Ramirez Helping Lead Flock at St. Catherine
He shops for presents at the mall. He knows the words to Justin Bieber pop songs and can do the “party shuffle.” He stores his calendar and contacts in a cell phone. He may be a priest, but Thielo Ramirez, who goes by “Father Ramirez,” is as hip as any other 31-year-old.
“I’m a man. I’m a human—and my life is set up to minister to you—but I’m a human,” said Ramirez, who was ordained a year-and-a-half ago and now works as the parochial vicar—someone assigned to collaborate with the pastor of the church—at St. Catherine of Siena in South Phoenix.
From a very young age, Ramirez thought he might like to be a priest. He and his family moved from the Philippines to Chandler to be closer to grandparents when he was 8 years old, but his early admiration of priests in that country, who he saw as role models, helped set the course of his life.
“It’s a question I get asked a lot,” laughed Ramirez, “how does a ‘priest’ become a ‘priest?’ I was surrounded with so many wonderful priests as examples,” he said, adding that his family’s support was also critical.
“For me, what really attracted me was the idea of service.”
In high school, Ramirez let go of pursuing a career in ministry and considered becoming a teacher or an engineer. He enrolled at Arizona State University, where he was a good student, but recalls wandering around campus “in a daze,” saying to himself, “I don’t think this is what he [God] wants me to do.”
He could not shake the idea of wanting to minister, and eventually dropped out of school and took a job at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Chandler to see first hand what it meant to be a priest day-to-day—“sometimes it’s meeting after meeting,” he added. The job at St. Mary’s also allowed him the opportunity to spend more time in prayer, considering whether to set this course for his life.
The answer he arrived at was “yes,” this was his path. Ramirez went on to earn an undergraduate degree in philosophy from Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon, and a master’s in divinity from Pontifical College Josephinum in Ohio. In total, he studied for eight years, a period of time long enough to consider other critical aspects of the priesthood, including celibacy and the simplicity of lifestyle.
“I knew I would be coming back to the diocese of Phoenix,” he said. Today, his job includes ministering to individuals and speaking at mass, performing baptisms and officiating at funerals, preparing couples for marriage and “blessing” other marriages in the Catholic tradition, and performing mass for schoolchildren in Catholic schools.
Another part of his job is spending time in prayer. Ramirez said he rises every morning at 5 a.m. to read the Bible, meditate, and “just really be in conversation with God, because once I step food in the office . . .” He trailed off.
As someone of Filipino decent, Ramirez says he can relate to many of the Hispanic traditions and enjoys the cultural diversity of his church—“the Filipino culture is community-minded, which is similar to the Hispanic culture,” he said, adding, “when I came here, [to St. Catherine] I was welcomed right away.”
Ramirez has the temperament of a good teacher, and he is adept at explaining big ideas and Catholic traditions in an accessible way. He is curious about people, and enjoys hearing their stories.
“I’m a teacher of faith,” he said. “I’m a teacher of spirituality. I find every opportunity to teach.”