Alejandro Baez was born in Jalisco, Mexico, immigrated to the United States as a teen and worked in states as far away as Alaska and New York. He studied vocals and piano at Juilliard.
This weekend, he came full circle — back at the Mexican border, seeking joy in the priesthood.
Baez was one of four men ordained as Jesuit priests Saturday morning at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in San Ysidro, which has a view of the Tijuana hills.
And the location of the annual Jesuit ordination was not random. In fact, it had been in the making for about a year.
“We chose San Diego really because it was a way of showing how important immigration is to us,” said the Rev. Scott Santarosa, provincial for the Jesuit West province of 10 Western states. “Two of the four men are themselves immigrants. The other two, as part of that formation, worked with deported immigrants in Nogales.”
One of the province’s values is working with immigrant people, he said. “So it’s a way of really standing with those whom we say we serve and value.”
Speaking to the gathering of about 80 Jesuits, family members and parishioners, San Diego Bishop Robert McEloy asked, “Is this border a bridge or a barrier? At the heart of the debate lies our heritage as a nation and the reality that the United States was largely formed in the journeys of those who came here seeking freedom and refuge from oppression.”
“The present-day denial of those journeys is our nation’s shame,” he said.
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McElroy called on the men to be ordained to be bridge-builders in their communities.
The Jesuits’ foundational dedication is to the missionary work of the church, a dedication that “surrenders to no border, no barrier and no limits,” he said.
Quoting from the prophets, McElroy said, “Those who have been outcasts in the eyes of the world and so often in the eyes of the church must now be embraced.
“The exclusion that is so deeply and sinfully rooted in the human heart must be replaced by a radical sense of inclusion, which makes every woman and man truly welcome.”
The four ordained men already have served throughout the world and earned advanced degrees.
Baez, 41, said Friday about his pending ordination, “I’m an immigrant myself. I think that it’s a wonderful experience as a person who was born in Mexico, grew up in the United States, and it’s part of my immigrant story and part of the Gospel story as a Roman Catholic person who is going to be ordained a priest.”
Baez said he was inspired to become a priest by clerics and brothers and sisters who were very joyful in their faith, and he decided he wanted to be like them.
The newly ordained priest earned a master’s degree both in music education and in Divinity.
The Rev. Thomas Flowers, 34, grew up near San Jose and entered the Society of Jesus in 2007. He served in Uruguay and at Saint Louis University, earning a master’s degree in early modern European history. He published two books.
This summer, Thomas will begin doctoral studies in history in England.
The Rev. Elias Puentes, who was born in Mexico and immigrated to the United States as a teenager, joined the Jesuits in 2006. He worked with migrant farm workers and also served in a prison ministry.
The 46-year-old will continue his studies at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.
The Rev. John Tillman Tanner, 36, grew up in Thousand Oaks and entered the Jesuit order in 2007. During his formation, he worked with migrants in Tijuana.
Tanner earned a master’s degree in philosophical resources and served in Colombia and studied in Berkeley, where he earned a Master of Divinity degree.
In a six-stage process, it takes 10 to 12 years to become a Jesuit priest. About 100 Jesuits are part of the West province and are at various stages of their religious development.
In calling the new priests to be servants to the whole community, McElory urged the four to build “the bridge that calls you and the entire human family from selfishness to generosity, self-seeking to humility, domination to gentleness, tribalism to unity, conflict to peace.”