New seminarian: Don’t ignore the gentle voice you hear

Daniel Valasco talks during his seminarian signing event June 22 at St. James Church in Searcy. For nearly 12 years he has worked at AK Industrial Contractors, rising to the position of general manager.
Daniel Valasco talks during his seminarian signing event June 22 at St. James Church in Searcy. For nearly 12 years he has worked at AK Industrial Contractors, rising to the position of general manager.

One of the diocese’s newest seminarians has a simple message for anyone who may think they are being called to a life of vocations — listen.

“For young people out there, if you have heard or if you have felt in your heart that you are being called, don’t keep it to yourself. Talk to a priest about it.” Daniel Velasco said. “It doesn’t mean you will be recruited or that you have to say yes, but you need to talk about it.

Velasco was honored June 22 at a Mass at St. James Church in Searcy during which he signed the paperwork to enter the seminary, under the approving gaze of Bishop Anthony B. Taylor and Msgr. Scott Friend, vocations director. The attention was a little unsettling and the idea of being interviewed by Arkansas Catholic even more so. 

But, the 40-year-old native of Puebla, Mexico, said if sharing his story helps others in their own faith journey, he’s more than happy to do so.

“If someone is hearing God’s voice they shouldn’t keep it to themselves, like I did,” he said. “I never talked to a priest when I was younger about why all these feeling were coming out. I know this is all taking place at the right time because God’s plan is always in the right time.”

Velasco is the first member of this north Arkansas parish to enter the seminary. He came to Searcy in 1993 to attend college on a tennis scholarship. Everything about his new surroundings was foreign, from the lack of fellow Hispanics to the religious environment of Church of Christ-affiliated Harding University.

“I heard there was a Catholic church in Searcy and that families from the church would pick up students on Sundays to attend Mass,” he said. “I started attending Mass despite having to wake up early on a Sunday to be on time, since Mass started at 8:15 a.m.”

Flo Fitch, head of White County’s Catholic Campus Ministry, asked the newcomer if he’d consider getting involved with the group. Velasco participated for three years before returning to Mexico in 1998. Once back home, he stayed active in various local parishes.

He said while the call to vocations was there, any notions about joining the priesthood remained off his radar.

“Part of it was that it was so shocking to think that God could be calling me. For me, priests were perfect people who knew exactly what they wanted,” he said. “Looking back, the call was there, but I just didn’t want to listen or to accept it.”

In 2001, he was back in Searcy to complete his MBA at Harding and he re-engaged with St. James’ now-flourishing Hispanic ministry. In 2009 he joined the parish council and also became a member of the Lay Vincentian program there.

“As my involvement in my parish and in the Hispanic ministry grew, I realized I had been blessed with so many things compared to others in my community,” he said. “In 2012, I just had one of those moments that I don’t have the words to describe. I just knew. It was time to start doing something else with my life.”

As Velasco prepares to enter St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana this fall, the only thing he understands clearly is that what’s leading him here defies analysis or rational thought.

“Anyone who knows me knows that when I make a decision, I analyze all possible consequences. I’m someone who likes to be in control,” he said. “At this point, I’m aware that this is ongoing discernment, completely based on faith and I’m not really sure where this journey is going to finish. But I love God so much, I want to be able to say that when I heard him, at least I tried.”

Dwain Hebda

You can see Dwain Hebda’s byline in Arkansas Catholic and dozens of other online and print publications. He attends Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church in Little Rock.

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