BOYNTON BEACH | Despite restrictions of gathering in groups due to COVID-19, thousands of people came together virtually to witness men answering God’s call to religious life these past weeks. These ceremonies gave Catholics, as well as others, quarantined at home, joy, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Technology opened the closed doors of St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary Chapel in Boynton Beach April 25, 2020, as viewers from around the state witnessed the ordination of 13 men from the dioceses of Florida. The Diocese of Palm Beach’s own Alain Waterman was ordained a deacon by Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami.
On May 2, 2020, viewers virtually joined Nicholas Zrallack and Robinson Aza Quetamá of the Diocese of Palm Beach as they were ordained to the priesthood during closed ceremonies at the Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola in Palm Beach Gardens. Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito was the main celebrant of the Mass with ordination rites.
Students were encouraged to virtually attend the ordinations, as well. Many offered their well-wishes from afar by creating cards for the two new priests.
Isabel Gonzales, a student at Cardinal Newman High School in West Palm Beach, watched the ordination with her family. “Congratulations on your ordination,” she wrote in her card to now Father Aza Quetamá . “I am sorry people could not come to see you ordained, but I know you will do an amazing job serving God and your church,” said the ninth grader. “My family and I will be praying for you, and we wish you all the best.”
The Florida Catholic interviewed Father Zrallack and Father Aza Quetamá from quarantine at their seminaries, at which they have been isolated for nearly two months. Regardless, they were excitedly anticipating beginning their missions as priests.
MEET Father Zrallack
Father Zrallack began his vocation journey to the priesthood at St. Anastasia Church in Fort Pierce, where he was baptized, attended school and first heard the call of God.
“I first had a desire for the priesthood when I was in second grade,” he said. “That desire remained a part of who I was as I grew up.”
Father Zrallack first stepped into the sanctuary when he was a young boy as an altar server. His parish involvement continued through his teen years, and then, into his young adult life, taking on added responsibilities as a lector, altar server coordinator, sacristan, choir member and head of media ministry.
Graduating from John Carroll High School in 1995, he entered the University of Central Florida in Orlando to pursue a teaching career. He earned his bachelor’s degree and then received a master’s degree in education from Florida Atlantic University.
He ventured into teaching in the St. Lucie County public school system, moving up the ladder into professional development helping teachers learn technology in the classroom and serving as a curriculum director.
All the while he remained “closely connected to my faith,” he said. He sometimes doubted his purpose in life and the vocation he selected, however.
“I attended a Come and See weekend at the seminary to determine if that was indeed what God desired for me.” As part of the program, he toured the seminar, talked to seminarians and heard testimonies of others on journeys to join the Lord’s priesthood.
The road to seminary finally began after he had a conversation with his parish priest. “I had a pivotal conversation with my pastor, Father Richard George,” he said. “He approached me with the typical ‘I’m going to ask you about considering priesthood’ in his eyes. However, this time was different. Instead of telling me to consider the priesthood, he joked and said that I didn’t need to worry about considering the priesthood any longer. At this point, I was probably too old.”
Those strong words stunned Father Zrallack — he was getting older. “God had never stopped calling me. I was just not ready to hear his voice,” he said.
Father Zrallack then applied to the seminary and was accepted for the Diocese of Palm Beach. In August 2016, he entered Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Massachusetts, an institute for men over 30. There he completed four years of theology studies.
When asked about his last months at the seminary on lockdown due to the pandemic crisis, Father Zrallack said that the weeks in quarantine have been a time of opportunities and blessings. The seminarians in the self-contained community have taken on duties because outside staff are not allowed on campus with safety measures in place. “These past few months have become a type of service-directed retreat. It’s been amazing.”
He also shared his thoughts about beginning his new ministry in the midst of the pandemic, something the seminary didn’t specifically prepare him for, but is ready to face joyfully. “I believe the formation that I received has opened my heart to service. What that service will be and how God will continue to shape my ministry is part of the joy of the journey. I don’t know what it will be or how it will look, yet I trust that the Holy Spirit will guide me along the way.”
What about remaining distant from his family and friends? Were they upset not being able to be with him at the ordination, his big day? “While I know that many of them would have preferred to participate in the ordination at the cathedral, they have generously responded with joy at the prospect of supporting me virtually. It’s not about me. Their loving response to join me in the ordination through the screen rather than in person bears witness to their faithful acceptance of God’s will. They are the true heroes of the faith. I am humbled by their witness.”
