Marvin-Paul Fernandez with a statue of Mary at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Ottawa. Photo courtesy Marvin-Paul Fernandez

Call to religious life has laundry room origins

  • October 1, 2020

Marvin-Paul Fernandez offered the first clue that a vocation to religious life could be in his future back when he was a little boy growing up in Laoag City in the Philippines’ Ilocos Norte province.

When Fernandez’s late great grandmother Natividad Alviedo attended to the laundry, he would delight her with a mini-version of the Catholic Mass.

“She would stand there and smile at me and also deliver the responses like a parishioner,” said the now 26-year-old Fernandez, who emigrated to Canada nine years ago. “I would use a Fita biscuit for the host and Coca-Cola for the wine because it is a similar colour.”

Fernandez was delighted to offer this gift to Alviedo, who died in 2019 at the age of 95, because her love and devotion for her Catholic faith rubbed off on her great-grandson. Alviedo showed him how to pray the rosary, explained Catholic principles and took him to church services.

Alviedo would have been overjoyed with the decision Fernandez made several months ago to discern a religious vocation as a postulant at the Sacred Heart Friary in Chicago. He will experience life as a friar of the St. Bonaventure Province for a year striving to model St. Francis of Assisi.

Fr. Jobe Abbass, the Conventual Franciscan vocations director for the Order of the Friars Minor (OFM), met Fernandez just over three years ago, soon after the St. André Bessette Friary was established in 2017. Fernandez’s parish, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was just down the road from the new order’s dwelling in Ottawa’s Vanier neighbourhood.

Abbass, 68, was quickly impressed by the young man.

“You couldn’t help but meet all those who were super active at the Assumption Parish in Ottawa, and I suppose he was the most active,” said Abbass. “He is the secretary of the parish pastoral council, the liturgy committee chair and he emceed at a lot of our liturgies. He seemed to know a lot. I was impressed from the beginning, and I thought, ‘this is priest material,’ but I didn’t want to push it too much.”

Fernandez’s call to service and curiosity about his faith remained consistent throughout his journey to adulthood. While living in Laoag City, he served as a lector, choir member and altar server. When he began pursuing a Bachelor of Science in nursing at Saint Louis University in Baguio City at 12 years old (this institution offers elementary, secondary, undergraduate and graduate-level courses), he enjoyed the theology courses that complemented his major.

When his mother, Milagros Asuncion, successfully petitioned for her son to come to Canada in late 2011, the soon-to-be 18-year-old wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about giving up his life in the Philippines to live with his mother’s new family. It took time, but Fernandez has ultimately embraced “Canada’s culture of openness.” 

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