“When I grow up, I want to be like him,” The 5-year-old was talking about the priest. But while still a child the boy fell in love – with the image of Our Lady of Fatima. “If I find a woman who looks like her, and has her characteristics, I’ll marry her,” he decided.
“For 34 years I’ve never met that woman,” he says now. “I guess the Blessed Mother wants me. I’m all hers. Like John Paul II said, ‘Totus Tuus Maria.’”
This is the story of Deacon Lowe Bretaña Dongor, who is to be ordained a priest today at St. Paul Cathedral. Now he’s sparking an interest in priesthood in today’s children.
Deacon Dongor, son of Nelly Bretaña Dongor and the late Ramon Dongor, was born Feb. 17, 1976 in Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo, in the Philippines. He is the first Filipino to be ordained for the Worcester Diocese.
His parents had the most important influence on his vocation, taking him and his siblings to church, he says.
Also influential was his great-aunt, Dominican Sister Vincenta Bretaña, a religious for 50 years. She said devotion to the Eucharist and the Blessed Mother were most important, and those devotions kept him in seminary, he says.
“When you see the Virgin Mary carrying the baby, that’s me,” Deacon Dongor says, telling about his collection of Madonna and Child statues. “She’s my Mother. Especially being a priest, there are times in your life when you’re down. In the Philippines, when we get hurt, we always cry, ‘Mom!’”
“When I leave the country, will you be my mother?” he asked her before coming to the United States.
That opportunity came because of priestly aspirations. He’d attended Barotac Nuevo High School, and, in Manila, the University of Santo Tomas and Adamson University. He was at Our Lady of the Angels Seminary in Quezon City when he met Father Peter R. Precourt. Father Precourt, an Augustinian of the Assumption then with the congregation in Worcester and now pastor of St. Anne and St. Patrick Parish in Sturbridge, was meeting with men interested in an Assumptionist vocation.
In 2003 he and other Filipinos came to Worcester to live with the Assumptionists and study at Assumption College. After a couple years, Deacon Dongor left.
“I enjoyed more working with the people in the parish,” he says. “I felt that I was called to be a diocesan priest.” He found the diocese’s priests very supportive, he says. His parish summer internships were at St. Joseph’s, Charlton; Holy Angels, Upton; St. Christopher’s, Worcester, and St. Bernadette’s, Northborough.
He recently invited students at St. Bernadette’s Elementary School to his ordination and talked about vocations, he says. A third-grader said he wanted to be a priest and marry a model. He explained that priests don’t marry, and the child later announced, “I dumped that model; I want to be a priest.”
When he told children about vocations at his parish assignment in Baltimore, a fifth-grader said he wanted to be a priest, Deacon Dongor says.
“I’ve been talking to his parents since then,” he says. “I said to him, ‘You’re very young. Enjoy your life, but hold on to that calling. Always listen to the call of God.’”
“I always told people, ‘It’s not bad to dream, but you need to work hard on that dream and pray harder, because one day that dream will come true,’” Deacon Dongor says. “I guess I can testify to that.”
His dream of having his mother and nephew attend his ordination fell through; the United States Embassy in Manila turned them down, he says. So he plans to go to the Philippines July 6-30, and celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving July 11 in the Basilica of St. Anthony de Padua in Barotac Nuevo. On such occasions, the family feeds the whole town, problematic since his family is poor, he says.
“When I was in the Philippines, I was an activist,” he says. “I belong to these poor people. If you don’t speak on behalf of them, who will? Jesus did so. … I guess in some ways I can do something. I myself am an immigrant to this country.”
Not forgetting how he got here, he has Father Precourt vesting him and Father Dennis Gallagher, Assumptionist regional superior, preaching at his Mass of Thanksgiving at 4 p.m., today at St. Christopher’s.
Printed with permission from the Catholic Free Press, newspaper for the Diocese of Worcester, Mass.