The day after Father Esteban Sanchez graduated from high school in his native Ecuador his family threw a big party for him. It was on a Saturday. On Sunday morning he told his parents he was leaving home to begin his journey towards the priesthood.
“My mom cried like a child and my dad got so angry,” he recalled. “But I left. I joined the Capuchins and I was a Capuchin brother from 1999 to 2004.
“For me it was not difficult because I knew I was choosing something big, something good,” he explained. “I knew it was going to be difficult for my family to accept my decision. (He was an only child.) When I told them, of course, I cried. But I left home very happy. I knew I wanted that life. I don’t regret my decision.”
His parents have since come around, of course, and fully support his vocation.
Father Sanchez, 31, said when he was a boy the thought of entering the priesthood never entered his mind. He was more into soccer. His mother inadvertently planted the seed when she brought him to a youth group at his home parish, St. Joseph’s in Naranjal. The Missionary Sisters of Jesus and Mary ran the youth group. At first he admits he was cool to the idea. “I said no, never mind,” he recalled. But his mother overruled his youthful protestations and told the sisters “he’ll be back, don’t worry.”
“So I did come back. And liked it!” he said, feigning mock astonishment at his 13-year-old self. While watching a movie two years later, Franco Zeffirelli’s film on the life of St. Francis of Assisi, “Brother Sun, Sister Moon,” he decided to become a priest. “It’s a very romantic story,” he said. “The life of simplicity and poverty it told, that self-giving of St. Francis really encouraged me to think about the priesthood.”
Living with the Capuchins strengthened his resolve. “I was very happy. We had a small farm and we worked there every day,” he said.
Pursuing his calling, he came to New York, entering St. John Neumann Residence in 2008. Being an international seminarian he didn’t have a home parish. One day Father Luis Saldana, the Neumann rector, invited him along when he was going to celebrate Mass at Assumption parish in Peekskill. At the end of the Mass Father John Higgins, Assumption pastor, invited him to come back as soon as he had completed his English classes at St. John’s University. “I could not say no,” he said.
Since then, Assumption has become his “spiritual home.” But he has also served three summers at St. Rita’s parish on Staten Island, making many friends there. As his ordination approached, he was faced with a pleasant dilemma, where to celebrate his first Mass. He solved the problem by celebrating two Masses. His first will be in Peekskill. His second Mass will be on Staten Island June 2.
“I love this archdiocese. New York has something different,” he explained. “God has many faces but one heart, one love and that’s the beauty of the Church, that I am here not only serve my Latino community but also my American, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Korean brothers and sisters.”
Father Sanchez’s first Mass will be Sunday, May 26 at 2:30 p.m. at Assumption Church, Peekskill. Father Charlie Szivos, director of pastoral formation at St. Joseph’s Seminary, will be the homilist.