WCR PHOTO | LASHA MORNINGSTAR
Dada and Gem Mella met in the Philippines after Gem left the seminary.
May 26, 2014
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
The Lord thought Gem Mella deserved a second chance. So Gem said "Yes" when Father Jim Corrigan asked him to attend a deacons' orientation meeting.
But it was a reluctant yes.
"I asked him, 'Do I have to?'" remembers Gem.
It is just days before Mella will be ordained a deacon, and Gem and his wife Dada are sharing recollections of their four-year journey to the diaconate.
Born in Cebu in the Philippines, Gem was the third born in a family of eight boys and two girls. His father, Arsenio, was manager of the Province of Iloilo archdiocese's paper and Baz, his mother, taught at the local seminary.
"Our parents instilled the fear of the Lord in us," say Gem. But they also told their children to "be friends with the priests, serve the priests of the diocese."
Gem, now 58, was recruited to the seminary and "For 11 years I was with St. Vincent Seminary in Manila."
Doubts began during the philosophy years, and Gem felt he was "not really called to the priesthood."
But his spiritual director encouraged him, telling him whatever his doubts, they were part of the normal spiritual process.
Before making permanent vows, Gem went on a one-month retreat and discerned that God was not calling him to the priesthood.
So he left the seminary and earned a master's degree in business administration at the University of Santo Thomas. There, he met Dada, his future wife, who worked in the university hospital.
The couple emigrated to Canada in 1993. Gem worked as a computer manager for A&B Sound for 10 years and then moved to Flaman Fitness where he is the fitness and sales manager.
St. Theresa is their parish and it was Father Martin Carroll who encouraged Gem to become involved in parish ministries.
Now, he's an adult server, Eucharistic minister, fundraiser for the new Corpus Christi Church as well as performing other duties.
One night after a stewardship meeting Father Jim pulled him aside. "He said 'I need to talk to you.'" He asked Gem to go to the deacon orientation meeting. "Just try it. Go to the orientation program and listen to what he was saying."
Despite his reluctance, Gem admits, "It was heartening because I knew I didn't deserve a second chance."
When he went home and told Dada he said "Let's do this. If it is what the Lord wants, it is what the Lord wants."
Then came all the busy work of gathering documentation, a phone interview, writing a biography, psychological test, all kinds of interviews.
And then silence.
Three months went by and not a word. "I thought the Lord had spoken," says Gem.
At the beginning of August a letter came. Gem had been accepted.
"Though I felt I was not deserving of this sacrament I said to Dada 'We cannot really say no. This is what he is calling me to do. Then we will go through this through thick and thin.'"
Dada's agreement was crucial since wives of the aspiring deacons must attend at least 40 per cent of the meetings. Dada only missed one.
"It was interesting. I loved it," she says.
Asked if she ever had any doubts, her reply is firm. "No. No."
So began four years of hard work.
"I had to learn to manage my time," remembered Gem. "When I came home I was so tired. I would start reading and after the first page, I would be asleep and the retention was really not there."
Reading and term papers meant certain things had to be cut out of his life. Every six months there were exams.
At a certain point, Gem began to have doubts. Father Jim noticed and asked, "Are you getting cold feet?"
"Father Andrew Szablewski, my spiritual director in the seminary, helped me out," remembers Gem. "Father Jim was very encouraging, helped me walk through it."
Priests from his former seminary recently suggested that ministering to married couples would be ideal for Gem.
MINISTRY TO THE POOR
Gem agrees, but during his internship "my love for St. Vincent came back and I will be also looking into the ministry to the poor, minister to the marginalized, the people who have been left out."
All his family members who can make it will be at the ordination, including daughter Gezebel, son Mark and grandchildren Branden, Amanda and Charley.
Father Jim Corrigan had no doubts when he tapped Gem for the diaconate.
"Gem Mella is the fruit of a beautiful example of what it is to a family's witness to their faith from generation to generation," says Corrigan. "He comes from a very faithful family. He raised his children to be faithful."
Corrigan pauses and smiles.
"The Lord has his way with us eventually. Gem responded to his vocational call to married life. Yet the Lord, in his abundant goodness, said 'You know what? We are going to give you a little taste of the other end of things too.'"
Of his future deacon, Corrigan is fulsome in his praise.
"Gem is a leader and his leadership will just flourish as he transitions in his journey of service to the Lord and his people."