Future priest likes aviation, running, food
By KATIE LEFEBVRE, Globe staff reporter
This Baldwin Park, Calif., native will be ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Walker Nickless on June 21 at Cathedral of the Epiphany in Sioux City. Deacon Lona said many people from all over the country will be in attendance.
“A lot of family and friends are coming from California and some from the east coast and all over the Midwest,” he said. “My grandparents from El Salvador will also be present.”
Deacon Lona did his undergraduate work at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul (UST), Minn., and went to major seminary at the St. Paul Seminary and St. Meinrad Seminary in St. Meinrad, Ind. He graduated from UST in 2006 and from St. Meinrad in May 2014.
“I am fortunate enough to have attended two major seminaries with great programs of formation,” he said. “All of my education and training has geared me to be an effective pastoral leader. I am excited to begin this ministry, always keeping in mind that before anything else, I work for the people of God and it is to them that my ministry is ordered to.”
Deacon Lona felt drawn to the priesthood by the example of priests in his parish growing up. He said they were “young, talented priests with a passion for serving the people of God. One of them asked if I had ever thought about becoming a priest and the seed was planted.”
Along his journey to priesthood, Deacon Lona said his family “has always been supportive of my vocation along with countless priests and faithful laypeople.”
Choosing the Diocese of Sioux City
Since Deacon Lona is from California, some might ask how he decided on the Diocese of Sioux City. He noted “it is a long story.”
When he entered college seminary in the fall of 2004, he was a seminarian for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Deacon Lona became friends with seminarians from Sioux City. Even his roommate was a Carroll area seminarian for Sioux City at the time.
His friends would invite them to their homes and he got to know their families and priest friends like Father Shane Deman and Father Brian Hughes.
“Guys at the seminary, like now Deacon Brian Feller, would even joke that I should just join Sioux City because of my closeness to their seminarians and the people, but I was happy where I was at,” said Deacon Lona. “As time progressed and I advanced in my studies as a seminarian for the archdiocese, I continued to grow these relationships with friends and priests from the Diocese of Sioux City.”
In 2010, he decided to leave priestly formation, for a little while, and pursue other things. He was going to go back to California, but his friends from Iowa convinced him to stay in the area.
“At the time, Father Brian Hughes was pastor of St. Patrick’s in Estherville and along with Father Bill Schreiber in Spencer, offered me a position working as their Hispanic minister,” said Deacon Lona. “It was during that time when I got to know more people and recognized the need for priests, especially Spanish-speaking priests in the diocese.”
He explained that he “grew to love” the area and the particular needs of rural ministry.
“In this environment, my call to priestly service became louder, clearer and it was asking me to serve here in the diocese,” said Deacon Lona. “I got in contact with the vocation director and I’m here today.”
In preparation for his ordination, Deacon Lona has spent time praying for the people “who have helped me get to this day – my mom, my dad, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, the very good friends who have become like blood family to me, and the countless priests and religious who have encouraged me to persevere in my vocation.”
“I’m also praying for the people I will serve and the priests I will work with in Fort Dodge,” he added. “On a practical level, I’ve been practicing saying Mass and memorizing particular prayers I will use in ministry.”
He is looking forward to celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation and “being a steward of God’s mercy.”
“I’m excited to begin my priestly ministry to the people of the diocese, but particularly to the people of Holy Trinity in Fort Dodge, where Bishop Nickless has first assigned me,” said Deacon Lona.
As a priest, Deacon Lona will be serving not only the Anglo community but also the Hispanic community in the diocese. The Hispanic population is growing across the country and in this diocese.
“I think it’s important that priests and lay people be ready to serve the emerging community the same way the U.S. church helped early European immigrants,” said Deacon Lona. “We don’t have things like French, Irish or German ministry anymore because all of those immigrant communities eventually integrated into one Catholic community. As a priest who knows the language, I recognize the important role I play in ecclesial integration so that our Hispanic brothers and sisters are made an integral part of the church here in the Sioux City Diocese.”
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