Father Gervan Menezes celebrates his first Mass Sunday, July 27, 10:30 a.m., St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Cookeville. He is assigned as Chaplain for Father Ryan High School and will be in residence at the Cathedral.
Deacon Gervan Menezes grew up in a Catholic family in the most Catholic country in the world, but as a young student, he was not active in the church.
Spiritually, “I was considered kind of a lost cause in my family. They thought I would never do anything for the church,” he said.
But much has changed since Deacon Menezes’ early days, and on July 26, he will defy all his family’s expectations by being ordained a priest for the Diocese of Nashville. While the “path was a little bit crazy,” Deacon Menezes feels certain he has now found his way. “I have the sense that I’m ready for this,” he said. “It’s God’s call. You answer.”
Growing up, Deacon Menezes missed his first communion because of surgery, and was once kicked out of catechism class as a teenager. He attended university in Brazil, where he studied hospitality and tourism, the priesthood far from his mind. But after graduation, he started thinking more seriously about his future, went back to school to study philosophy, and began meeting with a spiritual director.
Deacon Menezes then joined Comunidade Catolica Shalom in his hometown of Fortaleza, a community rooted in the charismatic experience. Through this community, he did missionary work in several countries, which helped him discern his vocation to the priesthood.
Still unclear how exactly he would become a priest or where he would serve, Deacon Menezes met with Bishop David Choby during a 2010 visit to Middle Tennessee. Deacon Menezes had first come to Cookeville, Tenn., in 1996 as a high school exchange student, and his host family had become like a second family to him. He loved the area, and, after meeting Bishop Choby, immediately felt his support. After that 2010 visit, Deacon Menezes’ path to the priesthood began to take shape. “I was starting to understand the way God was leading me,” he said.
After the application process, Deacon Menezes was accepted as a seminarian to the Diocese of Nashville, and in August 2010 he was sent to Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, Texas. He just graduated from the Oblate School of Theology there with a master’s of divinity degree, a baccalaureate of sacred theology, and a master’s degree in theology.
Deacon Menezes said he enjoyed his time in San Antonio and serving the people in that city, but doesn’t feel the same connection to them that he does to the Diocese of Nashville. “Here, these are my people,” he said during a recent interview at the Cathedral of the Incarnation rectory. He and the other eight men about to be ordained, no matter where they are originally from, “belong to Nashville” now.
After his ordination, Deacon Menezes will be in residence at the Cathedral of the Incarnation, and will serve as a chaplain and teacher at Father Ryan High School. Deacon Menezes has worked with teens in Brazil and San Antonio and “I am excited to get to know some of the kids” at Father Ryan, he said.
Deacon Menezes is grateful to have several priests with different backgrounds and levels of experience in residence at the Cathedral together. Cathedral pastor Father Ed Steiner, Vanderbilt University chaplain and St. Mary Church pastor Father John Sims Baker, and Cathedral Associate Pastor Father Jayd Neely will be like “older brothers,” showing him the ropes as a new priest, he said.
“When people call you ‘Father’ sometimes it’s like they expect you to know everything,” Deacon Menezes said. While he feels well prepared for ordination, “this is now real life,” and he knows he may not have all the answers that people are seeking. “I pray for the grace of the Holy Spirit.”
Being part of the largest single ordination class in 44 years for the Diocese of Nashville, Deacon Menezes said, “is a big opportunity.” This crop of men to be ordained, five of whom are from countries outside the United States “reflects the church and the diocese,” he said. “At any Mass you will see people from all over.”
“God gives us the vocations he needs for his church. We reflect the church today,” he said.
While the international seminarians are still making some adjustments to the local culture, their faith, and the faith of those they serve, transcends cultural differences. “People from everywhere are getting together because we are Catholic,” Deacon Menezes said.
One of the biggest lessons Deacon Menezes has learned from Pope Francis is “being close to the people and serving them.” That’s how he hopes to connect with his students at Ryan and the parishioners at the Cathedral that he will be serving.
Like Pope John Paul II, Pope Francis can cut through a crowd of thousands to connect with one person, Deacon Menezes said. He traveled to Brazil last summer for World Youth Day and witnessed how much Francis’ presence meant to the young people who traveled from all over the world, and to the Brazilians who hosted the event. “He really reaches people,” Deacon Menezes said.