By RENEE WEBB
When Deacon Jorge and Santa Fernandez moved to Sioux City and joined Cathedral of the Epiphany back in 2000, right away they became active members of the parish volunteering with RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) and in the choir.
Through the years, their involvement in the parish has evolved. Eventually Jorge began to teach confirmation classes and Santa became a member of the parish staff as a Spanish-speaking secretary and assistant to the Hispanic religious education program in 2004.
“Santa was the one to ask me if I wanted to be a deacon one day,” recalled Jorge. “At the time, I thought maybe, but I wasn’t ready to make the commitment.”
Their only child, son Jaffed, was a young teenager and was involved in a variety of sports on the weekends.
“I knew the commitment to start formation was Saturdays and there were a lot of activities on that day, so I held out a little bit,” he said. “Then Father (Paul) Kelly asked me about signing up for deacon formation.”
Timing was right
By the time their son was a junior in high school, Jorge felt the timing would work for him to commit to the three years of formation. Not long after he started in the process, the diocese switched the formation program to four years.
“Then by about the end of the semester, they decided to make it five years – it went from three to five years,” he said with a laugh. “But the formation was very good for me. It helped my understanding of the faith a lot.”
Jorge was ordained a permanent deacon by Bishop Walker Nickless in 2012.
Given he still has a full-time job in the secular world as a parts manager for a car dealership, Jorge noted after he became a deacon, the number of hours he works in the parish hasn’t changed so much as the type of ministries to which he serves. Rather than teach confirmation classes on Sundays, the rector asked him to use his new deacon skills to assist at the Spanish Masses on the weekend.
“Involvement is about the same, but different activities,” said Jorge, who noted he is the only Spanish-speaking deacon in the diocese.
With about 75 percent of Cathedral’s members being Hispanic – not St. Joseph and St. Boniface – there is a need for his service at the Spanish Masses because the deacon is able to preach in Spanish. He assists at English-language Masses as well, especially holy days, special celebrations like ordinations and funerals.
While Cathedral recently opted to hold two larger-scale quinceaneras a year to mark Hispanic girls’ 15th birthdays, through the years Deacon Jorge has led many of these with a liturgical celebration.
Since Jorge taught confirmation several years, there have been many of his former students ask him to officiate their marriages and baptize their children. One of the “greatest moments” of his life came when he celebrated the marriage of his son three years ago.
Having worked closely with the Spanish-speaking director of religious education, when that DRE left in 2006, Santa took on that role. By 2009, the parish’s English and Spanish-language religious education programs were united and she oversaw the programs.
Another change was made to the program in 2016, when St. Boniface Church and St. Joseph Church became part of the Cathedral Parish and their religious education programs were joined. She continues to serve as the coordinator of faith formation for the parish.
The deacon continues to lead the Spanish-language RCIA program and as a couple, the Fernandezes facilitate a Spanish-language day-long marriage prep program, Pre-Cana, twice a year at the parish. In the past, they were available to teach natural family planning in Spanish.
Through the years the Fernandezes have seen changes regarding parish structure, implementation of new ideas as rectors change and new parishioners arrive, but several things have remained constant such as the faith of parishioners.
“The parishioners are very faithful to the church. They have the tradition from their parents and grandparents and want to pass it on,” said the deacon. Some parishioners may not have as much faith formation as others, but many have the desire to help their children learn and that’s why education is so important. “Faith is very constant and hope – looking for something better, looking for heaven.”
When one person receives the sacraments or joins the church, noted Santa, “it is like a multiplication for the family.” It motivates other relatives to follow suit.
She acknowledged that at one time they were somewhat lukewarm Catholics, but it was the invitation of family and friends which encouraged them to become more involved in the faith. Santa viewed this as a “calling” from God back to church and eventually she felt God telling her Jorge would make a good deacon.
As a deacon’s wife, Santa realizes the importance of being unselfish as she needs to share her husband with God and the parish community. However, she added, Jorge’s vocation as a deacon has strengthened their vocation of marriage.
The two have witnessed the deep love parishioners have for Jesus, which has been affirmed by the strong number of sign-ups for perpetual adoration to be offered in future.
“People have a desire to be in grace with God – to be ready so when they die they know they are ready for it,” said Deacon Jorge, who noted that with his job in the secular world he realizes the importance of setting a good example at all times. “I can’t just be one type of person in the church and another type at my work.”