An Evening of Grace and Generosity: St. John’s Seminary Fundraiser

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“St. John’s Seminary recently hosted a remarkable fundraising event that left an indelible mark on the Catholic community. The night was a testament to the unity of purpose, with exquisite food and abundant spirits, celebrating four outstanding members of the community, including Reverend Father Rodel Balagtas, whose longstanding commitment has been an inspiration. Yet, the true heart of the evening lay in its mission – to annually raise funds for the seminarians. These future spiritual leaders were at the forefront of our thoughts, a reminder that generosity and faith go hand in hand. In this brief, memorable gathering, we witnessed the beauty of giving, the power of community, and the enduring spirit of faith. St. John’s Seminary continues to shine as a beacon of hope and growth for the Church, thanks to events like this and the dedicated individuals who make it all possible.”-@ Miko Zuñiga 

“Congratulations Fr Rodel! Well deserved. It’s high time the Diocese of LA recognizes it has a Jewel in the Church!” – Fr. Camilo Pacanza 

“Thank you ! Beyond proud .. congratulations to our brother priest whose wisdom, humility, love for God and His wonderful works inspired so many. May God’s abundant grace guide Him and all his fellow priest brothers to their sacred journey as “fishers of men”. All for the glory of God!”- Rina Bentajado 

“It was an inspirational evening to have our dear friend, Fr. Rodel Balagtas’ story is told in the open. From humble beginnings as a Filipino immigrant, initially working as a banker and rising to become a distinguished religious leader of Catholic Los Angeles and beyond. Benel and I are privileged to have been part of this showcase of strength, resilience, engagement, and immersive involvement. What an amazing night towards making a life of difference!” – Benel Se-Liban and Cris Liban

“Fr. Rodel is a priest who cares about people, what they live, their longings and their sufferings. He is always concerned about his brother priests. He feels the pain of others. He leads through inspiring others.”- Msgr. Lorenzo Miranda 

“Congratulations to Fr. Rodel. He earned and deserved this accolade.” – Cora Oriel 

“Last night was my first time at the event, a fundraiser for St. John’s Seminary. I had, at one point, considered entering the priesthood after having done a retreat at that serene locale in high school. The fact that so many Filipinos, about a quarter of those in attendance, came to support Fr. Rodel for an award in his honor reflects on his sincerity and reverence as a priest and community UNITER.  It seemed as if all of Incarnation was there to express their gratitude for the work he has done and leadership he has demonstrated. We are very blessed to have Fr. Rodel as a spiritual leader. -Ted Benito

What a beautiful evening, hours only the overcast skies threatened to give us rains. A bit drizzled and it felt quite cold with two gas heaters in the far distance for the sponsors and bishops. Amidst that backdrop of gloomy skies, the long array of beautifully decorated blooms in set table invited all towards the light.

What a meritorious group of selfless servants, one dubbed the Pope of East LA, whose church’s existence of 100 years with half of its existence under his pastoral leadership will soon have their own celebration.

Another manages the Catholic Community Foundation – LA,  in 21 separate funds, whose assets have grown to just under a billion dollars.

Another was involved in serving several parishes and even in the formation of seminarians to become future priests, whose pastoral practice has endeared him to over 250 in attendance in six parishes, and a warm, inclusive heart for all parishioners. As he read his speech, he was cheered on by his parish.

Another is the current auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Orange, promoted from being an episcopal vicar for priest, in charge of their formation.

Last year’s attendance attracted 660, this year in 2023, the attendance topped 960 folks and a gross of $750,000. The last million dollar gross fundraiser that I attended was at a legal services non-profit, where a brand new, donated car was auctioned and raffle tickets sold at $100 a piece.

A wonderful orchestra played in the background and with enough volume so as not to drown out the sounds of conversations.

Equally inspiring was to see a dozen Filipino priests in attendance. I felt like I belonged to many tables as these priests welcomed me to join them for photos. What a warm welcoming crowd!

Catering was done by Triny’s table with a healthy menu: beef wellington, green beans, scalloped potatoes and apple slices on a tart shell with chocolate drizzled top.

We made fun of the coffee as we requested a hot refill. By the fourth time, even the waiter said, “nearly hot.” We attempted to lighten the situation with a joke of getting a digital photo of a gas flame and heating the coffee on top and using the battery powered candle on the table.

