By Father Richie Mercado, O.S.A.
I made my solemn profession of vows to the Augustinian Order on the Feast of St. Monica in the year 2015. A little less than a year later, I was ordained to priesthood on June 10, 2016 by our dear brother, Bishop Robert F. Prevost, O.S.A. of Chiclayo, Peru at St. Rita of Cascia Parish in Chicago. These two important moments in my religious path as an Augustinian have changed my life tremendously, as various blessings and opportunities came with the commitment I made to God, the Church, and the Order.
After my ordination, I participated in the Augustinian Youth Encounter in Prague with so many friars around the world, who brough with them the restless hearts of young men and women from their own respective ministries—parishes, schools, and missions. And this was a great blessing for me as a newly ordained priest to journey with these young men and women in their faith, whose burning hearts inspired me to become more restless as I was anticipating a new transition in my life.
My first assignment after ordination was to be the Director of Augustinian Mission and Chaplain at St. Rita of Cascia High School in Chicago. I never had any previous experience in a school setting but my experience in Prague gave me a glimpse of how exciting and fun it could be working with young men and their families as their spiritual father.
During the course of the school year, I got to know a lot of our students. I got to know their stories. I got to know their families. This was a great blessing for me as a newly ordained friar, learning how to touch other people’s hearts and, at the same time, learning how to allow others to touch my heart as we journey in one mind and one heart on the way to God.
Aside from ministering to the whole St. Rita of Cascia High School family, I also helped out on weekends at several places administering masses and sacraments: St. Rita of Cascia Parish, St. Daniel the Prophet Parish, St. Joseph Parish, and St. Xavier University. My first full year in ministry as a priest was filled with lots of blessings and opportunities, both expected and unexpected. I had an awesome time growing and maturing as a shepherd to my sheep.
While all of this was going on with lots of fun and challenges, I also had other responsibilities in the Order and in the Province. After making my solemn profession of vows, I was appointed a member of the International Commission on Vocations in the Order with the recommendation and support of Fr. Bernie Scianna, O.S.A. my Provincial. With this, my knowledge and vision of the Augustinian Order grew expansively as I collaborated closely with the other members of the commission who are from different areas in the world.
This was a great blessing for me as an Augustinian friar as this experience continues to motivate me to share that embedded Augustinian Spirit in my heart to each and every person I encounter, wherever I may be. At the province level, Fr. Bernie and his council also appointed me as the Assistant Vocation Director for the province, to assist the vocation director who got me in to the Order eight years ago, Fr. Tom McCarthy, O.S.A.. This was another great blessing for me as this experience of journeying with those young men who are interested and open to God’s call for them in an Augustinian way of life has reminded me of the endless ways of touching other people’s hearts, of being the face of Christ to others. And just at the beginning of July 2017, I was appointed the Vocation Director for the Midwest and Canadian Provinces. This is another great blessing for me to continue touching other people’s hearts in a new capacity. With this new opportunity, I will still continue to be involved at St. Rita High School as the chaplain and take care of the spiritual needs of the students, faculty, and alumni.
My first full year of priesthood ministry has been filled with lots of blessings from God and opportunities to touch other people’s hearts. This positive experience for me has affirmed the promise of joy and peace that God gives us as long as we are authentic in following God’s call. May our restless hearts continue to touch other people’s hearts. With God’s grace, we have done a lot. With God’s grace, we can do a lot more.