Bishop to ordain three new priests
at St. Mary’s Cathedral June 9

By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff

FALL RIVER, Mass. — Ever since he was a child, growing up in a small neighborhood of just 10 homes in Medellin, Columbia, Juan Carlos Muñoz Montoya felt drawn to the priesthood. So it was inevitable that at a young age, he found himself regularly visiting a group of nuns who lived in the last house in that close-knit community.

“I did some work, some stuff for the parish, and I used to go with them and pray,” Muñoz Montoya said. “And they would say when I was praying with them: ‘You know you have a gift.’ And I was saying to myself: ‘What do they see? I don’t know what it is.’ So I just kept praying for that.”

On Saturday, June 9, the gift that the Sisters of the Missionaries of Mary Immaculate and St. Catherine of Siena Congregation recognized all those years ago is about to be bestowed on Montoya and the Fall River Diocese when he — along with Matthew Gerard Gill and Daniel Mark Nunes — will be ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., at St. Mary’s Cathedral during a Mass celebration at 11 a.m.

The trio of transitional deacons recently sat down with The Anchor before their ordinations to discuss their respective long and winding roads to the altar.

For Gill, a native of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Attleboro, he recalled first thinking about the priesthood in high school, but said “a lot of the seeds were planted when my mom began to take my brother and I to daily morning Mass at St. John’s.”

“But I think a lot of it came (later) when I was in college,” Gill said. “I went to McDaniel College in Maryland. I loved my time there very much. There was a parish just down the street and the priests there encouraged me without me ever saying anything about a vocation. They actually came up to me and said: ‘You’d make a good priest one day.’ They also had an adoration chapel there, so I would go with friends to adoration, and a lot of students in the Catholic campus ministry would pray the Rosary together. So it was just a really formative time there in college. That really kind of led me to my vocation.”

The son of William and Mary Gill, Matt was born in 1990 and grew up in Attleboro with his brother, Timothy. He attended St. John the Evangelist School and Bishop Feehan High School. At McDaniel College in Westminster, Md., Gill majored in environmental policy sciences and minored in Spanish studies. He graduated in 2012 and was accepted by the diocese to enter St. John’s Seminary in Brighton the following fall, where he spent six years in formation.

“I think the years of formation really do work,” Gill said. “Both the academics and the Spiritual life there, along with the fraternity, really do form you; along with being in the diocese, seeing priests in the diocese. The whole seminary formation process is so much more than just the academics, although they are important.”

During his formation, Gill served in different assignments in the diocese, including Holy Family Parish in East Taunton; Good Shepherd Parish in Fall River; St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in North Falmouth; and most recently at St. Ann’s Parish in Raynham, while assisting the Hispanic community at St. Mary’s Parish in Taunton. He also honed his Spanish skills at the Mexican-American Catholic College and attended The Rome Experience in Rome, Italy.

Nunes’ path to the priesthood was a little different in that he started formation in 2001 but eventually took a little time off in between, right after graduating from Our Lady of Providence Seminary in 2005.

“I went and I worked for some companies and I got a lot of managerial experience,” Nunes said. “I was able to learn how to be a boss — not only a boss, but really a leader of men. And that really helped me in my field and cemented my vocation. But again, I always had that tug to come back, there was always that emptiness in my heart that said: ‘All right, this isn’t what you need to do for the rest of your life.’”

Born in 1983, Dan is the son of Paul and Karen Nunes and grew up in his home parish of St. Dominic’s in Swansea with his brother, Jeremy. Over the years, he nurtured his faith by attending the Catholic Leadership Institute and YES! Retreats and graduated from Bishop Connolly High School in 2001. He entered Our Lady of Providence Seminary in Providence, R.I. and graduated from Providence College with a major in philosophy in 2005. He spent a year studying at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., and then transferred to St. John’s Seminary in Brighton in 2007, where he completed his studies in 2010.

“I remember talking to a lot of the priests who would come to our parish,” Nunes said. “They’d come for functions, they’d come for a Confirmation, they’d come for various dinners that we had. And I remember asking each one of them: ‘Are you happy with what you’re doing?’ And each one of them said: ‘I wouldn’t do anything else.’ And so that really got me to go into the college seminary.”

Since entering the seminary, Nunes has been assigned to Holy Name of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in New Bedford; St. John the Baptist Parish in Westport; St. Mary’s and Sacred Heart parishes in North Attleboro; St. Francis Xavier Parish in Hyannis, where he served for two years as director of Religious Education; and Christ the King Parish in Mashpee. He also attended the Institute of Priestly Formation in Omaha, Neb., and most recently has been serving at Holy Name Parish in Fall River.

“For me, the wonderful thing has been for the last two years working in parishes and being able to be with parishioners, be there to help them along their journey and just make connections, make relationships, (and) just see the inner workings of a parish for the first time,” Nunes said. “That has been a lot of fun.”

Like Nunes, Muñoz Montoya also garnered some real world experience and even managed to earn a medical degree before entering the seminary.

“I went into the medical field, but the idea of being a priest was always there,” Muñoz Montoya said. “In the middle of my career, I said to my mom: ‘I’m going to go into the priesthood. I really want to be a priest.’ And she said: ‘Oh, you should pray more.’ And I did. But I felt that God was telling me: ‘No, you should wait.’”

Born in 1981, Juan is the son of Maria Victoria Montoya and Jorge Ivan Muñoz. He has two brothers, Jorge and Ivan, and two half sisters, Aida and Valentina.

After high school he entered nursing school at the Universidad de Antioquia and during that time he decided to go to medical school to become a doctor. During his time studying medicine, he remained very involved in his faith and evangelization.

