In my darkest days, I couldn’t imagine myself doing this. But here I am. And to those discerning a vocation, I encourage them to look forward, and pay attention to what the Lord is telling you.”

I spotted this picture of LA’s transitional deacons and saw that one was in a wheelchair. I wanted to know more.

His story, from Angelus: 

There are challenges to living in a wheelchair — like steps.

“Yeah, the steps are not my friend,” chuckles Brother Cesar John Paul Galan, a wheelchair user since he was shot and left paralyzed 21 years ago in a gang-related incident that took the life of his brother. “I have to remind myself not to give up, to push past steps or whatever obstacle there might be so I can serve the Lord as he wants me to.”

But there are blessings as well. “Here at St John’s,” said Brother Galan, “my situation gives my brother seminarians the opportunity to be charitable — and to understand and appreciate differences.”

Brother Galan said that experiencing the universality of the Church through the diversity he found at St. John’s has been key.

“When we get to know each other, we can do great things. That’s a lesson and a blessing for me, to accept people where they are at.”

It was a lesson Brother Galan learned the hard way. Born in Torrance and raised in Artesia, he fell into gang life as a teen, which ended when he was shot by a rival gang member. While recovering at St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, he found his way out of bitterness and despair with the help of Brother Richard Hirbe, minister general of the Friars of the Sick Poor and a St. Francis chaplain.

Brother Galan eventually forgave the man who shot him, became a hospital chaplain, and in 2015 professed his vows as a religious brother with the Friars. “But the idea of being a priest had been knocking at my door,” he said. “I said, ‘Hey, God, I’m already serving you as a chaplain.’ The thing is, it’s not about you; it’s about surrendering to God.”

He entered St. John’s, where steps were the least of his challenges. “Study has never been easy for me,” he admitted. “I’ve always had to work extra hard. Coming here was a huge leap of faith.”

But the leap has paid off. Brother Galan has completed his internship at St. Mary Magdalen Church in Camarillo, where he will also serve as a transitional deacon. A year from now, God willing, he will be ordained as the first paraplegic priest in the history of the archdiocese.

“I just pray that God always gives me a heart for service,” he said. “In my darkest days, I couldn’t imagine myself doing this. But here I am. And to those discerning a vocation, I encourage them to look forward, and pay attention to what the Lord is telling you.”

He was ordained Saturday. Ad multos annos! 

UPDATE: A reader asked about Canon Law and the question of ordaining priests with disabilities. An explanation, from the USCCB:

The existence of a physical disability is not considered in and of itself as disqualifying a person from holy orders. However, candidates for ordination must possess the necessary spiritual, physical, intellectual, emotional, and psychological qualities and abilities to fulfill the ministerial functions of the order they receive (Canons 1029 and 1041, n. 1). The proper bishop or competent major superior makes the judgment that candidates are suited for the ministry of the Church (Canons 241, sect. 1; 1025, sect. 2; 1051, n. 1). Cases are to be decided on an individual basis and in light of pastoral judgment and the opinions of diocesan personnel and other experts involved with disability issues.

Diocesan vocations offices and offices for ministry with persons with disabilities should provide counseling and informational resources for men with disabilities who are discerning a vocation to serve the Church through one of the ordained ministries.

In preparation for responsible leadership in ordained ministry, the diocesan bishop or major superior is to see to it that the formation of all students in the seminary provides for their service to the disabled community, and for their possible ministry to or with persons with disabilities. Formation personnel should consult with parents, psychologists, religious educators, and other experts in the adaptation of programs for ministerial formation.