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His vocation to priesthood is 'like a mystery'

By Dolores Madlener | Staff writer
Sunday, November 20, 2011

Father Sergio Solis is pastor at St. Anthony Parish in Cicero. (Brian J. Morowczynski / Catholic New World)

He is: Father Sergio Solis, pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Cicero, since 2007. Former administrator of Our Lady of Grace Parish. Ordained at Mundelein Seminary in 2000 at age 33. Born and raised in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Family: “I am one of 17 children. My parents were not big practicing Catholics but they had their faith.  My father worked in the fields. When we moved to the city he had no factory skills so he sold fruit on the streets. I worked as a shoe-shine boy up until fifth grade. Then I dropped out of school to work with my brother, a welding contractor. As a kid one learns quickly, so in a few months I became a welder myself at 10 years of age.”

Back to school: “I came to Los Angeles to visit one of my brothers when I was 17, and got a job. Going back to school I began at the bottom at an English grammar institute in L.A. for six months to learn English. Then to Pasadena City College to get my GED. A year later I went on a Charismatic Renewal youth retreat and after that I began learning and practicing my faith. I went to an RCIA program to make my First Communion. I found out the L.A. archdiocesan office for youth offered formation. Sister Lydia offered us courses in Scripture, church tradition and stuff like that. I got more interested in the faith and helped with CCD.”

The call: “I met a lady one day after CCD classes. She saw me in church a lot and said, ‘You could be a good priest, I’ll pray for you.’ I thought, ‘She’s crazy.’ I’d never thought about priesthood. (I knew I hadn’t been a very good kid.) Every Sunday that lady told me she was praying for me. Suddenly, instead of thinking of all my negative aspects I began to think, ‘Why not a priest?’

“I met a Comboni Missionary and asked him about their seminary. The priest said, ‘You’re a nice guy, involved with the church, but you have no studies.’ I said, ‘OK, I haven’t been in school for 10 years but if God wants me to do this, I’ll be able to do it.’ Faith and studying late at night got me through four years of classes.”

The Comboni Fathers sent him to Chicago to finish his degree and while here he applied to Niles in the summer of 1993 and was accepted. “I’d been thinking about the missions for five years. But Chicago would be like the missions for me.”

Prayer life: “I try to make a yearly retreat at Stritch Retreat House. I pray the Liturgy of the Hours and celebrate the 8 a.m. Mass Monday-Saturday. I’m the only priest here. It’s part of my prayer life. And of course Sunday Masses. It’s something I love — to celebrate and preach.”  

Leisure: “I use my vacation to visit family in Mexico two or three times a year. All my brothers and sisters have children, so I have over 100 nieces and nephews married with children. There are weddings, baptisms, quinceaneras, so while it’s time off, I’m ministering to my own family.

“For the last three years I’ve forced myself to get away from the parish for at least five or six hours on my day off. I sometimes go to the movies, window-shopping, or visit a family from my first parish and have supper with them. When I get time I love watching soccer and the news on TV. My team is winning and they’re in the playoffs in Mexico!”

Favorite Saints: Our Lady of Guadalupe -- we have a novena and many Masses for her feast day. And I’m learning more and more about St. Anthony. I have to prepare for his novena each year in June, so I study his writings and do a new booklet about him each year.”

Vocations: “There’s been a different seminarian from Casa Jesus living with me since my days at Our Lady of Grace. I also encourage altar servers to think about the seminary. We have four who are interested. I try to go to our CCD programs on Saturdays and Sundays, greeting the parents and kids. I wear my collar on Sundays or for appointments or sick calls, to be a presence.

Other than that during the week I’m also the ‘maintenance man.’ Sometimes when people come by they don’t recognize me. I say, ‘Well, I’m working.’ One of my sisters tells me, ‘You are a miracle.’ I laugh and say, ‘Yes, my vocation is a mystery, like the Trinity.’”