25 years is quite a milestone for any profession, and earlier this summer Diocesan priests Fr. Tim Farrell and Fr. Frank Chacon each reached the 25th anniversary of their priestly ordinations. Fr. Farrell, pastor of Sacred Heart in Farmington, and Fr. Chacon, pastor of Saint Mary, also in Farmington, were gracious enough to sit down for brief interviews. They reflect on their time ministering to the needs of their parishioners, how they discerned their respective calls to the priesthood, and why they felt called to the Gallup Diocese.
Interview with Fr. Tim Farrell:
Interview with Fr. Frank Chacon:
Transcripts provided below:
Transcript of interview with Fr. Farrell:
VoSW: Alright, so you just recently celebrated 25 years as a priest.
Fr. Farrell: June 3rd, uh-huh.
VoSW: So what led you to – where are you from, originally?
Fr. Farrell: I was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, and I moved at the age of two to Shiprock, NM. My dad was a federal geologist, working with the Roads Department building roads on the Navajo Indian Reservation for the Federal Government. We lived there until 1967 and moved to Mississippi where he was transferred to work for the waterways experiment station, as a federal geologist again. And so I lived in Mississippi all the way through college and my first year of work as a journalist – I was the wire editor at the Hattisburg American. After college I went to the University of Southern Mississippi and got my BA in journalism and then worked at the Hattysburg American where USM is and then I always wanted to go back out west and I interviewed for a job in – I believe it was 1981 – with the Farmington Daily Times and became the Feature Editor here in Farmington. Then..so I’ve been a lot of places, sorry for the boring –
VoSW: No, no, no.
Fr. Farrell: But, uh, I lived here for three years and then I had thought about the priesthood a lot before I even came back out here. I decided to become – that maybe I was being called to the priesthood. So I joined the Diocese of Gallup as a seminarian and was sent to St. Charles Borromeo seminary in Philadelphia where I got two Masters degrees – Master of Divinity and Master of Theology, in 1989, and was ordained a priest on June 3rd, 1989 on the feast of St. Charles Lwanga and Companions.
VoSW: So, if you could talk a little bit more – how did you become aware that you were being called to the priesthood?
Fr. Farrell: It’s one of those questions that is not easily answered because it was a feeling – I felt a pull toward it. And I kept testing it and putting it away and saying “nah, I don’t wanna do that, I’ve got my life planned” and all that. I was a writer, I loved doing what I did. I was moving up in the newspaper business pretty quickly, I was already an editor at the age of 24, and so I had quite a future in journalism, but I felt the call. I finally got a – I had a good spiritual director who helped me determine that I needed to give the seminary a try, and when I got there, even though it was very difficult, I loved what I did there, my studies and my ministry and the seminarians. So I stayed for five years and decided “God is calling me to ordination”. I haven’t regretted a minute of it.
VoSW: So what is the biggest lesson you’ve learned, do you think, as a priest in 25 years?
Fr. Farrell: Boy, that’s a hard…there are a lot of lessons, but I would say being a faithful priest isn’t easy in the sense that – I had no idea the pedophilia crisis would come into play in the priesthood, that there were all kinds of crises in the church that made it rather difficult to be a priest, not of my own making, but the church’s own making. Things not being handled like they should, etc. And that’s been heartbreaking. But, at the same time, I made the determination I’ve got to be a happy priest. I want to love my priesthood, and I do, and so nobody will make me an unhappy priest. I’m very happy in what I do and I’ve been through a lot of crises in the church over the last 25 years, a lot of very sad things that should have been dealt with that weren’t within the church. I determined my ministry is to my people and that’s where I find my happiness, so maybe that’s the important lesson.
VoSW: And what strikes you most about the Gallup Diocese as opposed to other places in the United States? Either good or bad, like challenges and good things.
Fr. Farrell: Well, I think the challenges are we are far apart from each other. In other words, I don’t get to see most of the priests most of the year, and they don’t see me. But you get over that pretty quickly, I mean you’re so – I’m so busy as a priest in my parish, I’ve got 3,000+ people in my parish, I’m not moping about lack of fraternity because I got used to that a long time ago. What I do is keep my prayer life going and take care of my people as best I can and make sure that I remain a strong and good priest for the church. And so the challenges, yes – it’s a mission diocese, but the poverty isn’t the problem. We’re a very rich Diocese culturally, rich in our simplicity of ministry, and we don’t have a lot of problems other Dioceses do. You know, we’re a meat and potatoes ministry, which is exactly what I love to do. There are no illusions here. I’m not trying to rise up in any organization, I just love being a pastor with my people.
