Novice Jojo Villanueva will profess as a Salesian Don Bosco on May 6. Here is his vocation story.
My vocation to life started when my mother conceived me in her womb, my parents got married in January and I was born 9 months after. They call me their honeymoon baby.
I was the product of my parents’ marital consummation. My mother kept on telling me that she took good care of me, she took good vitamins and eat healthy food for me. Now I can see that effect, I seldom got sick and I am physically fit. When I was born, I was the biggest among the babies in the ward, I was really the ‘boss’ as the doctor and nurses called me. Growing up they never cut my hair until I was one year old and placed it in a book believing in superstitions that I might be intelligent (up to now I don’t know if it’s true).
Sunday masses were usual activity of my mom and I. She noticed from the start that whenever we were at the Mass I never made any distracting actions such as crying, playing around or what not, which we can see ordinary now from small kids in our churches. Until one of the old parishioner seated beside my mom told her “ang bait ng anak mo sa loob ng simbahan, malamang magpapari yan” (your child is so behaved, perhaps he will become a priest). My mom just smiled and never thought of that until the moment came that I asked for her permission to enter the seminary. Those words became prophetic, my mom doesn’t even remember who she was.
I would like to believe that it’s the Blessed Mother. That is where I trace the beginning of my vocation story.
I was born on the 11th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s pontificate. He would become my personal patron saint, because that very same day is his feast day. October is traditionally the month of the Holy Rosary. Hence, I believe that Mary was present in my life from the very beginning. I was baptized four months after I was born, during our town fiesta, feast of St. Pedro Bautista. These heavenly companions where all present as I start my journey of human existence.
The story of my life continues, at first I never felt that I was called by God, even though others observed it. I was not so prayerful, I was just praying because I had to. Every 6 in the evening, I needed to stop playing whether I like it or not and be back home in my lola’s house and pray the angelus and the rosary in front of the big image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the first image and title of Mary I have ever known of.
I attended Mass every Sunday because my mom forced me to, or attending Mass every Saturday accompanying my lola in her Saturday devotions, herself being a Carmelite Tertiary. I do all these because I am asked to do it. Only now I realized how important these things to the development of my awareness to the calling within me.
After finishing primary years I am now confused where to go for high school, I did not want to study where my parents had studied because I just didn’t feel it, so I had no other options, but the next cheaper high school is the diocesan minor seminary in Sariaya, Quezon.
I never took that exam seriously, I took it because my other classmates took it so I just joined thinking it is fun. I didn’t know what happened but among all of us, I passed the exams and now asked to come for an interview, so I told my mom the story of my passing and she was not ready to hear those things. She wanted me to finish high school but not in the minor seminary. I didn’t know but I felt a little bit sad after hearing that, I didn’t know why I had that feeling but anyway I just said to my mom to please help me to study in a Catholic school anywhere.
We tried the nearest Catholic expensive prestigious school in our town, this where the rich and influential people graduated and in this school they are also sending their sons and daughters. My mum said we’ll try the scholarship. I did my best, Sr. Elvira Vergara, AR with her tiger look, interviewed me, after the interview I was convinced that I will study in some other public high school because, she never smiled in any of answers so I thought it was all wrong and I said to myself I cannot make it. When we were about to go, the secretary called us to the office of the principal and there we got the news that I got the scholarship in that school with free tuition and miscellaneous, the only requirement was to maintain my general average not lower than 85.
I knew it’s a tough competition but I still try to prove something for myself. I began the school with a feeling of being inferior. Most of my classmates were in the honor roles and rich. I never excelled. I was nothing so extraordinary and I felt I was just there to complete the list of students and that’s all. I never knew what they were talking about gadgets, computer games and so on. I didn’t have those and not even used those. I never knew how to type in the computer, even to erase and edit. My teacher gave up teaching me because I was getting his lessons very poorly. I end up my freshmen year with an average of 84. I was not able to meet the standard for my scholarship, those moments I really prayed, I knelt before the Jesus and asked him to never let me down, those moments became a power source of my prayer life. He answered me, my scholarship was still granted to me, hoping that I can still excel next year.
