WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Deacon Miguel Irizar will be ordained to the priesthood July 2 at St. Joseph's Basilica.
Who said dreams don't come true? In a few weeks, Miguel Irizar will fulfill his biggest dream ever – becoming a priest for the Edmonton Archdiocese.
The 25-year-old Mexican-born Irizar was ordained a deacon a year ago and since last August he has been assisting Father Paul Kavanagh at Assumption Parish.
Archbishop Richard Smith will ordain him to the priesthood July 2 at St. Joseph's Basilica.
"I'm very excited. I'm looking forward to be able to serve the people of God as an ordained priest," Irizar said in a recent interview at St. Joseph Seminary. "It's been seven years preparing for this great moment."
Being ordained, he said, means to accept God's mission with the same zeal Mary accepted her mission as the Mother of God.
As a deacon, Irizar is assisting at Assumption with weekend Masses, sharing in the preaching. He also attends parish council meetings, liturgy committee meetings and visits parishioners. In addition, he has served as assistant master of ceremonies for the archbishop for the past year.
Following his priestly ordination, he will serve as the priest at Assumption Parish while Kavanagh is attending summer school in the United States. In August, Irizar will become associate pastor at St. Joseph's Basilica.
"I think he is a fine young man, really; I think he is going to do really wonderful things for the Church," Kavanagh says.
"He is a great teacher; he is able to explain the faith very well to people and he is very outgoing. You know, people have really sort of come to attach themselves to him. In a sense they've got a great relationship here in the parish with him."
Irizar comes from "a very beautiful and faith-filled family" of 16 children and was born and raised in Mexico City.
The family often visited the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. "Being a young boy, it was very impressive to see such a large number of people gathered around this beautiful church to visit Our Lady," he recalls. "I still remember in clear detail those visits."
The Irizars had close relationships with priests and many would visit the family home. Talking to them opened Miguel's eyes to the possibilities.
When Miguel was 10, his parents – Juan and Lupita – moved the family to Canada to escape drug cartel violence in their home country and give the children better educational opportunities. They spent a few years in Abbotsford, B.C., before coming to Edmonton in 2003.
They settled in St. Theresa Parish and every evening his parents took their children to the church for Eucharistic adoration.
"Faith was always the most important thing at home," said Miguel. On Sundays, all 18 of them would attend Mass together.
"The call to priesthood was fostered by my family. It came from God but he used my family to show me what he wanted me to do with my life."
In Mexico and in Abbotsford, Irizar served as an altar boy, and sometimes he dreamed about serving the Lord as a priest. However, those were just dreams.
Originally, he and some of his siblings wanted to become engineers, like both his parents, who own an engineering consulting company in Edmonton.
With that purpose in mind, the lad enrolled in the international baccalaureate program at McNally High School. However, God had other plans for him.
The dynamics of his large family helped him prepare for what was to come. "What I experienced there was how beautiful it is to give yourself completely to your little brothers and sisters."
As the fourth oldest in the family, Miguel grew up helping his parents and "I was able to taste the beauty of giving yourself completely to another person," just like a priest is supposed to do. "As a priest you've got to give yourself completely to Christ and to the Church."
Irizar says his vocation is a mystery and developed gradually over the years. "God prepares you. I had almost 17 years of experience in the Catholic faith before I made a decision to become a priest."
He was 16 or 17 and in Grade 11 when he made the decision to enter the seminary to discern his vocation to the priesthood.
Cardinal Thomas Collins, then the archbishop of Edmonton, helped him in his discernment. Irizar recalls being confused in Grade 11 over whether to be a priest, an engineer or an artist. He loves music and plays a couple of instruments, including the cello and the saxophone.
"I was being pulled in these two different directions," he says. "The way that I felt was sort of in a state of crisis, not knowing where to go."
That's where Collins came in. "He helped me make a decision by trying to be at peace before deciding."
One evening Collins had just finished leading lectio divina at the basilica and, as he was going out, he approached Irizar to ask if everything was okay. He had probably noticed the pain and the confusion on the young man's face.
"I said, 'I really need to talk to someone.' So the archbishop pulled me to the side of the sacristy of the basilica and I dumped everything into his hands."
From that moment on, Collins was instrumental in trying to make sense of Irizar's internal experiences. "He was like a father to me."
Now Irizar can't wait for his ordination. "I only have one plan – to be a very faithful priest, to try to show the face of Christ through my ministry and try to do the will of God by obeying my bishop. I think that's a very good way to live your priesthood."