VoSW: If you could give any advice to people, to men who are maybe considering a vocation or have not considered a vocation, what would it be?
Fr. Farrell: Well, you have to be mature. You have to know, when you go into the priesthood – we’re in a time where it’s not a vocation that is necessarily the most desirable in the sense of how the world looks at it. When you’re dealing with a church that’s dealing with pedophilia, bankruptcy, and a million other issues, scandals here and there, you gotta put on your big boy pants and realize that’s not what the priesthood’s about – that’s what the problems in the church are, and you’ve got to be the best, holiest pastor or priest that you can be, and you can’t live in an illusion or delusion that the church is going to be perfect, because priests aren’t perfect, certainly – we’ve found that out. Laypeople aren’t perfect, it’s not “going my way”, it’s not Big Crosby “Going My Way” – that’s not the priesthood. It’s much deeper and much more wonderful than that. But there are many challenges that priests meet – we’re very few, very little pay, so don’t have an illusion or delusion that you’re going to make any money in this – you’re not. You’re going to be poor, and that’s the best thing, I think. You’re not here for the money, you’re here to minister to God’s people and empty yourself out for your people.
VoSW: Okay. Kind of a little lighter: what are some hobbies that you have?
Fr. Farrell: Well, I’m a writer, so I write a lot. I read a lot, I hike. I love to travel, so I just got back from Greece and Turkey. I give a pilgrimage, usually once a year, and I just went in the footsteps of St. Paul to Greece and Turkey and so I love to travel. I guess those would be basics.
VoSW: What are some favorite books that you have?
Fr. Farrell: That I’ve read?
Fr. Farrell: Well, I read everything from theological books to fiction. I tend to read a lot of fiction because my life is theological (laughs). I deal with a lot of theological questions and looking things up all the time. So I love murder mysteries, I love humorous things, you know, everything from Mark Twain to – I’m reading Ben-Hur right now. And so I’m kind of eclectic, all over the place. Just like traveling all over the world I like to travel through all kinds of literature.
VoSW: And then where besides Sacred Heart in Farmington, where are some other places that you’ve served in the Diocese?
Fr. Farrell: Well I’ve been here (Sacred Heart) 19 years, and then before that I was three years as pastor of St. John the Baptist in San Rafael in Arizona. St. Johns in St. Johns and the mission in Concho. And before that I was a year, year and a half as the assistant pastor at the Cathedral with Monsignor Gomez, and my first assignment was in Winslow at St. Joseph parish.
VoSW: One more thing – what are you looking forward to in the future, now that 25 years have passed, what are some – is there anything you hope to accomplish going forward?
Fr. Farrell: No, you know, when I first got here to Sacred Heart Parish a lady came up to me and said “What’s your five year plan?” And I said “Ma’am, I don’t even have a one day plan. I’m going to show up and have Mass tomorrow and see what happens.” And she wasn’t impressed, and I don’t blame her, but I was only telling the truth. It’s one day at a time. You show up, and see what God wants you to do. Certainly you have your schedule, but we’ve accomplished a lot one day at a time. We’ve renovated the entire parish, it’s grown by leaps and bounds, we have a major ministry here, so one day at a time is a pretty good way to look at it. And trust in the Lord, let Him show you where you’re supposed to be each day. Somebody can call me from the hospital and say their relative’s dying, and I have to be available. And so that’s what I do, I just – one moment at a time, one day at a time. And then, like St. John XXIII said, at the end of the day, say something to the effect of “God, it’s your Church, I’m going to bed”.
Fr. Farrell: That’s enough for me.
VoSW: That’s a good quote. Alright, well thank you so much for talking to me.
Fr. Farrell: You’re welcome.
Transcript of interview with Fr. Chacon:
Fr. Chacon Interview
VoSW: You recently celebrated 25 years, correct?
Fr. Chacon: Yes, uh-huh.
VoSW: Awesome. Tell me, how long have you been the pastor at St. Mary’s?
