Two New Priests Ordained To Serve In North Georgia
Published: July 19, 2007
ATLANTA—Jaime Rivera-Cortijo worked in a fast food joint, the post office and as an IRS clerk before entering the seminary.
“You name it, I did it. I was running from the call. I tried to do everything but it,” he said.
Despite the twists and turns, the 34-year-old still found himself lying face down on the marble floor in front of the altar at Christ the King Cathedral as the Atlanta faithful prayed for him and Rev. Mr. Armando Herrejón-López.
The two men were ordained priests during the June 30 Mass with prayers, songs and readings in English, Spanish and Latin.
Local Catholics welcomed the two to the priestly ministry with a standing ovation.
Fathers Rivera and Herrejón-López join the 155 diocesan priests active in the 69-county archdiocese.
The ordinations reinforce how Hispanic immigrants are changing the face of the Catholic Church in the United States. This year only Hispanic men were ordained as priests in this archdiocese, and of the 47 new priests ordained for the archdiocese over the past decade, 22 were from the United States, while 13 came from Hispanic countries and the remainder originated from Ireland, Haiti, the Philippines, Vietnam, Korea, Slovakia and Nigeria.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, who read prayers in Spanish during the service, said the day was filled with a “profound and conspicuous spirit of joy.”
“We are joyful because the future of this local church today looms so very bright,” he said.
Catholics continue to have faith in their priests, he said, even as the wider society is highly skeptical. But he reminded the two men and the crowded Cathedral that people expect them to be “holy men, men of prayer, men of compassion.”
“As in earlier moments, the church needs priests whose holiness of life will silence the doubts and cynicism that so permeates our own time,” said Archbishop Gregory.
“Celebrate the Eucharist with such a profound dedication that the people of God begin to see in your actions the very presence of Christ. Be a confessor of such compassion and tenderness of heart that the penitents who come to you will be assured that they have encountered Christ himself,” he said.
Following the ancient rituals—from the laying on of hands to the promise of obedience to the archbishop—the men joined the ranks of the priesthood.
Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue, along with some 60 other priests, welcomed the two newest priests with hugs as some kissed their freshly consecrated hands.
Taste Of Universal Church
It is some 1,550 miles from Atlanta to Father Rivera’s native Puerto Rico. Even so, Father Rivera said he was drawn to the Archdiocese of Atlanta because of the many cultures here. The people and the parishes here are a “taste of what it is to be an international Catholic,” he said.
Indeed, Mass is said in a diversity of languages across the archdiocese, with natives from far-flung countries like Poland, the Philippines and Vietnam worshipping in their own tongues.
In the Cathedral, Father Rivera’s younger brother, Luis Vázquez, and mother, Severa Cortijo, watched from the front pew. The two arrived from Puerto Rico just the day before. Cortijo wiped tears from her face as she accepted the folded stole taken off her son and replaced by a decorative chasuble signifying his transition from a deacon to a priest.
Remembering their time growing up, Vázquez said he and his brother went head to head on the basketball court back home and spent many hours at the beach. Father Rivera is the oldest of three boys in the family.
“He is very humble,” said Vázquez, who said his brother persevered over many challenges to pursue his goal to be ordained.
“The only thing I can say is I’m very thankful for God,” said Cortijo in Spanish. “My dream has finally come through,” said Cortijo, as her eyes welled with tears.
Puerto Rican native Mercedes Perez and her family made him part of their extended family in Atlanta. She and her family befriend seminarians from the Caribbean islands.
“He can be very sweet, and he can be very humble. But his faith is very strong,” said Perez.
Father Rivera for the past four years studied at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome where he graduated with honors. Along with his classes, he worked with the Missionaries of Charity, where he served people in need.
During his breaks from studies, Father Rivera got a taste of his future life by helping out at local parishes.
In 2003, he spent time at St. Pius X Church in Conyers. Three years later, two dozen parishioners from the Conyers church traveled last fall to Rome to watch Father Rivera became a deacon at St. Peter’s Basilica.
Among the travelers was Deacon Joe Rhodes, who stood with his wife in a line that snaked around the parish hall after the ordination Mass to get a blessing from Father Rivera.
Deacon Rhodes said the new priest was a great person to work with, someone who cared a lot about the people of the parish.
“He was there to help. He was able to bring peace to chaos,” he said.
For his first assignment, Father Rivera will work at St. Theresa Church in Douglasville, alongside pastor Father Richard Tibbetts.
Father Rivera said a goal would be to work in jails and hospitals.
“You meet people where they are in the moment, in the most difficult time. You meet Christ in a special way in jail and the same way in the hospital,” he said.
“Speaks From the Heart”
Father Herrejón-López grew up in a family of 11 boys and one girl and has more than 45 nieces and nephews. And most of them live in his native Mexico, so his family largely missed the ordination. But it didn’t mean there wasn’t a party. He was to be the guest of honor at a large party in his hometown in the state of Michoacan, Mexico, where he traveled after ordination to celebrate one of his first Masses.
