PHOENIX, AZ. – His youth, life experience, and Franciscan formation all came together for Roberto Tito Serrano, OFM, on the morning of Dec. 5, when he was ordained to the priesthood at the church connected to his family and the high school he attended. His mother and sister had front-row seats at St. Mary’s Basilica at the Mass celebrated by Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix.
For the 33-year-old friar who spent part of his youth in Europe, and his early ministerial assignments spread across the U.S. – from the Midwest to the South to the Northeast – the Southwest was the appropriate venue for Tito to enter the sacred order of the priesthood.
The Mass, which was live-streamed on the Holy Name Province Facebook page was concelebrated by Fr. Robert Bolding, Michael Weldon, OFM, and two Holy Name Province friars – Julian Davies, OFM, and Mark Reamer, OFM, who traveled from Loudonville, New York, where Tito is assigned in ministry.
“It was great having the ordination in Phoenix because I was able to have people there who were an important part of my development through my teen years,” said Tito. “Former teachers and coaches who I admired, as well as family and friends, were able to attend. It was also nice to be in the warmer weather of Phoenix in early December.”
Although the ongoing pandemic limited in-person attendance, the live-streamed Mass was viewed by many friars and Tito’s friends and acquaintances – from Chicago to Greenville, and Kenya to Toronto – with many of them sharing enthusiastic greetings and good wishes on the HNP Facebook page.
With Tito’s ordination originally scheduled for August – but postponed due to travel logistics related to the pandemic – the significance of the Mass felt a bit “unreal” to him.
“I think because there was so much time between my graduation and ordination, I moved out of the mindset that this was the logical next step. I really didn’t process it,” he said. “I’m still processing it – and when I think about what happened, it feels exciting, but it also feels odd.”
Tito said he remembered feeling nervous on the morning of the Mass. “But then I felt as if I began to hit my stride and, of course, got overconfident and made a few mistakes. There was a moment at the altar when I wondered if I was actually doing this,” he said.
“I was able to pray for Brothers John Boise and Eric Seguin – two members of St. John the Baptist Province who made solemn vows in Ohio the same day as my ordination. There was something special to me about sharing that day with them, though we were divided by distance,” Tito said.
Both his mother and sister participated in the Mass, reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah and the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians.
“My mother was beside herself with excitement,” said Tito. “She was so happy and cried a few times during the Mass. My sister told me she was proud of me, which meant a lot considering my sister is quite reserved.”
In the homily, Michael Weldon, the guardian of the basilica friary and, like Tito, an alumnus of St. Mary’s High School, spoke of the importance of priesthood.
“The question, even in this time of the pandemic, is what the priesthood is about,” said Michael. “I asked Tito what drew him to the priesthood. He said he had developed a respect for priests as a child while attending elementary school and high school. It was those years and a trip to Assisi that drew him to religious life.
“We Franciscans are blessed with the call to take the priesthood to places behind the parishes – to take it to the breadlines and to schools, and to bring the Gospel to people on the margins,” Michael continued. “We bring the Word of God to the people. Sharing is both priestly and Franciscan. We serve as pilgrim leaders and as confessors.”
He went on to say that Tito’s priesthood “will be a song, as he reacts with the people on the margins” – a reference to Franciscans whose video of dancing in Assisi drew worldwide attention, seen here:
Bishop Olmsted noted that the friars’ history in the area was one of evangelization. Although Tito serves in ministry in other parts of the country, the bishop said he was pleased to ordain a Franciscan and son of the diocese.
“We’re so grateful to God for the gift of St. Francis of Assisi and the gift of this young man who is being ordained,” the bishop said.
Mark Reamer, who represented Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, in giving witness to Tito’s readiness for the priesthood, said he was delighted to be present, joining Tito’s family and the friars of St. Barbara Province to support and witness the ordination.
“The basilica is beautiful and historic,” Mark said of the church that is maintained by the friars of St. Barbara Province, one of the six provinces in the United States working to unify its communities.
Liz Salgado, Tito’s mother, who teaches Spanish at St. Mary’s High School, said seeing her son ordained a priest gave her a combined sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, and peace.
“I felt a sense of accomplishment because I was well aware of my role in making sure that my son followed Christ wherever he was called – and a sense of satisfaction because it gives me great joy to see Robert giving himself completely to the Lord in this way,” Salgado said. “And finally, peace, because even though I know I must continue to pray for him and support him, he could not be in better hands – the hands of Jesus and Mama Mary.”
She continued, “As I saw his hand pointing to the bread and wine and heard him say the words of consecration, I said, ‘Oh my goodness, he is a priest now!’ Seeing Father Robert celebrate the Mass actually gave me a great and serene sense of belonging for him. I felt he was exactly where he needed to be and that he fit there perfectly.”
A recent graduate of the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago with a master of divinity degree, Tito is stationed at Siena College, where his primary role is with the chaplain’s office and sacramental ministries. He assists with student-athlete academic and spiritual advisement, campus ministry, interfaith outreach, and programming and mentoring at the Damietta Cross-Cultural Center.
Born in Florida, he spent his formative years in Germany, where his father was stationed with the U.S. Air Force. Before joining the Franciscan formation program, Tito – whose parents both grew up in Puerto Rico – worked in fitness and other private-sector jobs. He joined the Franciscans in 2011, made his first profession in 2013, and professed his solemn vows in Aug. 2019.
Tito is a “great addition” to the Siena campus, according to Mark, guardian of the college’s St. Bernardine Friary.
“His easy-going nature coupled with his habit of getting around campus on his skateboard draws students into conversation with him,” said Mark. “His enthusiasm for our Franciscan life has him taking the lead in redeveloping a vocation program on campus.”
When it was announced on the college website this summer that Tito would be the newest addition to the Siena Friary, staff member Sarah Sivertson said, “We are very fortunate to have Br. Tito. He will be an asset to our Student-Athlete Support Services group… dedicated to helping student-athletes succeed both academically and spiritually.”
Looking forward to his return next week to the Siena campus, Tito said, “I want to grow in my religious priesthood. There are many things I would like to do in the future – perhaps go to a foreign mission. I would really like the opportunity to work in Cuba. Who knows what the future holds?”
In June of this year, another Holy Name Province member, Abraham Joseph, OFM, was ordained to the priesthood. Several more HNP friars are working toward ordination in 2021.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.
- “Two Friars Profess Solemn Vows” – Sept. 11, 2019, HNP Today
- “Internship at Greenville Parish Prepares Student Friar for Profession” – Aug. 13, 2019, HNP Today
- “Holy Name Province to Unify with Five other Franciscan Provinces” – May 30, 2018, HNP Today
- “Post-novitiate Community Settles into Chicago” – Jan. 18, 2017, HNP Today