Marcos Alvarado laughs easily, in a way that invites others to laugh with him. He also prays easily — again, in a way that invites others to pray with him.

At 31 years he explains via a Zoom call that he’s delighted to be at Mount Angel Seminary, studying for the Archdiocese of Portland, having lived in Eugene since he moved here from Ecuador with his mother before his senior year in high school.

“We call ourselves the elders,” he said of a cohort of older seminarians who have worked in the world. “When you work, you learn,” he added. “Once you experience how the job life is, you don’t want anyone to suffer.”

About his vocation to the priesthood, “everything starts in Ecuador,” Alvarado said. Two weeks before leaving for Oregon he had attended a retreat for youth leaders. The priest asked the young men if they’d ever considered the priesthood. If so, he invited them to come to a vocations retreat.

That wasn’t for Alvarado, but two friends convinced him to attend.

“I fell in love,” Alvarado remembered. “I wanted to be a priest.”

Then the move turned his life upside down. “I put my priority into learning English,” he said.

Alvarado’s mother struggled with the language and after four years returned to Ecuador, where her older son and his family, including a 4-year-old grandchild, beckoned.

Alvarado stayed in Eugene. He thought about college, but money was short. He made tents for firefighters, worked as an office assistant and for a cleaning company, first as a cleaner and then a supervisor, determined to treat the cleaners better than a previous supervisor had treated him.

“It’s humbling,” he said of the work. “It allows you to know how life is.”

He encouraged each member of his cleaning team in part by spending time with them — something one woman found deeply suspicious. She was sure she’d done something wrong, and that Alvarado was out to catch her doing it again.

“She couldn’t grasp the idea of a supervisor coming to help,” he said. “But I was trying to put Christ into my job.”

He volunteered with the youth group at St. Mary Parish. Father Ron Nelson, like the priest in Ecuador, encouraged him to consider the priesthood.

“I don’t have the money,” Alvarado thought.

A friend, the director of the Spanish choir, like his friends in Ecuador, convinced him nevertheless to attend a vocation retreat. “He didn’t want to go by himself,” said Alvarado.

He asked for time off from his work, knowing the answer would be “No.”

“For the first time, they said yes,” he recalled with a laugh.

At the retreat, Archbishop Alexander Sample added his encouragement. “What is stopping you from going to seminary, Marcos?” he asked, pointing out that he had known Alvarado for some time, and Alvarado hadn’t moved in any direction.

But, Alvarado thought, he still didn’t have the money. Not only that, but he had debt, having visited family in Ecuador.

Archbishop Sample and others explained that sponsors would pay his way at Mount Angel.

Alvarado was impressed, but didn’t want to come to seminary with debt. He asked if the archdiocese would wait for him to pay it off.

Three years ago, the debt was paid. Alvarado even had enough to visit Ecuador. A friend who had gone with him to that first vocations retreat asked, “So when are you going to seminary, Marcos? Remember when we went to the retreat? What is stopping you?”

Alvarado’s friend shared that although he was happy and loved his wife and family, he always wondered how his life would be like had he gone to seminary.

Alvarado realized with a rush that he wanted to make sure he was checking his options.

On his return to Portland, he texted Father Jeff Eirvin, director of vocations. “I’m filling out the forms right now,” the young man wrote.

“And here I am,” Alvarado said, gesturing toward his room and the hilltop seminary and monastery beyond. “I couldn’t be happier.”

The casual high school student that Alvarado had been is gone.

“You’re reading again,” people tell him.

“I love it now,” he said. “I’m studying what I want to study.”

Alvarado laughs at the grace of it, the perfection. “Sometimes I fantasized that I’d like to give my life to Christ. And it’s so simple. That realization … .”

And then he suggests a prayer: the best way to finish a good conversation and welcome the next steps.