St. Francis of Assisi Parish
Fr. Hector Montoya
From The Catholic Herald
April 25, 2009

Hector Montoya began his professional life in the United States as a farm laborer, harvesting broccoli in the Salinas Valley. While working in the fields, he became active with a charismatic prayer group, he said, which led to his becoming involved at Holy Trinity Parish in Greenfield in the Diocese of Monterey.

For most of his years as a farm laborer, Montoya was an active member in his parish, singing in the choir, volunteering as lector, participating in youth groups, Scripture studies and retreats. It was through the love, friendship and understanding of this community, he said, that he began to experience God’s love for him and to feel God’s call to the priesthood.

Montoya, who is 33, was born in Acambero, in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico, to Apolonio Montoya and Maria Refugio Juarez. He is one of seven children reared in a Catholic family. He completed his elementary education and attended junior high school, he said, but had to suspend his education to help his father support the family. He moved to Mexico City to live with two uncles while working in a car wash. In 1993 at the age 18, he traveled with his father to Greenfield to work in the fields.

He was 22 and had been a farmworker for almost five years when his pastor at Holy Trinity Parish suggested that he consider the priesthood in the Diocese of Sacramento. The diocese accepted him as a candidate and he enrolled in continuing education classes, earning his high school equivalency certificate in 1998. He studied English at UC Davis for two years before enrolling for studies at Mount Angel Seminary in St. Benedict, Ore., in the fall of 2000.

He graduated from college four years later and completed his second year of post-graduate theological studies in May 2006. He studied clinical pastoral education at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento that summer, and began his pastoral year at St. Patrick Parish in Grass Valley that fall.

His pastoral year was a great experience, he said, because it gave him practice teaching and preaching in English, but also because it deepened his understanding of pastoral relationships.

“All ministry is about relationships,” he said. “Everything we do in the church is about relationships. I love God and I love people, and I love God by serving his people.”

Montoya looks forward to celebrating Mass once he is ordained and also to celebrating the sacrament of penance.

“Those two sacraments — they are the heart of our daily faith,” he said. “I look forward to celebrating Sunday Masses, and I hope to convey a message to people that can help them transform their lives.

“And confession — I think, ‘Who am I to do that?’” he asked. “That is God’s grace, first of all — I’m not worthy of it. But God is going to give me that gift, and I have to use it in the best possible way.

“People will tell me their sins, their life experiences, the baggage that burdens and oppresses them, and after I listen I’ll be able to tell them, ‘Your sins are forgiven. I absolve you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.’

“These are powerful words that Jesus pronounces to the person through the priest. God heals them and frees them. I have experienced the healing power of God through the sacrament. Soon God will be doing that through me.”

He paused for a few moments, then added, “Just to hear people’s stories — that’s sacred.”

Montoya will celebrate a bilingual Mass of thanksgiving on Monday, May 25 at 6 p.m. in St. Patrick Church in Grass Valley. He will celebrate two additional Masses of thanksgiving at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 27 in Holy Cross Mission Church in Arbuckle, and at 1 p.m. on Sunday, May 31 in Holy Trinity Church in Greenfield.