He grew up an evangelical Protestant in Oregon, suspicious of Marian theology. Now he’s a Catholic priest and a physicist. Dominican Father Raphael Mary Salzillo was ordained last month in San Francisco and will take up an assignment at the University of Washington Newman Center and Blessed Sacrament Parish in Seattle.
Born Wesley Salzillo in 1976, he grew up in Florence, a small coastal town. The family converted to Catholicism in the early 1990s.
"My family raised me with a strong Christian faith and a very clear sense that Christ should be the most important thing in my life," Father Raphael Mary recalls, explaining that his faith after conversion remained "generic."
"I was not fully open to the truth that the Catholic faith has to offer," he says.
But when he was 16, a spiritual experience at Mass gave him the strong feeling he was being called to priesthood or religious life. He was not open to it at the time, so tried to convince himself it was just his imagination.
A top graduate from Siuslaw High, he went on to Caltech, earning a bachelor’s degree in applied physics. He attended graduate school and there he felt his vocation being clarified. At the same time, this scientist wrestled with turning over his will so completely.
"I wanted to choose my own religion rather than accepting the Catholic one as a coherent whole," he says, aware that many people today pick and choose within a body of faith. "In a way, choice had become a God for me, as it has to so many in our society."
Through study of church history and theology and deepening prayer life, he discerned that his own intellect and judgment alone could not fulfill his deepest yearnings. He decided to trust Jesus and the Church fully.
"It was through submission of my power of choice in matters of faith, that I came to know Jesus Christ in a much deeper way," he says.
The last part of his faith to fall into place was an acceptance of Mary. That spiritual movement allowed him to love Jesus more, he explains.
"It was Mary who brought me to finally accept my vocation, and it has been her who has sustained me in this life," he says.
He chose the Dominicans for their emphasis on doctrinal preaching and study, as well as their strong community life with "a streak of monasticism."
He studied philosophy and theology in Berkeley, Calif. and also served at the University of Arizona Newman Center.
Printed with permission from the Catholic Sentinel, Catholic newspaper for the state of Oregon.