FOREST GROVE — At a recent St. Anthony Church pancake breakfast, seminarian James Herrera joined parishioners at work in the kitchen. The affable Herrera added joy to an already-lighthearted occasion. The serving line erupted in laughter often.
This is the kind of moment that makes him want to be ordained.
“What I look forward to the most about being a priest is simply being able to work with the people of God on a daily basis,” says Herrera, 33. “We are all on a journey together and I see myself as walking with the people, helping them where I can, but simply journeying with them, because we are all trying to get to the same place.”
Born and raised in Stayton, he had no religious background. He never went to church before he was a teen.
When he was a sophomore in high school, and the family had moved to Albany, he accepted an invitation to attend the First Assembly of God Church. His faith grew as he learned about scripture and the role Jesus can play in life. He soon discerned a call to be a youth minister and began planning to get a degree in biblical studies and pastoral ministry.
As a high school senior, he welcomed another invitation, this time from a member of the Catholic Newman Center at Oregon State University. He attended an evening Mass and “immediately fell in love with the place and wanted to learn more.”
He inquired at the parish in his hometown of Albany about becoming Catholic and was initiated into the church in 1995.
He still felt called to ministry, but now that he was Catholic, it was a different matter.
Herrera discerned while attending community college and decided priesthood was not for him at the time. He moved to Portland and held various jobs, his faith practice waning a bit. But the idea of priesthood hounded him.
In 2003, he returned to regular Mass attendance at St. Michael Parish in downtown Portland. He met many people there who helped God’s urgings get through.
Father Paul Peri asked if he would lead and organize social service programs at the parish. In addition to social services, he worked with people interested in becoming Catholic.
At a 2005 retreat for converts, one of the other team members told Herrera he would make a great priest. With that encouragement, he met with Father Kelly Vandehey, the Archdiocese of Portland’s vocations director. Before the year was out, Herrera was enrolled at Mount Angel Seminary.
Since then, time has flown. He has learned, grown personally and made many friends he knows he will have his entire life.
He says his vocation has been strengthened by Archbishop John Vlazny, who “truly cares deeply for the people here in Western Oregon as well as the priests and the seminarians.”
He also credits his supervisor at St. Anthony’s, Father Jeff Meeuwsen, a newly-ordained pastor Herrera knew at Mount Angel.
One of the best parts of his formation for priesthood has been serving in various parishes as a seminarian intern.
“I have met many more wonderful people who have shown me this is a very good place to be and God has shown me that this is indeed home and I would never want to serve in any other place,” Herrera says. “It has helped me to solidify my ‘yes’ in response to the call that God has given me in my vocation.”