Fr. Chacon: Since January 2nd, 2013.
VoSW: Oh, ok. And which parishes in the Diocese were you at before that?
Fr. Chacon: My first assignment as a priest was at St. Francis in Gallup. I was there for a year. Then my second assignment for a year – uh, I was an associate at St. Francis – then the next year I was an associate here at St. Mary’s, for a year. Then I became a pastor at Kirtland, Waterflow for 4 ½ years. And I was a pastor at St. Johns – St. John the Baptist in St. Johns Arizona – I was the pastor there for nine years. Actually, that’s St. Johns and San Rafael, two parishes there.
Fr. Chacon: And then Winslow, that’s two there – St. Joseph and Madre de Dios – and I was there for 8 ½ years, before I came back here January of 2013.
VoSW: Wow. So you’ve definitely got a feel for the whole Diocese then.
Fr. Chacon: Yeah, more or less, yes. I’ve never actually been inside the reservation, so, you know, I don’t have that kind of background. When I was in Waterflow, we had the sisters who lived on the reservation, so I guess you can say they also lived on the reservation at my parish, but it was just basically a living quarters on the reservation, but they assisted at Waterflow.
VoSW: Okay, um, so what – how initially did you discern your vocation?
Fr. Chacon: Well I was a late vocation. In those days, it was considered a late vocation. I was in my 30s. Now that’s not really considered a late vocation but in those days it was – 1980s. Um, I began going to daily Mass, I was in the Air Force at the time, and I began going to daily Mass, and I think that’s what began to help me discern my call to the priesthood – began to attend daily Mass at the lunch hour.
VoSW: And um, where did you attend seminary?
Fr. Chacon: Holy Apostles in Cromwell, Connecticut.
VoSW: Ok. Oh, so the same place that [Fr] Nathanael was.
Fr. Chacon: Yes, uh-huh.
VoSW: Cool, and you were – did you live in the Diocese before you became a priest?
Fr. Chacon: No.
VoSW: So how did you end up –
Fr. Chacon: I was in the Air Force, and I was with World Apostolates for many years, and Bishop Hastrich was the executive director of the World Apostolates at the time so I was familiar with him. And so when I discerned a call to the priesthood I was in the Air Force stationed in Spain and I came to Holy Apostles. At the time – I don’t know if it’s changed or not – you had to be sponsored by a Diocese the first year. And so I had that one year to discern which Diocese I would like to come to, and when I found out that Bishop Hastrich was the bishop of Gallup, you know, I put that at the top of my list.
VoSW: Okay. So where are you from originally?
Fr. Chacon: California.
VoSW: Oh, cool. Okay. Um, and, what have you found most – what stood out to you most about this area of the United States? Both good and bad, what strikes you?
Fr. Chacon: Well, uh, what strikes me as good here is just the fact that, you know, I like the people here. Their great love and respect for the priesthood – the way they support their priests and their deacons. You know, just the spirituality, you know, they’re into the Rosary and Eucharistic Adoration, great love for Our Lady, and so forth, and you know this is something that we priests are greatly inspired when we see this in our parishioners. And I like the fact that it’s rural. I like rural areas very spread out, I like the southwest, I like the mountains and the desert, you know?
Fr. Chacon: And I like the priests here. They’re easy to work with – all the priests that I’ve worked with, you know, I’ve gotten along very well with. The Bishop’s been supportive, so all those things combine together, you know. I’ve always like the Southwest – when I loved in California I’d go back and forth to the Midwest and back East and I’d drive through New Mexico and Arizona. I just felt very attracted to this area. I never saw myself as coming to this area – I just didn’t see anything that would bring me here. (laughs)
Fr. Chacon: And so forth. God works in mysterious ways, you know. Once I felt the call of the priesthood and then Bishop Hastrich was here in Gallup, then everything came together nicely. But prior to that time I’d always liked this area of the Southwest and so when I saw that Bishop Hastrich was here and the executive director of the World Apostolates of Fatima, I came here to see him and we hit it off pretty well from the very beginning.
As far as negative goes, I just can’t think of negative things. We have people here – a lot of them are not churched and a lot of them just don’t practice their faith and so forth – but I don’t consider that something negative from my point of view.
VoSW: Would you think it’s more like a challenge?
Fr. Chacon: A challenge, yes.
