue in almost every room. Every year, the Nativity scene was as prominent as the Christmas tree in our home. Each year as we got ready to go to Christmas Midnight Mass, my mother would pretend to need extra time to finish putting on her makeup. While she did that, my father would pack us into the car and warm it up. That gave my mother time to finish pretending; but it also gave “Santa” time to put our gifts under the tree, so that we would discover them magically there after we got home from Midnight Mass.

The only vocation notion my parents and I ever discussed as I grew up was that of being a doctor. I think I was the one who came up with that. My inspiration may have come from discovering the St. Camillus Catholic Chapel in the U.S. Navy medical center in Yokosuka. St. Camillus is patron of the sick, and I received the Spanish form of that name, “Camilo”, at birth and in Baptism.

There never was any discussion of the priesthood.

Around the end of my tenth grade, my parents’ marriage began to fall apart in a way that was beginning to be obvious to me. (In the years that followed, I gradually came to understand that their marriage had been unwell from the very beginning.) During my senior year, my personal “growing pains” and the increasingly open pain between my parents provoked my search for meaning and happiness.

On my own I took up reading the Bible and praying— praying the Rosary, visiting the Blessed Sacrament, reading. With no personal maturity, and with lots of immature fantasy, I devoured writings that were over my head: St. Teresa of Avila as well as Thomas Merton’s more classically Catholic early writings.

At some point during the twelfth grade, I came across a “Campus Crusade for Christ” leaflet that explained the need and the method (a prayer formula) for being born again by accepting Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. I prayed. I accepted. I thought I was finally saved. I was “high on Jesus.”

However, I accompanied all of this with unhealthy bargaining. “I’ll be real good, Lord, and in exchange you really will fix my family. If you do that, I may even become a priest.”

I didn’t tell my parents I was trying to bribe God. I simply told them for the first time in my life that I wanted to become a priest. Shocked, their basic response was, “Don’t do it.”

I consented to start college and not make a decision about a vocation until at least after the first year. In the Fall of 1976, I entered San Diego State University. I got eagerly involved in the school’s Catholic student organization, “The Newman Center.” The Center’s chapel offered me the opportunity for daily Mass and frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament. I came across a newly published Catholic catechism for adults, The Teaching of Christ. I read it twice that year, and I read it again every year through college. In my first semester I also began to visit and make vocation retreats at the local seminary, where I first learned of the Church’s “Liturgy of the Hours.” I bought the books for the “Hours” and added that discipline to my own daily prayer life.

The fruit of all my reflection that first year in college was that I realized I had neither a good motive nor a realistic idea about the priesthood. By the summer of 1977, I no longer wanted to be a priest. I was maturing in my ideas about prayer, and I was also enjoying a healthy social life. I went to all the parties, dances and other social events organized at the Newman Center.

The seminary still attracted me, but not the priesthood. A seminary is a community of men , worshiping together each day, but also praying as individuals. I wanted to have that way of life, but without having priestly ordination put an end to it.

I started to look into religious orders, and quickly found that the monastic ones interested me the most. During my second year at the university, I discovered the local Benedictine monastery, Prince of Peace Abbey. By the summer of 1978, I had already finalized two decisions: I would finish my university studies, and I would enter the abbey right after graduation.

In August of 1981, I entered the monastery. I wanted to be one of the monks, and I was not planning on the priesthood.

I made temporary vows in 1983, receiving “Stephanos” as my monastic name. Later that year, our superior asked me to consider the priesthood. If I were willing, he would send me to study for the priesthood after I made perpetual vows as a monk.

At Prince of Peace Abbey, a new candidate undergoes several stages of formation that can be repeated or extended, so that a man is in our monastery at least four and half years before he makes perpetual vows as a monk. I made perpetual vows in 1987. With my agreement, my superior sent me that year to begin studying theology in preparation for priestly ordination. I did an introductory year at the school of theology run by the monks of St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana. That monastery had founded Prince of Peace Abbey in 1958. After the academic year at St. Meinrad, I entered the Roman equivalent of a Master’s Degree program in theology at the international Benedictine university, “The Pontifical Athenaeum of St. Anselm in Rome”.

I was ordained a deacon in 1990 at Maria Einsiedeln Abbey in Switzerland— the monastery that founded St. Meinrad in 1854. Einsiedeln itself has continuously existed as a monastery since A.D. 934.

In 1991, I finished my studies in Rome and received priestly ordination back home at Prince of Peace Abbey in October.

As a Benedictine, I am simply a monk. The priesthood is something extra, not necessary for being a Benedictine monk. Those monks who have received priestly ordination share in the work that all monks do whether they are priests or not. The primary difference is that the monks who are priests take turns presiding over daily Mass in the monastery.

In addition to the spiritual disciplines all Benedictine monks have, I’ve had several other enriching privileges: teaching directly from the Catechism of the Catholic Church to new candidates in the monastery; writing homilies; preparing talks for groups of visitors and guests at the monastery; many and lengthy discussions as a spiritual director of individual persons; teaching Church Liturgy courses in our local diocesan institute for adult education. I’ve also had the challenging opportunity to represent Catholic spirituality and thought (implicitly evangelizing) while participating in a secular men’s movement that supports a man in discovering himself, living up to his values and pursuing his mission, his vocation.

In my years since high school, I’ve had the opportunity to learn a lot about myself. The decades have included potholes, bumps and scars . I’ve received graces, blessings and talents. I’ve grown to feel increasingly responsible to give more freely of myself to God in prayer and the practice of virtue the more I learn of myself and of God. There have been instances and stretches of time when I have sincerely done that. However, I’ve also been just as “good” at taking it back, and sometimes with a vengeance. In the throes of middle age now, I really do see God opening for me a wider and deeper vision of his intimacy and availability; but I also feel myself quite capable of holding back.

Pray for me.


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