WASHINGTON — “Overwhelmed with joy” is how Anthony Miranda described his parents’ reaction when he told them he felt God calling him to the priesthood.
He is now in the process of discerning his vocation at St. John Paul II Seminary and Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
Miranda, 19, is the first American-born Hispanic seminarian in the Diocese of Wilmington.
He credits the wide circle of support he’s received from his parents and only sibling, Natalie, his parish community, fellow seminarians and an assortment of mentors, many of whom he’s never met.
A 2021 graduate of William Penn High School, the honor roll student played soccer, and became involved in track and field and cross country to increase his chances of eligibility for sports scholarships. He planned a career in animal science, a subject he studied in high school, with the goal of becoming a veterinarian.
But his faith and the spiritual disciplines he learned at home and within the vibrant Hispanic parish community of Holy Spirit Roman Catholic Church in New Castle influenced a different journey.
Even his father saw a difference when he returned home from a vocations retreat. “He said he saw something in me that said, ‘He’s not going to become a vet.’”
In the spring of his junior year, the long-distance runner put aside the sport and placed himself at the foot of the Cross, waiting on the Lord. He decided to go to seminary.
Steeped in the faith
Joel and Maria Miranda welcomed their only son on May 11, 2003, in Patterson, N.J. Originally from Mexico, they moved their family to New Castle in 2004. It was there that their children were immersed in a culture that valued and practiced spiritual disciplines at home and in church: “Praying the rosary, going to confession, going to Adoration, going to Mass on Sunday participating in my parish” were among those practices, Miranda said. He has been an altar server since he was 10.
Because Joel Miranda was part of the parish’s Hispanic ministry, the children were involved in “fundraisers for the end-of-year celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” which included a novena, hymns, food and worship, Miranda said.
He started to take his faith more seriously, but during his confirmation retreat, “I really felt God’s presence in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In that moment, just receiving God’s mercy and then being ready to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit was a very big deal because slowly but surely, I could hear the call becoming stronger and stronger. And then later, in 2018, I began to pray the rosary pretty much every day and taking my faith more seriously and learning more about the faith. And that was what formed me,” Miranda said.
He also began to take his studies and track and field more seriously, choosing likeminded friends. “And that all started because my parents took me to the novena to Our Lady of Guadalupe” every year, he said.
Inspired by “people who really could commit themselves, wholly and entirely, to God” and “thinking about different saints,” Miranda considered “what the call to the priesthood was.”
He credits local priests and seminarians with inspiration, as well as priests and apologists like Father Luis Toro of Venezuela and Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, who he watches on YouTube.
A retreat in February 2020 during his junior year was a bellwether.
“There were visible signs and a sense of peace that made discerning this call would be great for me,” Miranda said.
The COVID-19 pandemic was ramping up “and was a big disaster for a lot of people, but the solitude of the quarantine was what pushed me to accept the call,” he said. On retreat he got to meet seminarians Brooks Jensen and now Father Brennan Ferris. He said Ferris reminded him of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, one of Miranda’s intercessors.
The seminary experience
For Miranda, now a sophomore, his time in seminary has been “a great experience overall,” he said. To take courses in a section of D.C. nicknamed “little Rome” has been “a privilege. I don’t know where I deserve all this, but it’s been great.” Though classes are rigorous, his professors have been encouraging.
His devotion has deepened chiefly from learning more about the “importance of the Eucharist and receiving Jesus,” he said.
“We’re all discerning here in seminary, and some of (the men) have discerned out, but it’s amazing to see how God puts them here for just a little bit and forms them as good Catholic men and extends them out into the world again. Eventually they (may) get married, and that’s also a beautiful vocation,” he said.
“Being here in seminary I’ve learned a lot about the vocation itself, what the priesthood entails,” Miranda said. “It’s just that intimate relationship with Jesus. And having that closeness with him allows us to bring him to other people and to bring that hope in a way that other people really can’t.”
