NOTE: This story originally ran on the Diocese of Owensboro website on April 29, 2015.
By Elizabeth Wong Barnstead | WKC
Owensboro – As a little boy, the future Deacon Basilio Az Cuc viewed priests as the holiest, wisest and most generous people in the whole world.
But growing up in a rural village in Guatemala, young Basilio’s family could not afford many years of school for their twelve children, let alone a seminary education.
Fast-forward to April 18, 2015, when Bishop William F. Medley, ordained Basilio to the transitional diaconate for the Diocese of Owensboro, readying him to be ordained to the diocesan priesthood the following year.
“I’ve come to realize Basilio came to us with an immensity of faith and rare gifts,” said Bishop Medley in his homily, pointing out that compared to a few of Western Kentucky’s other deacons and priests who came from far away, “Basilio is just Southern neighbor.”
Bishop Medley credited the new deacon’s parents for providing their son with the “raw material” already well-developed before beginning his formal seminary studies: “It is a joy, then, that Basilio’s first ‘formation director’ can be here – his mother.”
Sadly, Deacon Az Cuc’s father, who was one of their village’s first catechists, passed away in 2011, but several other relatives were present for the ordination held in St. Stephen Cathedral, Owensboro.
The cathedral itself was packed with faithful of the Owensboro Diocese, all of whom joined Bishop Medley to applaud for Deacon Az Cuc’s mother to thank her for raising her son in the Catholic faith.
“There’s nothing I could have done as bishop, our vocation director could have done, our priests could have done, or St. Meinrad could have done, if you had not begun his formation and begun it so well,” said Bishop Medley.
A few days before his ordination, Deacon Az Cuc explained in an interview that his father had often shared stories of wonderful priests with the children, filling the child Basilio with awe.
“In my childhood, I never dared to think to become a priest,” said Deacon Az Cuc in an interview a few days before his diaconate ordination. “I went to school only for four years. When I was 15 I attended a weekend school – that is how I finished elementary school.”
He was inspired to consider the seminary after a visit from a priest of San José Priory and School in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, which instructs young Guatemalan men aspiring to the priesthood, religious life or service to the Catholic Church.
Deacon Az Cuc’s parents financially helped their son attend three years at San José, but on his last year, Basilio realized it was economically too much for his parents to continue. He decided to quit seminary and go to the United States to find work.
He lived in Alabama with two of his brothers for two and a half years while working in a chicken plant and later in a sock factory: “I longed to go back to the seminary but I knew that I could not go right away. I had to work.”
In Dec. 2004 Basilio visited Br. Andrew Zimmerman at St. Meinrad Archabbey and Seminary, and also met Fr. Andy Garner, then-vocations director of the Diocese of Owensboro. Fr. Garner explained that it was possible for Basilio to become a seminarian for the Owensboro Diocese, and Basilio decided to apply.
Basilio interviewed with Bishop John McRaith in May 2005, and was accepted a month later.
“I was so happy when I learned that I could go back to seminary formation,” he said. “With the support of the diocese I went to a seminary in Sololá, Guatemala.”
There he studied philosophy, geography, academic Spanish, Latin and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In 2006 he continued his seminary courses while attending a weekend school to obtain his high school diploma.
He later transferred to a college seminary in Mexico City, Seminario Hispano de Santa Maria de Guadalupe, where he studied until 2010, and later transferred to St. John Vianney College Seminary in Minnesota, where formation continued and he was able to study English.
After finishing his English courses in 2011, Basilio transferred to St. Meinrad where he has remained for the duration of his studies.
“Many things had happened during these years,” said Deacon Az Cuc. “I have received a lot of blessings from God. I have also found many challenges.”
Deacon Az Cuc says that after God, the person who motivated him the most to consider the priesthood was his father.
“In February 2011, when my father was dying in his bed, I went there to spend two weeks with him, to pray with him, to attend him and just be with him,” said Deacon Az Cuc. “On those days I thanked my father for everything that he gave us, especially for teaching us about the love of God.”
“He just encouraged me to continue following Christ in the seminary,” Deacon Az Cuc added.