Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 10, 2006
Gary Lee dreamt about being a priest
Filipino-born, 4 year-old Lee yearned to wear the priestly garb
By RAMON GONZALEZ
"I've been called by God to be a missionary here in Canada and I am determined to fulfill that call"
- Deacon Gary Lee
He came to St. Mary's Feb. 1. There he assists Father Paul Kavanagh with baptismal preparation, weddings and preaching. He has also helped with baptismal preparation at Sacred Heart, thus gaining the admiration of Father Don Stein.
"I'm very, very impressed with Lee," Stein said. "His enthusiasm, openness and willingness to serve are admirable. His heart, I think, is in his ministry and I think he'll carry that through into his priesthood."
For Lee, becoming a parish priest is the fulfillment of a childhood dream. As a child he dreamed about wearing priest vestments and, as a teen, he loved to listen to the impassioned homilies of the late Cardinal Jaime Sin of Manila.
Born the eldest of four children in Tagum, Dabao, on March 2, 1976, Lee spend most of his early childhood with his grandparents who taught him the basics of the faith.
"With my grandparents I learned how to pray the Our Father and the rosary," he recalled. "It was a very traditional family; we would go to Mass every Sunday and we would pray the Angelus Prayer at 6 o'clock in the evening. So my (faith) education really started at home. The sense of religiosity was very strong. You could feel it in the air."
He grew to admire the priests at his parish. "My vocation started when I was four or five years old," he recalled. "When I a saw a priest wearing his priestly garb I would say to myself, 'I would love to wear that one day. I would love to become like him.'"
Lee's grandfather was the legal counsel for the Diocese of Tagum. The bishop of the diocese, Pedro Dean, would often visit their house. "The bishop would ask me, 'Hey, Gary, what do you want to be when you grow up?' and I would tell him, 'Well, bishop, I want to become a priest.' He seemed very happy and he would pinch my cheeks and would say, 'Good boy.'"
After high school, he entered the seminary at age 16 and earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy. Then he served for almost three years as master of liturgy for the bishop of Tagum at Christ the King cathedral.
In 2000, the bishop called him to his office to say he had received a letter from the bishop of St. George's in Newfoundland requesting seminarians and priests for his diocese. "I said I would be happy to go to Canada."
Lee, along with two other Filipino seminarians and a Nigerian, arrived in St. George's in August 2000.
All four were sent to St. Joseph's Seminary because they missed the enrollment deadline at St. Augustine Seminary in Toronto. Lee is the only one of the four who made it to ordination. "The other (three seminarians) didn't survive," Lee smiled. "God called them in a different way."
He studied for the Diocese of St. George's for five years and did his internship in Port Auchoix, Nfld., for one year. "I enjoyed it there. I had an opportunity to be part of the lives of the people of Port Auchoix and their struggles," he recalled. "I served there at a time of great distress because the fishery out there was already closed."
But after spending five years at St. Joseph's, he said he felt "more attracted" to the Edmonton Archdiocese and decided to stay. "I've gained lots of friends here, Filipino friends and Canadian as well," he said. "In fact, I was assigned to the Italian parish, St. Maria Goretti, for a year and I came to know the Italian community as well."
Now that his heart is at peace, Lee is ready to fulfill his calling. "I've been called by God to be a missionary here in Canada and I am determined to fulfill that call," he said.
In addition to his grandparents and Cardinal Sin, Lee said Pope John Paul II also played a vital role in his faith formation. He went to Rome for a holiday in July 2003 and a friend of his who works at the Vatican arranged for Lee to be received by the pope. He bought the pontiff a new skullcap and when he presented it to him, John Paul took his old skullcap and gave it to Lee. Now he keeps it in a little box in the parish office.
"This is his skullcap," he said proudly, holding it delicately between his hands. "This is a relic."
Lee described the encounter with John Paul as a "tremendous experience" and a "great inspiration" in his life.
"What I admire about the pope is that he was very transparent," he said. "People could see his holiness. He was able to attract people. Young people nowadays don't listen to old people any more, but they were drawn to John Paul because they saw in him somebody who speaks the truth."
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