By Gina V. Ramsey
Long Beach is a large city that has often been described as having a small-town feel, and part of that reason is due to its communities of faith where people often find spiritual families.
Growing Up in the Faith
One particular church family is Our Lady of Refuge where they are about to celebrate one of their own. Deacon Justin Ordoveza, who is currently completing his schooling in St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, was “born and bred” in Long Beach and attended Our Lady of Refuge Catholic School. The only child of Filipino parents, Deacon Justin felt a strong pull to the church as a child. He continued his Catholic education at Don Bosco Technical Institute in the city of Rosemead because it was near his parents place of employment.
“I flirted with the idea of attending Wilson High School, but I wanted to continue in a faith-based school,” Deacon Justin said.
“Even early on, he had a calling,” said Rosanna Tinio Domingo, a family friend who saw him grow up. “He was a very introspective and observant young man.” Rosanna, who is Deacon Justin’s Godmother, was college classmates with his mother at Cal State Long Beach.
Given that he is an only child, Deacon Justin admits his parents were a bit hesitant about his chosen vocation.
“Initially, they weren’t thrilled,” he said. “It was a mixture of honor [at having a priest in their Catholic family] and ‘let’s just let him get this out of his system.’”
Education in Faith
His mother dissuaded him from entering the seminary straight out high school, which is what he wanted to do.
“My mother suggested I attend college first, which I did, and it was a good decision,” Deacon Justin said. Even then, he attended a Catholic College in Georgia on a scholarship.
“[The priesthood] isn’t like a regular job prospect,” he said. “It’s a calling. I had felt God calling me to be a priest.”
Deacon Justin credits pastors from Our Lady of Refuge such as Monsignor Father Bill O’Keefe, who passed away just before Easter this year, and his high school chaplain as influential in his vocation. The inner peace and joy that these important faith leaders exuded on their parish made a deep impression on Deacon Justin.
“Part of what attracted me to the priesthood was seeing how pastors, like Father Bill, were so happy with their lives, they were so content,” Deacon Justin said.
Father Bill along with another Our Lady of Refuge pastor, Father Alfonso Scott, celebrated their 60th ordination anniversary as priests in 2019, a testament to the joy they lived within their vocation.
By Deacon Justin’s 4th year of his parish internship, his parents witnessed the way he delivered his sermons with such natural appeal that they wholeheartedly embraced his path.
“It was an affirmation of my vocation journey. It’s a common saying among Catholics that a healthy parish produces Seminarians.”
And as in any healthy familial environment, one hopes to be fruitful in children that are joyful and helpful. Deacon Justin was involved with Our Lady of Refuge as an altar server when he was a student and has come full circle as a seminarian, an individual who is currently in the seminary on the path to priesthood.
Light in Darkness
In the middle of his 2nd parish internship at Saint Anthony Parish in the city of San Gabriel, Deacon Justin got the opportunity to lead in unprecedented dark times.
“For the first half of the year, it was a normal parish experience. Then, as we all know, Covid-19 hit, and the parish experience was drastically different.”
Deacon Justin set up a livestream to deliver his sermons to his house-bound parish. He helped transition them through the stay-at-home orders, and into ‘the slow, new normal.’
“Especially during the Covid-19 crisis, I really saw people’s desire for community and for Christ.”
A Time to Celebrate
The timing of his ordination couldn’t come at a better time. Deacon Justin will be one of 8 men ordained as a priest for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on June 4th. Deacon Justin takes pride in not just being the only Filipino in the group, but also the only Long Beach seminarian.
“I hope to bring a little bit of Long Beach,” he said. “The warmth that highlights the genuineness of Long Beach people and their random hospitality. It’s a place like nowhere else in [the county of] Los Angeles. Long Beach has OC vibes with L.A. style.”
Deacon Justin does not know yet where he will be ‘stationed’ after his ordination, but he knows that wherever he is sent, he is prayerfully preparing to be the support his parish will require, as he did for the Saint Anthony community.
“[Priests] are there for baptisms, first communions, weddings, funerals. We are entrusted with the spiritual life of our flock. We get called at 2 a.m. to perform last rites for someone,” he said. “Priests are there for people’s pivotal life moments.”
Now that churches can gather again for in-person services and Deacon Justin emerged from the pandemic stronger on the other side, the Our Lady of Refuge Long Beach family plans to celebrate the pivotal moment of their good and faithful son when he delivers his first mass at their parish on June 5th.
Congratulations, Deacon Justin, welcome back home.