Growing need for Hispanic priests spurs launch of new Spanish-speaking Serra Club

July 12, 2022

Newly created Hispanic Serra Club to recruit more Hispanics into the priesthood and religious life is led by Father Miguel Solorzano, far left, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo; new officers Jose García, Ana Magadan, Teresa García, Maribel Miranda, Ana González, President Mayra Meza Suárez, Jorge Suarez, Yolanda Cadena and Serra USA adviser Candice Tyrrell. (Photo courtesy of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church)

HOUSTON — For every Catholic priest in the U.S., there are 1,230 Catholics in the general population. But that stretches even more in the Hispanic community, with 9,925 Hispanic Catholics per every Hispanic priest, according to a national report by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“There is a great need for more Hispanic priests,” said Candice Tyrrell, vice president of membership USA Council of Serra International. “We desperately need more priests, especially more Hispanic priests, to serve the growing Hispanic population.”

After receiving permission from Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, Tyrrell is working with Father Miguel Solorzano, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, and his parishioners to create the first-ever Hispanic Serra Club within the Archdiocese and the first-ever in the United States.

“As the club becomes firmly established, it would be good to seek members from other predominantly Hispanic parishes with the Archdiocese,” DiNardo recommended.
Father Solorzano said the newly created affiliation has met several times to organize the charter and elect officers. The Serra Club, named after the evangelizer St. Juniper Serra, is an international Catholic association of laymen and women of all ages and walks of life committed to promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life vocations for women and men.

They collaborate with Office of Vocations through prayer, different vocational programs and annual membership dues, plus Serra donations to support seminarians and other aspects that include discernment retreats and summer camps to learn about the priesthood.

Relating his personal experience, Father Solorzano described making a vocational retreat in Guadalajara as part of a “pre-seminary” experience following his 11th grade of high school.

“During the 12th grade, I attended a program called ‘seminarians with their families’ where we met once a week and had a weekend retreat once a month,” he said. “At the end of that year, I entered the seminary full-time, so a support program after a vocational retreat is critical.”

But Father Solorzano said there are academic and cultural roadblocks for those seeking vocations in the Hispanic community.

“One of the main challenges is the lack of academic training,” Father Solorzano said. “Without a high school diploma and legal U.S. status, a young man cannot apply to enter the seminary.”

But there are spiritual groups involving the whole family that draw on young people, he said. One of those groups is The Neocatechumenal Way, implemented in small, parish-based communities of up to 50 people focusing on mission. In 2007 there were around 20,000 such communities throughout the world, with an estimated million Catholic members.

“At St. Charles Borromeo parish in Houston, most of the vocations to the priesthood have emerged from the Neocatechumenal Way. Young people from this group feel the desire to live in a seminary that carries the same spirituality that they experienced in the parish,” Father Solorzano said.

Seminarian Brandon Badillo, 21, said he and his family were among members of St. Charles Borromeo for many years who attended to worship with the Neocatechumenal Way.
While he said the group was instrumental, Badillo felt the “natural pull” to the priesthood since age seven. And coming from a big family (he’s the third of 13), the call came from God in his heart.

He also attended Catholic schools and served as an altar server at Sunday Masses, at weddings and at funerals when his family attended Prince of Peace in the Tomball area.
But he kept his prayer to become a priest mostly between him and God until he attended the 2019 World Youth Day in Panama.

Badillo shared his discernment process with Father Solorzano and soon the priest hired him to work in the parish office, as well as livestream Masses and help with social media.

He also credits the Serra Club with encouraging his studies and spiritual development. “The Serra Club prayer group adopted me, and they send me cards of support. Candice Tyrrell is so nice and joyful, and the club also offers financial donations,” Badillo said.

This summer in both June and July, he will be working at St. Ignatius of Loyola Catholic Church in Spring to assist where needed and shadow a priest. Then in August, he will return as a third-year student to St. Joseph Seminary College in Covington, Louisiana, for philosophy classes and other studies before later transferring to St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston for theology.

In this journey that takes at least seven years of schooling, Badillo is praying to be ordained by 2029. But he said that such a journey starts with a faithful family raising their children in the church.

“We need more Hispanic priests with more and more Hispanics becoming a majority of Catholics in the U.S. All seminarians now need to learn Spanish, but that was my first language at home. Our community says, ‘We need more priests, but don’t take my kids — I want grandchildren,” he described.

St. Charles Borromeo parishioner and first president of the Hispanic Serra Club Mayra Meza Suarez said, “We are so excited for the big launch of the first-ever Hispanic Serra Club. This will benefit everyone — the whole community will gain more vocations.”

“Our priests and religious life are in need of our encouragement and love these days,” she said. “We are definitely going to learn along the way with our service. Indeed, we are making history as we embrace this amazing path for our Lord Jesus Christ.”