Torn between serving his native community as a doctor and his own desire to serve God and His Church, Muñoz Montoya soon found himself traveling to the United States because of the lack of priests and the growing need for Spanish-speaking clergy. He was accepted by the Diocese of Trenton, N.J. and studied at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Newark, N.J.

That’s where he fortuitously met Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V.

“Bishop da Cunha used to go to the seminary and you would hear from people that he was very approachable,” Muñoz Montoya said. “He was like you normally see him, you know, always with that big smile. He’s very pastoral and I love that. I was serving in a parish that had five communities — it was Brazilian, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and English. So we were at a table and my pastor said, ‘Why don’t you recommend Juan Carlos to Bishop da Cunha?’ I met with him and he told me about the situation here in the diocese and he said this is an area that needs vocations.”

And so, in 2015, Muñoz Montoya was accepted as a seminarian for the Fall River Diocese.

“I feel like God was calling me to (serve here),” Muñoz Montoya said. “I feel like I was in New Jersey on a mission. I think God was working there, because I didn’t work so hard to come here and that’s really one of the things that gave me that conviction. It was not about me, and it is still not about me. It’s all about what God wants.” 

Since arriving here, he has served at St. John the Evangelist and St. Vincent de Paul parishes in Attleboro; Sacred Heart and St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception parishes in North Attleboro; and at Holy Name Parish in Fall River.

Acknowledging that having three priests ordained in the same year is a rarity of late, the seminarians all expressed hope that this is a growing trend in the Fall River Diocese and encouraged others to consider the priesthood.

“The most important thing is whatever God wants you to do with your life,” Gill said. “And I think you only find that out when you sit with Him in prayer, especially in Eucharistic Adoration, when you just allow Him to speak in the silence, speak to your heart.”

“I would say simply, ask someone,” Nunes said. “Your vocation is never just between you and God alone. When it comes right down to it, every single priest out there had to ask someone. They asked other priests what attracted them to the priesthood, and why they should do it. And they got great advice. So don’t be afraid to ask your parish priest.”

“I think prayer is the most important thing,” Muñoz Montoya added. “I have also made a point of reading the Bible, just to get some Scripture passages. Because you need that voice of God telling you, talking to you, to your heart.”

While all three seminarians were able to cite countless priests who have influenced them along the way and whom they hope to emulate in their own ministry, each has invited one in particular to vest them during the June 9 ordination.

For Gill, that honor will be done by Father Kevin Cook, whom he called “a great influence.”

“Father Cook has been very good to me since I’ve been in the seminary,” Gill said. “I was assigned to him for a summer over at Holy Family Parish (in East Taunton) and he’s just a great priest to emulate. I think our diocese is full of good priests, so it’s hard to narrow it to just one, but if I were to pick just one, I think he’s a good choice.”

Nunes has asked Father David Deston to vest him.

“He’s been a very good friend to me over the many years and he has helped with my discernment, especially when I left, and he’s just been there for me through everything,” Nunes said.

Muñoz Montoya has asked Father Richard Furlong to vest him, as he considers him “to be a mentor.”

“He’s amazing, he has a great personality, and he is so loving and kind,” Montoya said. “He is originally from Buffalo, N.Y., but has been here in the diocese for more than 12 years. Right now he is assisting at St. John Neumann Parish with Father Greg Mathias, and he’s helping at Holy Name Parish in Fall River with Father Jay Maddock.”

As they prepare to receive Holy Orders, the three transitional deacons all looked ahead with great anticipation to their first Mass celebrations and to beginning their full-time ministry here in the diocese.

“It sounds cliché, but I’m most looking forward to celebrating Mass and hearing Confessions. I mean, that’s really the highlight for me,” Gill said. “I guess also helping people to grow in faith and helping them to deepen their prayer life and grow in a relationship with God.”

Nunes agreed about celebrating Mass, but also stressed the importance of hearing Confessions.

“I’ve heard the stories of priests who have said that you hear this Confession of somebody who hasn’t gone to Confession in 40 years and you hear in their voice how they change after Confession and how they’re different,” Nunes said. “I look forward to being a doctor of souls and bringing someone back to Christ. I think the more time I spend in the Confessional, the better priest I’m going to be.”

“I think all the Sacraments,” Muñoz Montoya added. “To celebrate a Baptism, to celebrate a wedding, to celebrate a funeral. I mean all the most important things that are a part of Christian life, and to be able to relate more with people — to be a father for them. That’s what I’m most looking forward to.”

Gill will celebrate his first Mass for his family and friends at his home parish, St. John the Evangelist Church in Attleboro, on Sunday, June 10 at 2 p.m., during which he will also deliver the homily.

“I wanted to speak to the people who were coming myself, so that was my motive,” he said.

Nunes will celebrate his first Mass on Sunday, June 10 at 2 p.m. at Holy Name Church in Fall River. Father Edward Healey, pastor of Christ the King Parish in Mashpee, will deliver the homily.

Muñoz Montoya has opted to celebrate several Masses of Thanksgiving for the various parishes where he’s served prior to ordination.

The first Mass will be celebrated at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in North Attleboro on Sunday, June 10 at 11:15 a.m. A second Mass will be celebrated at St. John the Evangelist Church in Attleboro on Saturday, June 16 at 4 p.m. There will be a Spanish Mass on Sunday, June 17 at 12 noon at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Attleboro. Then the final Mass celebration will take place at Holy Name Church in Fall River on Sunday, June 24 at 10:30 a.m.

Father José Ruiz Sanchez, who was Montoya’s Spiritual director at the seminary, will deliver the homily at all the Masses.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts