WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN

Deacon Carlos Nunez proclaimed the Gospel on the feast of St. Joseph at St. Joseph Basilica.

May 27, 2013
GLEN ARGAN
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Deacon Carlos Nunez knows firsthand what it means for God's strength to be made perfect through human weakness.

Although his vocation to the priesthood began to become clear to him as early as Grade 4, when he entered St. Joseph Seminary, he reached a major roadblock – poor grades in school due to his attention deficit disorder.

After his first year at the seminary, Father Shayne Craig, the rector, had to ask him to leave because of his poor academic performance. But Craig did leave the door open a crack: If Nunez could do better academically, the seminary would gladly take him back.

"That was very sad for me," says Nunez, now 30. "I wanted to give my life to God." But now his yearning to be a priest was being taken away.

BACK TO SCHOOL

His first year out of the seminary, he worked at the Eddie Bauer store in Edmonton's Southgate Shopping Centre. Then, he decided to enrol in the one-year educational assistants program at Grant MacEwan College where he would learn to help children with learning disabilities.

By taking the program, Nunez reasoned, he would gain a marketable skill and he would also learn to study better.

It worked even better than that. He also learned different strategies to teach the children that were helpful to him.

"In prayer, God helped me to see that my learning disability is not useless to him, that he can use it. God showed me 'Although it is a burden to you, it can be a blessing in some other respect.'"

Throughout his two years away from the seminary, he nevertheless felt called to return.

After completing the program at Grant MacEwan, he spoke to Craig who encouraged him to take two summer courses. Nunez did well in those courses, well enough that he was accepted back into St. Joe's.

The following year was his best year in the seminary. "I had a total gratitude for the formation team and for being in the seminary."

Now, with his studies almost at an end, he is ready for ordination to the priesthood on July 5. He will spend July helping at Edmonton's Assumption Parish and then become associate pastor at Good Shepherd Parish.

"It's a total grace of God that I'm here, that I'm going to be ordained.

Raised in a strong Catholic family on Edmonton's southside with his older brother Miguel and his parents Raul, an immigrant from Chile, and Diane, a francophone from rural Saskatchewan, he attended St. Anthony and St. Theresa parishes in his childhood and youth.

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Carlos Nunez was in Grade 4 when he told his cousins he wanted to be a priest.

His childhood was marked by attending more funerals than weddings. All four of his Canadian uncles' first wives died either from cancer or in car accidents. "I saw how faith guided my family through those moments."

TURN TO GOD

Nunez recalls being alone in the church after his grandfather's funeral with the casket still there. His grandmother came in, went up to the coffin and prayed for a while. Events like that "established in me when you're in trouble, you turn to God."

One time, he and his cousins were huddled beneath the stairs at his grandmother's apartment building and one cousin asked the others what they planned to be when they grew up.

"I said I wanted to become a priest," Nunez recalled. "Later, I wondered why I said that."

The thought did not go away. After Father Leo Floyd gave the children in Nunez's Grade 4 class copies of the New Testament, he began reading and reflecting about Jesus calling the apostles.

"I felt Jesus didn't just call the apostles then but he was asking something from me." He had a sense that Jesus wanted him to become a priest.

"Right away, I said, 'No. I don't want to give my whole life for you. I just want to give a part of my life.'"

Throughout his school years, he told no one except his brother about his interest in becoming a priest. He felt that others would think he was crazy if they knew he thought God was telling him something.

THE INVITATION

Nevertheless, one day a letter appeared in the mail inviting him to a vocations event at the seminary. "It really surprised me because I hadn't told anybody."

Nunez was excited about attending, but wouldn't show his excitement to his parents. He just said he had been invited and thought he ought to go.

A junior high school student, he was the youngest person at the event. Others talked about how they also felt called to the priesthood or religious life. "For the first time, I felt I wasn't alone.

"When I told my story, I was crying because it was the first time I had told other people it was something I was thinking of."

At Holy Trinity High School, he helped serve Masses in the school chapel and sometimes spent his spare period in the nearby St. Theresa Church praying before the tabernacle.

After high school, he took a year of upgrading to raise his marks and he also had a girlfriend. But that didn't erode his yearning for the priesthood. Just the opposite.

"That sense became stronger. God was tapping me, then God was punching me and saying 'You have to look at this.'"

He broke up with his girlfriend and went to see Father Sylvain Casavant, the archdiocesan vocations director. Casavant was blunt. If you're going to be a priest, you won't have a wife, you can't have sex and you'll have bad days as well as good ones. "He didn't fluff it up at all."

Nunez persisted and he was sent to the Benedictine-run Christ the King Seminary in Mission, B.C., to study philosophy for three years.

"It was a huge learning curve," he recalls. "I was with all these guys who knew so much about their faith and I didn't even know what a Benedictine was."

He had just learned to pray the rosary, didn't yet see the importance of daily prayer and had only been to Confession three times in his life.

"All of the richness of the liturgy and prayer life is so strong there. It just swept me off my feet."

In the monks, he could see that one could live a celibate life and be happy. "They also set the bar pretty high in terms of your prayer life. I didn't have much of a prayer life, but it was a great place to develop one."

MORE ADJUSTMENTS

Those years gave him a strong spiritual foundation when he returned to Edmonton to enter the major seminary here. But he also had to adjust to seminary life which was less monastic, more academic and also more like the less-structured life of a diocesan priest.

Nunez has no illusions about the priesthood, but also is unsure of what to expect. His year of internship in Lloydminster helped him to see that people are hungry to learn more about their faith and about prayer.

He also looks forward to being with people and ministering in a parish.

He knows also that God has helped him through some hard times. It is through his own weaknesses that God revealed his goodness to him.