All in all, the ambiance, the emcee, the music, the food made for a well organized gala. If only the coffee was hot or that more gas heaters to warm up more tables.

The program was impressive and awardees included: Rev. Dr. Fr. Rodel G. Balagtas, Most Rev. Timothy Freyer, D.D., Rev. Msgr. John Moretta and Kathy Anderson.

I requested the acceptance speech of Fr. Rodel G.Balagtas, which I found inspiring and substantive. Here it is:

“Distinguished guests, beloved friends, and fellow servants of God,

Tonight, I stand before you with profound gratitude in my heart, for the incredible honor and privilege of serving our Lord and His people as a priest for the past 32 years. It has been a journey that has filled my soul with immeasurable joy and purpose.

Reflecting upon these years, I am in awe of the multitude of divine opportunities that have been bestowed upon me. It is with sheer gratitude that I recall the countless moments I have shared in the lives of God’s people, in the tapestry of parishes across the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. From bustling urban communities to serene rural landscapes, from close-knit suburban neighborhoods to vibrant multicultural enclaves—I have experienced the incredible beauty and diversity of God’s creation through the people I have been blessed to serve.

But my journey did not stop there. For five transformative years, I had the honor of imparting knowledge and shaping futures as a formator and faculty member at St. John’s Seminary. Focusing on the sacred arts of homiletics and pastoral ministry, I witnessed the blossoming of young seminarians, preparing them to carry the light of Christ into a world yearning for hope and salvation.

As a Filipino priest it fills my heart with great pride and humility to serve as the priest-liaison for the Filipino Ministry of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Tonight, I am overwhelmed with joy seeing our Filipino Catholic Community so beautifully represented at this gala. To my esteemed fellow Filipino priests of our archdiocese, whom I had the privilege of serving as their president—I stand here in solidarity with you, grateful for our shared mission and heritage.

Parish ministry has always been my love, my passion, the very essence of my calling. Thus, it is with absolute delight that I embrace my current pastoral role at Incarnation Church in the splendid city of Glendale. To my cherished staff members and devoted parishioners, who grace us with their presence tonight, I extend my deepest appreciation for your unwavering support and dedication. And let us not forget the cherished memories forged during my time as pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in  East Hollywood, as well as the early years of my priesthood at St. Martha’s Church in Valinda-West Covina area, St. Augustine in Culver City, St. Joseph the Worker in Canoga Park and St. John Neumann in Santa Maria. These  chapters have left an indelible mark upon my soul.

At this moment, I find it fitting to express my heartfelt gratitude to Archbishop Gomez, Cardinal Roger Mahony who ordained me, other bishops, the esteemed seminary faculty, the visionary board members, and my fellow alumni and students. Your recognition as a distinguished alumnus of St. John’s Seminary carries a weight that I cannot put into words. I humbly accept this honor on behalf of all those who have shaped and guided me on this sacred journey. Together, we embrace the mission of awakening hearts and fostering true discipleship.

It is impossible to speak of blessing without acknowledging the immense love and support of my dear family—a family that is deeply rooted in the Catholic faith. To my eight siblings, my ten nephews and nieces, and the abundance of little grand nephews, thank you for being the pillars of strength and inspiration in my life. I am reminded of our dear parents, now resting in God’s eternal embrace, who nurtured values of self-sacrifice, hard work, humility, simplicity, honesty, and integrity. My mother, a beacon of knowledge as a public-school teacher, and my father, a steadfast servant of his country as a member of the U.S. Navy—they shaped my values and ignited the fire within me to serve others.

Today, I stand before you as a product of determination and faith, sharing my journey that led me to the sacred halls of St. John’s Seminary. In 1987, six years after I migrated to the United States to reunite with my family, I embarked on a path that would shape the very core of my being.

My years of seminary formation in the Philippines, coupled with work experience in the vibrant city of Los Angeles, provided me with a strong foundation for the theological education that awaited me at St. John’s. These were years that not only equipped me with knowledge but also instilled in me a spirit of openness, inclusivity, and engagement with the modern world. Inspired by the ideals of the Second Vatican Council, I was taught to adapt, grow, and embrace the challenges of our time while standing firm on the timeless values that guide us.

It was during this time that my passion for pastoral ministry and preaching began to take root. The experiences I gained, particularly in working with the underprivileged, ignited a fire within me that continues to burn bright today. We live in a world that desperately needs compassionate hearts, willing to serve and bring hope to those who need it most.

