Saying yes to God’s will as a priest Print
Around the Diocese
Written by Kevin Wondrash, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Feb. 08, 2018 -- 12:00 AM

Fr. Gabriel López-Betanzos
Fr. Gabriel López-Betanzos

A nearly 10-year journey has led Fr. Gabriel López-Betanzos from discernment to his role as the judicial vicar for the Diocese of Madison.

Earlier this year, he was appointed to that role by Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison, replacing Fr. Tait Schroeder, who will be working in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome.

“[I’m] looking forward to continuing the work that we have to do here, serving people as best as we can in the tribunal with the very difficult and sensitive work that we carry out here,” said Father López-Betanzos, more affectionately known as “Father Gabi”.

“We try to serve people as best we can, helping them to understand the truth of their situations,” he added.

Answering the call

While growing up in Lansing, Mich., and going to Mass and praying before meals with his family, Father Gabi said he never seriously heard or discerned a call to the priesthood until a few years following his graduation from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and later an IT career that would take him to Rochester, Minn., and ultimately Madison, Wis.

“I realized that there is something called a vocation and that I should figure out what mine is,” Father Gabi said.

He added that transitioning from a career-based life to a vocation-based one meant, “a whole shift from being focused on myself and what I can do with my own strengths to what does God want me to do and what will he equip me to do.”

Path of discernment

Following being accepted as a seminarian by the Diocese of Madison, Father Gabi began his seminary studies at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.

“I felt very confident in my vocation from the first day,” he said.

Father Gabi added that, “seminary life in general was a different change of pace,” but he was happy to be able to grow in and learn more about his faith, calling it a “great privilege.”

Following two years in Detroit, the remainder of his seminary studies would be completed at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, Italy.

Again, he would have to adjust to and accept his life going into a different direction, but he embraced the city and a chance to study with people from all over the United States and the world.

“Rome is an amazing city in so many respects,” Father Gabi said. It’s “piled with significant sites and holy places and just a lot of neat things.”

Making the promises

While studying in Rome, Father Gabi would be ordained to the transitional diaconate in the fall of 2014.

“I was excited and ready to take that definitive step of receiving Holy Orders and making the promises that go with that,” he said.

He added, “It was something special to be ordained in St. Peter’s Basilica” with 43 other men.

“The ceremony was not brief, but it was very beautiful, and it was great to have my family and friends who could be there be present for that.”

In June of 2015, he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Morlino at St. Maria Goretti Church in Madison, with five other men from the Diocese of Madison.

“In God’s infinite wisdom, he chose to use us as his instruments to bring about his plan to make present his kingdom and to give him glory and to sanctify his people,” he said.

“It was just really beautiful to receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders to become a priest and to receive the welcome from all of the other priests of the diocese . . . [it was a] “tangible sense that we’re all peers, we’re all priests together — even though some of them have been priests longer than I have been alive, so it would be very easy for them to dismiss me as just a young guy who doesn’t know anything — but there was this sense that we’re all peers, so that was really beautiful.”

Serving as a priest

Following ordination, Father Gabi was assigned as parochial vicar at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Monona.

He would serve in that role only during summer, Christmas, and Easter because he returned to Rome during the school year to complete his licentiate in Canon Law.

“It was hard for me as a diocesan priest to be separated from my diocese, from the people that I had promised to serve, but I continued to serve them spiritually in my prayer and the celebration of the Mass.”

Last year, when Father Gabi knew his studies were about to be completed, he began to pray for his future parish, whatever and wherever it may be in the Diocese of Madison.

In July of last year, returning to the United States full time, Father Gabi was assigned to St. John the Baptist Parish in Waunakee and St. Mary of the Lake Parish in Westport as their parochial vicars.

In the past few months, he said he’s enjoyed learning the personalities of the two linked and “different” parishes and “getting to know the people there and the community and the vibrancy and all the activity that’s going on there.”

He also credited Pastor Msgr. James Gunn with being a mentor to him. Monsignor Gunn also serves as vicar for priests in the diocese.

“[He’s] extremely generous with me and everybody else . . . I’ve really grown in appreciation of how much he does for his parishes as well as those of us who are mentored under him as we begin our ministry as priests.”

Living out God’s call

Father Gabi said there are moments of joy as he lives out his call as a priest.

“It’s really beautiful when that happens. It’s often when I am going into a situation where I’m not sure how it’s going to work out. I don’t know how I’m going to deal with this, or what I’m going to do, but then by the grace of God, everything turns out really well.”

He also encouraged people who are discerning, or even wrestling, with their own calls, to trust God and go for it.

He quotes Bishop Morlino’s motto, “The vision does not disappoint.”

“During times of discernment, things can get really foggy and confusing, and we can start second guessing ourselves and going around and around certain questions.

“First of all, stick with it, instead of just giving up — which would be the easy thing to do — stay with the struggle and the discernment and be patient, knowing that the Lord will answer your prayers on his own timetable and in his own way, not necessarily the way that we expect. And to know that indeed when God has us where he wants us, that we experience his presence and his joy in a distinct way.”

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