Priests of the Diocese of Wilmington and the Archdiocese of Washington are particularly supportive, he said. “They say, ‘We’re always praying for you guys. We’re praying for more vocations. We’re actively supportive and if there’s anything we can do, just let us know and we can definitely help out.’ So, it’s been a great experience here overall,” Miranda said.
Diocesan vocations director Father Norman Carroll has been particularly encouraging of the young man who is the first vocation since his own from Holy Spirit Parish. Father Carroll recently celebrated the 29th anniversary of his ordination.
Father Carroll said Miranda’s experience of being involved in parish life and activities under his father’s influence has been foundational.
Miranda attends a college seminary, and St. John Paul II Seminary is a “formation house,” Father Carroll said. “Anthony lives and is evaluated and does ministry and all that kind of stuff, but he goes to the class at Catholic University.” Even before his enrollment, Miranda submitted to psychological and medical evaluations as well as a diocesan admissions board meeting with six lay people, which in turn recommended Miranda to the bishop.
Miranda originally was accepted at Seton Hall Seminary in northern New Jersey. But Bishop William Koenig, who was installed in July, suggested sending seminarians to St. John Paul II Seminary because the Diocese of Wilmington is part of the same province.
For Miranda, the change was propitious. He applied to Catholic University and was accepted. Joel Miranda, a truck driver, “goes to D.C. all the time,” so he’s able to visit his son, Father Carroll said.
Miranda worked for Father Michael Darcy at St. Matthew’s and Corpus Christi this past summer. “He got a good experience of parish life and some of the good spiritual things priests do and some maintenance work here and there,” Father Carroll said.
“Anthony’s got seven years before he’s ordained a priest, but he could be the first native born Hispanic priest for our diocese,” Father Carroll said.
Wisdom beyond his years
In this digital age, and especially during the pandemic’s isolation, Miranda turned to videos featuring priests on YouTube.
One in particular impacted him because the priest asked viewers if they were called to the priesthood, “and how God chooses them not just in our time, but from all eternity to be picked out and to live a different life,” he said.
On one of Father Toro’s videos, Miranda said he “heard a line that stuck out to me. He was hugging a lady who was crying and very happy to be back into the Catholic Church. (He said,) ‘There are a lot of sheep out there, and there are a lot of wolves trying to get the sheep, but there aren’t enough shepherds to guard to flock. We need more shepherds.’”
“And that was like a very big sign that God wanted me to be a shepherd, but I wasn’t ready to accept the call,” Miranda said. “I said, ‘Oh no, I have this big plan. I’m gonna run track and field and go to college. I know you’re calling me, but I’m not gonna say yes right now.’”
“It’s been helpful to be able to see people like Fulton Sheen, who otherwise would have been lost to time,” Miranda said.
While using discretion in his internet searches, Miranda said learning about priests’ work around the world, being connected to the Vatican, and being able to support various apostolates have been invaluable in his formation.
Prayer forms the backbone of Miranda’s walk with God. “Just keeping that constant focus on God and saying, ‘Lord, where are you in this situation?’” he said. He reminds himself that God may have put “that person in my path so I could pray for them. … One of the bigger things to take into account is whenever it’s hardest to pray, that’s when it’s most fruitful.”
Praying the rosary continues to be a practice “that I hold dearly,” Miranda said. He has been developing his “daily Holy Hour – having that time with Jesus.”
While the coursework is rigorous, Miranda enjoys the challenge and camaraderie of his fellow seminarians. He applies his father’s work ethic. “He said if you’re going to do something, don’t slack off. Make sure you do it well,” Miranda said.
On weekends he can be found on the soccer field, playing his guitar, or playing pool or ping pong.
Miranda senses being part of a larger calling. A seminar leader “told us that this is the age where saints are made,” he said. “And this is the age that our Lord has chosen for us to bring that light of Christ to the people who most need it. And if we can participate in that, in whatever capacity with the strength of our Lord, why not do it? There’s no better way to spend one’s life.”