By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published July 22, 2010
Father Mario Lopez looks back fondly at his different pastoral experiences during seminary, but one is near to his heart.
It was at the South Mountain Restoration Center, close to Mount St. Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md. By visiting with the senior citizen residents, with their various illnesses and disabilities, he saw a vital ministry.
“I had the opportunity to understand better the importance of the ministry of the sick,” he said.
Visiting the sick is a service he intends to embrace as a parochial vicar at Sacred Heart Basilica, Atlanta.
Born in Colombia, South America, the 33-year-old is one of two sons. At 16, Father Lopez said he was certain his vocation was to serve the church as a priest. Two years later, he and his seminary leader agreed that he should take a break and pursue a college degree away from the seminary. He earned an industrial engineering degree in 2003.
“I have many good memories as well from jobs I held along the way—working in restaurants, clothing stores, and eventually as an engineer after I graduated. All during this time I felt something was missing,” he said.
He heard about the needs of clergy in Atlanta from a priest friend. He arrived here in 2004 and began to learn English. He entered Mount St. Mary Seminary in 2005 and graduated with a master’s in divinity in 2009. He spent the past year serving at St. Vincent de Paul Church, Dallas.
Father Adrian Pleus, the pastor at the Dallas church, called Father Lopez a “very compassionate man.” He got to know the new priest when he served as a transitional deacon.
“He worked a lot with the Spanish-speaking and English-speaking communities,” he said.
Father Lopez said he brings a gentle understanding of people to his priestly ministry.
“I am very pastoral and compassionate with people, especially toward all those who suffer physically and psychologically. Finally, I am approachable, which people understand as a sweet personality,” he said.
When he isn’t serving people, Father Lopez said he likes to relax with hiking, tennis and enjoying music.
A place he’d like to minister in is hospitals and nursing homes. His favorite class in seminary was medical morality, so serving in that environment would be rewarding, he said.
An area he wants to focus on improving is his language skills. The native Spanish speaker said he realizes he needs to be a better speaker to be an effective spiritual leader. He wants people to focus on what he is saying, not how he says it.
“I realize that there is more that unites us as a human family than divides us and that, although language can be a barrier, we help each other to communicate not only with words but also with the living word of God that resides in every heart,” he said.