When asked to share words of inspiration or a special message with people in quarantine, Father Zrallack stated that we are not alone in isolation. “God is constantly working in our lives. He is always journeying with us even when we fail to recognize him. Look for how God is working in your life. Celebrate the beauty of God in every moment.”
Father Aza Quetamá
Father Aza Quetamá reflected on his long journey to the priesthood explaining that the Holy Spirit has been stirring in his heart ever since he can remember.
“My process has been with a series of blessings that started in my home with the first prayers that my parents taught me,” he said. “The other special moments were when I was baptized, received the Holy Eucharist for the first time and my confirmation. I was blessed to be able to join the different groups in my parish and to experience the great example and commitment of the priests. Those events were the ones that shaped me into the person I am today.”
Father Aza Quetamá was born in Cali, located in southwest Colombia. He comes from a large Catholic household of six children. His parents brought him, his three sisters and two brothers to Mass at St. Mark of Lion, their local church, just a short walk from their home. His father was active in the parish, always helping whenever the church held a festival or procession. At home, his father led the family in prayer. “Prayer was the best thing he left me with,” Father Aza Quetamá shared.
As a young boy, he found himself drawn to parish life. He served at the altar, in the sacristy and with the office staff. He enjoyed attending youth rallies and praise and worship services, and spent time in prayer during gatherings dedicated to various saints.
The priests from Boise, Idaho who visited his parish on a mission trip greatly impacted him through their witness of faith and service. When one of the priests suggested that he consider the priesthood, it took him by surprise.
“I was a teenager. I wanted a job,” he explained. “I wasn’t ready. I wanted to serve at the parish and to grow.”
Teenage years went by and Father Aza Quetamá continued to serve in parish life. He also began to work different jobs, becoming a social worker, lining up housing and occupational opportunities for those in need. All along, he continued to take part in parish ministries, drawing the attention of his spiritual director, who one day presented the vocation question again.
Would he say “yes” to going through a discernment period about becoming a priest? Father Aza Quetamá agreed and began several years of soul searching.
“I came to America in 2002,” he said. “I settled here in the diocese. My first home parish was Holy Cross in Indiantown.”
He joined the Diocese of Palm Beach’s formation program that year, starting on his path of discovery and continued discernment. He studied at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami and graduated in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy.
“After graduation, I took some time off because my father’s health was deteriorating,” he said. “I requested a leave of absence from the diocese and it was granted to me. I went back to Colombia to be with my father who years later passed away.”
He returned to the United States to finish his studies at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary. As part of formation, he served his pastoral year at St. Paul of the Cross Parish in North Palm Beach, where he said he had “a beautiful experience” and met many “phenomenal people.”
When asked about his last months quarantined at St. Vincent de Paul Seminary, Father Aza Quetamá said it has been a time of mixed emotions. “During this historical moment for everybody, and for me here in the seminary, there were three feelings: joy, sadness and hope,” he said. “Joy because I felt all the time God’s presence in his word, in the Eucharist, in brother seminarians, in the priests, faculty and, most importantly, in the presence of the people of God, who were with us in prayer as a family and community.”
He shared that he felt the pain of sadness because of all those who died and are dying from this pandemic, as well as for their families and those who have lost their jobs.
“The last feeling is hope. Hope in knowing that the Lord keeps his promises and is faithful. He is with us and will never abandon us.”
When asked about his family and friends not being able to attend his ordination, Father Aza Quetamá said that family members were watching virtually. “Of course, nobody wanted it like this, but I truly believe that love surpasses all things and the love of Christ and the strength of the Holy Spirit united us, because God is good.”
Father Aza Quetamá’s ordination was 18 years in the making. “I could say that God was working on me in his time, in his moment. God knows the moment of the harvest. What we need is to be open to his will.”
Father Zrallack’s and Father Aza Quetamá’s ordination was shared via Facebook Live on the Diocese of Palm Beach’s Facebook page @DiocesePB and through a live feed on diocesepb.org. You can watch the ordination service on demand on diocesepb.org/may-2020-masses. To learn more about the Office of Vocations, visit diocesepb.org/vocations and follow the office on Facebook @pbvocations.