Salomón Herrejón, brother of the new priest, and his wife, Maria Alejandra Marquez, traveled to Atlanta from their home in Mexico City, Mexico.
Through a bilingual friend, Angelo DiMartino, they said they were very happy to be at the ordination and spoke of the many years Father Herrejón-López spent discerning his call to the priesthood and where he would serve.
DiMartino said he met the then seminarian in Chicago and wanted to be in Atlanta when he was ordained as a sign of support.
“To receive the grace to consecrate the body and blood of Christ—I think that is just amazing,” DiMartino said.
The new priest worked for years in the construction industry with his father’s business before his religious studies. He attended the diocesan Morelia Seminary in Mexico, learning philosophy and theology. He improved his English with courses at Georgia State University. Father Herrejón-López also spent time at St. Vincent Seminary in Pennsylvania.
In Atlanta, he served at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church where people fondly spoke of him as an outgoing character with a willingness to roll up his sleeves.
“He was always there to help wherever he was needed. He was such a pleasure to be around,” said Louise Pratt, longtime administrative assistant at the parish.
His fluency in both English and Spanish and friendly nature endeared him to many in the parish, she said. “It was a real plus when we got him. He really is so gregarious and always there to help.”
IHM parishioner Dharma Diaz Azcuy, 43, said Father Herrejón-López plucked her from the pews and recruited her to talk to baptism preparation classes. She is still involved in the ministry.
“He talks to you, he gets you involved in a matter of seconds. He has the charm to do that,” she said. “He has this outgoing personality. He relates to you. He is a very good person.”
Another trait is his ability to speak in depth to a variety of people, she said. He started a men’s group that is still meeting before Mass every Sunday.
Father Herrejón-López is “always on the go” and can relate to folks of “different ages, different groups, ethnicities,” Diaz-Azcuy said.
He “speaks from the heart. His English is excellent. He’ll go non-stop. He’ll keep everyone working too. He is just an amazing man. I am so happy,” she said of his ordination.
Father Herrejón López is to work at St. John Neumann Church in Lilburn, with Msgr. David Talley, the pastor. He hopes to work with engaged couples and visiting people who are ill.
Father Armando Herrejón-López
Birth Date: Sept. 15, 1973
Place of Birth: Irimbo, Michoacan, Mexico
Parents: Salomón Herrejón Sanabria and Lucia Lopez Ruiz
Siblings: One of 12 children, his siblings are Jose, Josefina, Francisco, Salvador, Salomón, Raul, Edmundo, Angel, Ramiro, Octavio and Jaime.
Education: Diocesan Seminary of Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico, where he studied humanities during the years of high school, followed by one year of discernment, three years of philosophy and four years of theology. He also studied English as a second language for one year at Georgia State University and studied theology for one year at St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, Pa.
Work Experience: Several years working in construction, collaborating with the team in the seminary, teaching in high school and college in his hometown.
Primary Hobbies and Interests: Working out, music, hanging out with friends, solitude through prayer
Additional Languages: Spanish
Particular Ministries of Interest: Marriage ministry, Caritas youth ministry and pastoral care of the sick
First Assignment: St. John Neumann Church, Lilburn, where Msgr. David P. Talley is the pastor.
Father Jaime D. Rivera Cortijo
Birth Date: June 11, 1973
Place of Birth: Ponce, Puerto Rico
Parents: Jaime D. Rivera-Gomez and Severa Cortijo Santiago
Siblings: Three brothers, Luis, Carlos and William Vázquez-Cortijo
Education: Graduated from Rafael Lopez Landron High School in Guayama, Puerto Rico, 1991; received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Pontifical Catholic University, Ponce, Puerto Rico, 1996; received a bachelor’s degree in sacred theology cum laude in 2006 and a master’s degree in sacred theology magna cum laude in 2007 from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, Rome, Italy.
Work Experience: Teaching at Colegio San José, a Catholic boys preparatory school in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico; clerk and tax examiner, Internal Revenue Service, Massachusetts; clerk and machine operator, U.S. Postal Service, Massachusetts.
Primary Hobbies and Interests: Computers, exercise, music, films
Pastoral Internships: St. Pius X Church, Conyers, 2003; St. Matthew Church, Tyrone, Christmas 2003; St. Michael the Archangel Church, Woodstock, 2004; St. Joseph Church, Dalton, 2005; Holy Trinity Church, Peachtree City, 2006; Our Lady of the Light Church, Rome, Italy, 2006-2007.
Additional Languages: Spanish, Italian
Particular Ministries of Interest: Youth ministry, prison ministry, hospital ministry
First Assignment: St. Theresa Church, Douglasville, where the pastor is Father Richard Tibbetts.
Gretchen Keiser contributed to this story.