Through my seminary formation, I came to understand the importance of grounding my pastoral work in prayer, family support, friendships, effective leadership, and continuous education. These pillars serve as the bedrock of my vocation, enabling me to navigate the complexities of ministry with resilience and unwavering dedication.

As I stand here tonight, in my long years  of ministry within the cherished Archdiocese of Los Angeles, I cannot ignore the calling that reverberates within my soul. The calling to ignite the flame of the priestly vocation among our youth. Like a beacon in the darkness, I am compelled to respond to this urging of the spirit. Our communities are yearning for more individuals willing to serve as priests and religious men and women, to uplift and heal amidst these challenging times.

But let us not forget the power of collaboration. Together, we can weave a tapestry of faith that transcends the boundaries of clergy and laity. By embracing the gifts bestowed upon every baptized individual, we can labor side by side, priests and laypeople alike, to create vibrant parishes and an archdiocese that radiates love and devotion to our dear God.

In closing, I extend my heartfelt gratitude to each and every one of you. Your support, encouragement, and presence have anchored me throughout my journey. With humility and deep gratitude, I say, “Maraming Salamat!” Thank you for believing in the power of vocations, for investing in the future, and for joining hands in creating a world filled with compassion, love, and unwavering faith.

May the fire within us continue to burn brightly as we leave this place today, inspired to make a difference and carry the torch of hope wherever we go.”

Back story and reflection

I was a lapsed Catholic for decades. Then, I met Fr. Rodel G.Balagtas at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in East Hollywood. Since 2008, we have become good friends and I consider him my spiritual mentor. Through the years, he has introduced me to his siblings and their families, his fellow friends/priests, whom I have interviewed for feature stories in Asian Journal.

It is a positive professional relationship where he continues to share prayers, spirituality books, his pilgrimage trips and over good food that includes my spouse and his cycling friend, Msgr. Lorenzo Miranda and at times birthday club friends.

In turn, I have introduced him to community folks and he has supported many Filipino American concerts and plays about immigrants.

I find him to be a warm, honest, authentic, accessible, and trustworthy person who shares his unwavering deep faith with us, including movies and films to watch about faith, and his journey of challenges and triumphs. With Fr. Rodel, we learn about and from his gentle humanity.

Inside the Cathedral, I cried for I remembered his long drive, the sacrifices he made as a pastor, as a son visiting his ailing father, the centennial renovation of Immaculate Heart, writing and publishing a book of his homilies, taking children’s choir to competition in the Midwest, NY and Rome to meet the Pope, his triumph over aneurysm, and his being a conduit to the healing of three priests: two bishops and a monsignor. He knows your facial appearance and when you are not your usual self, he offers to take you to emergency. This happened 3 times now that in private, we say he is a healing priest, a bridge to health and wellness. At Incarnation, he led the formation of his parishioners to deeper spirituality and grew Incarnation Church, notwithstanding the pandemic, including monthly veneration of parishioners choosing saints and the exposition of small businesses, once a quarter.

It seems that his life journey reveals the triumphs of his gentle humanity, but also his “expansive heart with indescribable sweetness of love” as Pope Francis recently said about the Benedictine nuns.

In Fr. Rodel’s heart, resides love for all parishioners in the different churches that he has served at, and tonight, 260 of us showed up to tell him how we all love him and wish him well for we all know he deserves God’s favor through the Archdiocese of LA under Archbishop Jose Gomez and Bishop Alex Aclan, who we all flocked around for a photo, as if a celebrity came to be with us. Just imagine him remembering their names, their specific circumstances and even the database of their home addresses and phone numbers, and the list is growing as it is now includes food vendors and suppliers. While at Incarnation, he has successfully spearheaded the sale of an underutilized building and now the design and building of a wing to benefit the schoolchildren and the church’s congregational needs for community hall and more.

Warm-hearted priests and bishops are equally received with warm hearts of parishioners who will stretch themselves to serve the churches they belong.


Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 12 years. She also contributes to Balikbayan Magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

She has been a participant in NVM Writing Workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Japan, Costa Rica, Mexico and over 22 national parks in the U.S., in her pursuit of love for nature and the arts.

Prosy Abarquez Dela Cruz, J.D.

Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 13 years. She also contributes to Balikbayan Magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been a participant in NVM Writing Workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Costa Rica, Mexico and over 22 national parks in the US, in her pursuit of love for nature and the arts.

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