“WHEN you quit when you experience frustration, and you do not try again, you cannot succeed. But when you try again, and you somehow succeed, you no longer need to quit, you simply continue. When you are clear about your goals, God knows it. [Goals] are for your own good, as well as others, therein lies the blessings. Focus and don’t divert your attention away from God’s [plan for you].” – Fr. Altaire Fernandez, 2011.
Fr. Altaire was one of the six priests I interviewed in a week — providing a unique window to a range of motivations, convictions, and attitudes.
Those with deeper faith about God’s calling, share no spiritual crisis and assert that doors to opportunities just open. They soar to the next levels of their vocations with ease.
Those with ambivalence faced prolonged challenges.
Those who went through crisis learned to lean heavily on their faith and they found a more personal relationship with God.
Fr. Altaire is one of those who have solid focus to serve God. He has served in 9 parishes before working here in the US.
With each assignment, he became much more engaged with his moral calling.
“The joys of my priesthood come when I meet people, I find God in them, and they share their woes, they want to make an appointment, they want some advice, and when I am able to help them, I see them uplifted, I see their sufferings abated, and I am happy,” he said.
He can say four masses straight but an hour of confession can be draining. ” Sa totoo lang, isip ang gumagana. I release the burdens I absorb through prayers, meditations and physical exercise,” he confessed.
He went to high school in a minor seminary, with no intentions of becoming a priest. Mostly he felt that it was a secure environment, as suggested by a family friend, Fr. Senen Encarnacion.
By the end of high school, he enrolled in the seminary. His parents came to visit and prevailed upon the rector to allow him to explore a secular life first: finishing a degree, pursuing a business and working.
The rector relented and he, too, went along with his parents’ plans to pursue electrical engineering in the University of the East in Manila. He worked for a fast food chain and a year later, he helped manage his family’s duck farm.
A friend, Msgr. Melchor Barcenas, kept tabs on him and reminded him about his plans to be a priest.
He sought his parents’ blessings. He told them he would be happy if he can pursue his dream. When he finally got their blessing, he enrolled in St. Peter College Seminary in San Pablo, Laguna for his AB Philosophy course.
After completing his AB Philosophy, he went to Divine Word Seminary for his four-year course in Theology and Master’s in Pastoral Ministry. On May 23, 2000, he was ordained a priest by Bishop Francisco San Diego.
He served different parishes: San Pablo Cathedral as an associate pastor for the youth ministry and altar servers; St. John Baptist doing the same; St. Francis de Assisi Parish working with youth, altar servers and catechists; San Ysidro Parish, Santa Rosa de Lima and St. Policarp Parish.
When he was offered to become a pastor, he deferred to his classmates.
He considered the offer of working here in the US while visiting his parents in Florida. After six months, he went back to the Philippines and sought his bishop’s permission to be with his father, who had a stroke.
But instead of doing what he planned, he became the pastor of San Vicente Ferrer Parish in Real Calamba, Laguna. He provided oversight to their church’s construction, and a year later, he supervised the church’s construction of St. Joseph Parish in Pila, Laguna. He got additional responsibilities of handling Eucharistic ministers and training lay ministers.
He finally got to leave for the US in 2008, after being granted his bishop’s permission to work in the US.
When he came to America, he got a call from Fr. Leo del Carmen, who requested help in St. Rose de Lima in Simi Valley, CA. He took the train and traveled from San Diego to Simi Valley. An hour later, his ride arrived.
He credits the support of Fr. Leo and Fr. Joe Shea, who accompanied him to apply to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He now serves as the associate pastor for St. John the Baptist De La Salle, where 60-70% of the 4,000 parishioners are Filipinos.
In the last Filipino Priests sa America’s musical(held on September 11), Fr. Altaire actively participated, performed and sang as part of a chorale group of 30 priests. The musical was seen by over 1,400.
“To achieve your dreams, you must have dedication, sacrifice and focus. Spiritual goals sustain my priesthood, I become a good priest, not just in sacraments, but in all respects.”