Dominican Fathers Robert Perry and Jorge Rátiva are assigned to the St. Elizabeth University Parish in Lubbock, Texas, which is the parish of Texas Tech University.
Father Perry is a priest in residence with limited service with the campus ministry, celebration of the Eucharist, preaching and giving spiritual direction and counseling to students and others associated with the university.
He is 82 and was ordained in 1959.
Father Rátiva has been the chaplain at the university’s Catholic Student Center at the parish since he was ordained in July 2010. He is 42 years old.
Although Father Perry is almost twice the age of Father Rátiva, the two men, in their different life stages, have a common passion for their vocations and bring their own gifts to the priesthood.
“It is interesting to hear Father Perry’s stories about his ministerial experiences in the past and his advice in certain situations,” Father Rativa said. “He likes to ask questions a lot to have a better understanding of any situation. I learned from his stories and questioning.”
Both are Dominican friars with the Province of St. Martin de Porres in Metairie, La.
Father Rátiva, a native of Colombia, was attracted to the community — the Order of Preachers — because of the four pillars of the order.
“We pray the Word, we study the Word, we live the Word in community and, from these three, we preach the Word,” he told Our Sunday Visitor.
Father Perry entered the seminary in 1952. After ordination, he preached to high school and college students for many years, served in pastoral assignments, and was the vocations director for the Central Province of the Dominicans. More recently, he was involved in setting up the campus ministry program and temporarily served as St. Elizabeth’s pastor until Dominican Father Emiliano Zapata was assigned.
He has seen many changes in the priesthood since his vocational journey began more than 60 years ago. The liturgy was in Latin and although the studying was “very good,” he thought it was somewhat archaic and routine.
“We were just accepting things as they always have been, but the Vatican Council in 1963 turned things upside down,” he said. “That period of change was exciting. I was thrilled with the changes and bringing the Church up-to-date. There were possibilities of experimenting in new ministries. But I think now that the men who are coming in are not so much interested in experimenting. They are interested in the tradition of the Church as it was, but not in a bad sense.
“They are looking for some kind of stability in their lives, and the Church seems to be the place that will give them stability. The ones who are coming in mirror these times, and many young people are looking for stability, too. I have heard many of them wondering what will happen to the Church, and they need assurance that the Church will not fall apart.”
Father Perry credits the new generation of priests for putting new energy into the mission of the Church. Father Rátiva is among them.
“He is very bright and he is very interested in preaching the ministry of the word, and he does that well,” Father Perry said. “I think that intellectually he is very interested, in the richest sense, of what the Church is about.”
Father Rátiva also sees that in his generation.
“Younger priests are bringing to the Church and my community what any priest should bring: Christ,” he said. “We bring Christ from our youth, our experience of prayer, our experience of the Church and of culture. We bring Christ from our experience of pain, personal pain and the pain of the Church.”
As a young priest, Father Perry witnessed changes from Vatican II. Father Rativa is at the dawn of changes that are yet to emerge in his generation.
“Personally, I see this historic moment of the world and the Church in which there is so much brokenness at different levels as a redemptive moment, therefore it is a moment of hope,” he said. “So, I believe young priests are bringing hope and healing to the Church, and this is what we bring to our community.”
And what gifts does he see from older priests like Father Perry?
“Their commitment to prayer,” Father Rátiva said. “This is a very important legacy because it is precisely prayer that allows us to encounter Christ, and it is in this encounter that we enjoy the life-giving presence of the Risen Lord. Beside their testimony of love for Christ and the Church, they are leaving us the certainty that God is faith, that God is very concrete and real.”
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.