Fr. Chacon: A challenge and just something that’s part of my ministry that I have to get involved in, so I’d hate to say it’s something negative.
Fr. Chacon: Rather, it’s something that my ministry needs to, you know, focus on and work on.
VoSW: Yeah. What do you like about – what’s your favorite part of being a priest?
Fr. Chacon: Just the fact that I like to spend time in prayer, spend time before the Blessed Sacrament. I like studying my faith, reading the Bible, and the lives of the saints, and as a priest, you know, part of the fun of what I d – it’s not what I do besides something else, it’s really what you need to do to be a priest. It’s what I like to do. You know as a layperson I spent a lot of time reading the Bible, studying the Faith and the lives of the saints, and yet had to do other things. But this way it’s all part of the same package. So it was so nice for me – I just like to be able to do the things that I’ve always liked to do in the area of spirituality, and also I like to help people in their spirituality. You know before I became a priest I used to help people spiritually in many areas, and now as a priest I can do it in a different way, administering the sacraments, hearing confessions and so forth, giving spiritual direction. And so in many ways as a layperson I was already preparing for the priesthood, as I look back now.
VoSW: And what would you say to somebody who is considering a vocation, or maybe hasn’t thought about their vocation?
Fr. Chacon: I would just tell them to have a very good prayer life. Have a very good prayer life, and stay open to the Holy Spirit, and just tell God you’re willing to do his will, no matter what it is. If He’s calling you to the priesthood – that’s what you want to do. If he’s calling you to something else – that’s what you want to do. That’s your top priority is to do God’s will. And if he’s calling you to the priesthood, He will let you know in many different ways. The people he will put in your life, the desires He will give you, the inclinations He will give you, and again the people He will put in your life – God will let you know in many different ways. You will feel drawn – you will feel drawn to the priesthood. If you feel like you’d come in kicking and screaming that’s a good indication you’re not called. (laughs)
VoSW: (laughs) Yeah.
Fr. Chacon: So, you know, if God is calling you to the priesthood, you will be drawn to it. If you visit a seminary, for example, you will be attracted by that life. You will not see it as being a burden, or repugnant, or not for you – you’ll be drawn to it. You will visit a seminary and be drawn to it. And when you visit priests, you’ll find yourself being drawn to that particular life. God will lead you. If He calls you He will lead you to the priesthood.
VoSW: And what would you say is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned after 25 years?
Fr. Chacon: To trust in the providence of God. You know, God knows everything we don’t, and so many times we worry and are anxious about what lies ahead, and you know, give it all to Jesus. If you do your best, God’s gonna take care of things. Anxiety and worry will accomplish nothing – give you sleepless nights, hypertension and everything else. But you just learn that God’s in control. God’s in control – just do the best you can as a priest and God will take care of things. It will all work out in the end.
VoSW: Okay, and now for a couple of fun questions – do you have any hobbies that you enjoy?
Fr. Chacon: You know, when I was a younger priest I used to love to ski. I’ve always like to hike and I still do that. I like to walk – we have a beautiful river walk here in Farmington, and I do that every day except Saturdays. It’s very nice – a big river with a lot of trees, and I enjoy doing that. I run into a lot of parishioners there. And then I also go – we have big mountains right in the area, and so I go there with parishioners quite a lot and with visiting priests. We go hiking up in La Plata Canyon.
VoSW: Yeah, and Pagosa’s not very far away, is it?
Fr. Chacon: No, it’s very close. Like I told you earlier, I’ve always liked mountains and deserts, and I’ve got them both right here on either side of me. (laughs) Mountains on one side, desert on the other, so I’m perfectly situated.
VoSW: Do you have any favorite books?
Fr. Chacon: I like to read apologetics books. As far as my favorite book besides the Catechism and the Bible, when it comes to spirituality, it would be the diary of St. Faustina, and the Imitation of Christ. It would be a toss-up between those two. I like them both.
VoSW: Alright, well do you have anything else you would like to add?
Fr. Chacon: Not really – just the fact that I would like to encourage young people to be open to the call of God, not to be afraid of the priesthood. It may seem like a difficult challenge, but if God calls you He will give you the grace to do it and to do it well.
VoSW: Alright, well thank you so much, Father.
Featured photo: Eucharistia