In those moments I understood the feeling of St. John Mary Vianney, when everything was out of my control I just knelt and pray. This was my closest experience of prayer in my life. God used this as a way for me to be close to Him.
As my fourth year was about to end I was to face another difficult decision to where would I like to study for college. I took exams from different universities and colleges, but during those times I was already attracted to the priesthood and I just caught myself confused and undecided, I didn’t have anyone to talk to except my Christian Living teacher, Sr. Ma. Cirila Uy, AR and suggested the seminary of the Augustinians in Baguio and she would talk to our principal to find a sponsor for me.
That was a very good suggestion I thought, because I could finish college for free while discerning if that is my true vocation. God set everything in place, I entered the seminary in Baguio in June of 2006 and finished my AB Classical Philosophy degree, four years later. I enjoyed the life inside the seminary: the food, lifestyle, companions and the place, but I was not satisfied. I knew there was something more of that kind of life.
I asked for a regency program and try something new and discover more of what I truly want in my life. I decided to take another path; education, I applied for a teaching post in my alma mater and I was accepted. I accompanied this teaching work with some education units for me to be eligible for teachers’ license. I taught Christian Living Education for 3rd and 4th years, I enjoyed it, I loved it, and I even go beyond the limits of becoming a teacher but also a friend to them all.
Because of that work, I was given opportunities to travel around the country for seminar and conferences and some school visitations. My work was already becoming my niche, until suddenly most of my students started to open up their stories to me, even their inmost experience including their sins. That moment I thought that my advice and words were useless because they would still remain in the state of sin anyway. From there, my dilemma started once more; I became confused and undecided. The thought of becoming a priest came back suddenly but something was pulling on the other side which was my desire to teach and be successful in my profession with a lot of offer and opportunities. I didn’t know what to do.
Once more, I knelt down to pray and pray and pray. I was given a chance to visit our sister schools in Naga and Legaspi. Upon hearing this, I told myself that I will visit INA, Our Lady of Peñafrancia, and asked for her intercession. It happened in February of 2013. When it was my turn to touch the manto of INA, I prayed for direction what to take and show me the way going there, without noticing it, tears fell from my eyes. I felt I deep sense of prayer once more; an experience I had when I was in first year high school.
Going back to our school in Quezon, the principal commissioned me to revise our student handbook and publish it, by obedience I did it and when it’s done, we had to find a publishing company to do the job for us. Our principal chose Don Bosco Press in Makati. I heard the name Don Bosco before and now I will have a contact with them for our handbook. I did it well while at the same time I came to search about their life and charism. To my surprise, their life was the answer to the two opposing poles of my previous dilemma. I came to know that being a priest and a teacher is possible, their charism made me realized the possibility of doing these things for the young people whom I really love since I started teaching. So immediately towards the middle of March I contacted the Vocation Director for Post-Secondary candidates; Br. Mon Callo, SDB. He answered immediately and met me personally at the Provincial House in Makati and we agreed that I will make a three-day orientation after the Holy Week and so the process went on, and I can say it went on smoothly, everything was set in place.
My philosophy and my education units were essential degrees in the Salesian formation. I was just amazed how things fell into places properly and in perfect timing. So, even painful, I left my work, my family and my beloved students to enter Don Bosco Prenovitiate Seminary in Canlubang Laguna on June 8, 2013.
Upon my entrance, God has continued to sustain me, all the things I need, He provided for me, most importantly is my PRC teacher’s license which I got after taking for the first time the board in August 2014. INA of Peñafrancia, the Help of Christians, interceded for me and now that I am here in the novitiate I just can’t believe that God made all these possible.
In every trials and sufferings that I encountered, I always tell God in my prayers “I knew you called me please help me with this….” Or sometimes when I am discouraged because I saw my unworthiness I always say in my prayers “If you really called me, make me worthy”. I am convinced that my story is written by a Divine author who is God.