Altered plans

Deacon Jonathan Dizon stands with his goddaughter, Rebekah  Marie Serio, this Easter at  the  St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center in Lawrence. He will be ordained to the priesthood in May. Photo courtesy of Kati Serio.

Deacon Jonathan Dizon stands with his goddaughter, Rebekah Marie Serio, this Easter at the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center in Lawrence. He will be ordained to the priesthood in May. Photo courtesy of Kati Serio.

Jonathan Dizon thought he had it all figured out — then God stepped in 

by Joe Bollig

KANSAS CITY, Kan.  — You can make all the life and career plans you want. Sometimes, God has a better idea.

Like moving you 8,100 miles away to another country and making you a priest.

That’s what happened to Deacon Jonathan Reyes Dizon, 38. When he left his native Manila to come to Kansas in 2002, he had two things on his mind: 1) getting an education; 2) getting married.

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann will ordain Deacon Dizon and three other men to the priesthood at 10:30 a.m. on May 23 at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood.

Deacon Dizon was born into a devout Catholic family in Manila, Republic of the Philippines. His parents sent him to the Claret School of Quezon City, a Catholic boys’ school operated by the Claretian Missionaries. Although he was an altar server, he had no thoughts about himself becoming a priest.

After graduating from high school in 1993, he entered the University of the Philippines and graduated with a bachelor’s of science in applied physics in 1998. He also became involved in a charismatic group.

After graduation, he became an instructor, but realized that he needed to further his education to advance his career.

“A lot of people asked me, ‘How did you end up in Kansas?’,” said Deacon Dizon. “Well, back in the Philippines, I was already a junior faculty [member] in a college. In the Philippines, you don’t need an advanced degree to teach, so I taught undergraduate classes.”

His department head there was a graduate of the University of Kansas and had been contacted by his former adviser at KU. The KU adviser — offering assistantships — was recruiting bright Filipino students.

“My girlfriend was already [at KU],” said Deacon Dizon. “An assistantship had been offered the previous year and she took it. When the chance came again, I thought it was God’s plan for me to study abroad and be with my girlfriend. We’d be under the same program and adviser. I took it as a sign from God.”

So, Deacon Dizon entered the University of Kansas in 2002. Eventually, he and his girlfriend decided to marry. Everything was coming together as planned.

“When engaged, you have very deep conversations with each other,” said Deacon Dizon. “And, in one of our conversations, I found out she no longer wanted to be Catholic.”

That revelation resulted in the couple breaking up and a tough couple of years for him — especially since they still shared an adviser and the same classes. Eventually, Deacon Dizon himself stopped going to Mass.

“After two years, I felt I could not go on living like this, this pathetic life,” he said. “I felt like I needed to turn things around, so I started going to Mass. That’s when my involvement in the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center started.”

He attended theology classes, went on retreats and began spiritual direction with Sister Elena Morcelli of the Apostles of the Interior Life.

His faith became reinvigorated and challenged.

“I thought I already knew everything, but apparently I did not,” he said.

He began to go to daily Mass, established a more stable and frequent prayer life, went to confession more often and attended eucharistic adoration. Finally, he attended a Samuel Group for vocational discernment. He also talked with Father Mitchel Zimmerman, the archdiocesan vocations director, and visited a seminary.

“I fell in love with the Eucharist,” said Deacon Dizon. “That’s when I think the call started getting to me. I felt drawn to the priesthood.”

But a question nagged him. What about all those years he spent studying? Would his degrees mean anything if he became a priest? Was it all a waste?

“One of the fruits of my spiritual direction and discernment was [the realization] that it doesn’t matter where you are in life when you enter the priesthood,” he said. “All your past experiences — who you are at the time of your ordination — is your gift to God. I have to trust God will use who I am in the ministry to the church. There is nothing wasted in my life. All the things I became at this point will be used by God in any way he wants.”

Dizon applied for the seminary one semester before he graduated with a doctorate in physics in 2009. He wanted to be a priest in Kansas.

“Why did I apply for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas? Part of it is — at the time I was discerning — I felt God had led me to this place and called me to this place,” said Deacon Dizon. “I felt I received my call [here] and God was directing me to serve the people where I had been called. This is where I’m called to be. This is where I am needed.”

Deacon Dizon went to Kenrick- Glennon Seminary in St. Louis from 2011 to 2015. He was ordained a deacon on May 17, 2014, at Curé of Ars Parish in Leawood.

Although his father is recovering from a stroke and will not be able to attend his priestly ordination, his mother and youngest brother will be there to represent the family.

Father Scott Wallisch, the archdiocesan vocations director, is looking forward to Deacon Dizon joining the presbyterate.

“Deacon Jonathan Dizon is a man with a profound love for Christ, his church and his priesthood,” said Father Wallisch. “He is very intelligent and is highly educated. There are a lot of people who intellectually challenge our priests, seeking answers to deep questions, and Deacon Jonathan is prepared for those challenges.”

“Although very smart, he is also very relatable and approachable,” Father Wallisch added. “He has a good sense of humor and a personality that puts people at ease.”

Personally Speaking: Jonathan Reyes Dizon

Age: 38

Birthplace: Manila, Philippines Parents: Jaime A. Dizon, Susana R. Dizon

Siblings: Jose Mari R. Dizon, John Jo- seph R. Dizon

Current home parish: St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center, Lawrence

Favorite TV/Online show: “24” and “Fringe”

Favorite social networking tool: Facebook

Breviary: old school dead tree or high tech digital (and why)?: I own both. I like the traditional breviary because they are ordered for that particular end/purpose (which is for celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours). I also have an iBreviary app on my phone so that in case I am not carrying my breviary and I need to pray, then I have no excuse. Favorite musical genre or group/per- son: Acoustic music / Boyce Avenue (from YouTube)

My brush with a person famous/infamous: While I was a teaching assistant at KU, I had to teach laboratory classes in physics. Tyrel Reed (former KU basketball player) had to sit in in two of my classes when his normally scheduled laboratory time would conflict with an away game.

Favorite saint: St. Lorenzo Ruiz (protomartyr of the Philippines)

Favorite Bible passage/book (and why): “You did not choose me, but I have chosen you” (Jn 15:16). This passage was very instrumental in my vocational discernment.

Book now reading: “The School of Christian Perfection” by St. Alphonsus Liguori

Favorite food: Filipino food

But never feed me: Fish in a broth

Favorite childhood toy: Charlie Brown stuffed toy

Favorite place in the world: Tropical beaches in the Philippines

Best job I’ve had: College physics instructor

Worst job I’ve had: None that I would consider.

Hobbies/things I like to do: Photography, playing guitar, listening to music, watching movies/TV shows/sports, basketball (real and video game), sleeping

If I were loading the ark, I’d be sure to bring: All the endangered species.

What I’d talk about if Pope Francis called me: Ask about his visit to the Philippines

Qualities I admire in priests I know: Joy, fidelity and pastoral charity

Best advice I’ve received: Trust your unknown future to a known God.

My advice to anyone seeking their vocation: Ultimately, God desires your happiness. You owe it to yourself to find out if your happiness lies in the priesthood.

What I’m looking forward to as a priest: Celebrating the sacraments and liturgy

High school: Claret School of Quezon City, Philippines, class of 1989

Any other higher education: University of the Philippines Los Banos (B.S. in applied physics, 1998); University of Kansas (M.S. in physics, 2006); University of Kansas (Ph.D. in physics, 2009) Seminary: Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, (B.A. in philosophy, 2011); Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, (M.A./M.Div. in theology, 2015)

About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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