Deacon Sean Raphael Jacob under going diaconate ordination rites at Cristo Rei Parish in Misssissauga. Photo from Deacon Sean Raphael Jacob

‘Pope Sean Paul’ on path to childhood dream

  • March 16, 2023

Deacon Sean Raphael Jacob first felt the priesthood could be in his future during a family vacation to Rome as a young child.

He approached the historic Trevi Fountain with a coin in his hand. The celebrated myth of this landmark is that if you toss one coin in the fountain you are guaranteed a return trip to the “Eternal City.” Pope John Paul II loomed large in young Jacob’s mind as he threw the coin, having met the pontiff the preceding day. 

Jacob, a native of Mumbai, India, told his mother he would be returning to Rome one day because he would be named pope. He even envisioned adopting the papal name of Pope Sean Paul. 

“I can’t really say what drew me to Pope John Paul II at that time, but my guess would be just his presence because that is all that I knew about him,” said the 31-year-old in his final semester of studies at Toronto’s St. Augustine’s Seminary.  

Jacob moved with his family from India to Nairobi, Kenya, before immigrating to Mississauga, Ont., in 2001. 

His parents instilled in their family a commitment to faith. They attended Mass, and each day the family would assemble for a prayer of protection before each walked out the door to broker their day, and each night communally pray the rosary. 

As he navigated through high school and most of his bachelor of arts studies at the University of Toronto Mississauga, Jacob admitted his faith “felt like going through motions,” and that “it lost quite a lot of meaning for a while.”

There were two key events that brought Jacob into closer communion to God. The first was World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid, Spain. When Jacob departed for Spain that August, the then 20-year-old said he had no grand designs of experiencing a spiritual transformation. 

“I wasn’t going to World Youth Day with the intention to have a personal encounter with Christ,” said Jacob. “I was just going there to travel and have fun. But I did experience God (during adoration). That really caused a shift. I started attending daily Mass and praying the rosary. It was the foundation of how I started my own spiritual life.”

The second major formative event for Jacob was volunteering at the Archdiocese of Toronto’s Totus Tuus program. This initiative recruits around 20 young Catholic leaders who are keen on discovering the vocational path God has in mind for them. These young adults devote a month to training and formation before they go forth to evangelize the Gospel to children by running a parish summer camp. 

“One of the great core principles of the camp is being open to vocations,” said Jacob. “I knew it was important for me to understand that I could just say, ‘Lord, call me to whatever you want me to be called even if it isn’t necessarily something I may want in that moment or think I want.’ ”

Jacob added it was also revelatory to be immersed in an environment surrounded by people his age who were “deep in their faith” and displayed “such zeal and joy.”

It appeared that Jacob was inspiring in his own right to his fellow student leaders and adult mentors. Multiple people approached him that summer to suggest he ought to consider the priesthood. Fr. Chris Lemieux, vocations director for the archdiocese at the time, urged Jacob to contemplate becoming a priest. In the moment Jacob expressed that he was not interested as he had an interest in finding love, getting married and starting a family. 

Discerning the will of the Holy Spirit, he came to the conclusion that becoming a priest would afford him a rich life of love. 

“I realized that I could work with these kids for a short time knowing I might not ever see them again, but still totally give myself to them and love them as I do my own parents and brother. That was eye-opening for me. I learned priesthood is giving yourself totally over to the parishioners.”

He discerned some more and ultimately decided to enter the seminary in September 2016. In Jacob’s speech at the 2023 Ordinandi Dinner on March 9, he characterized his St. Augustine’s Seminary journey as the seven “most fulfilling and challenging years where I was able to grow in love for this vocation, create lasting friendships and equip myself to begin serving.”

Jacob and his Ordinandi class have forged a very strong bond through prayer, academic work, sharing meals, living together and having fun. He credits the support of his classmates for helping him navigate his St. Augustine’s journey. 

Jacob also credits the seminarians from the older classes for imparting wisdom in the early days and helping him acclimatize to structured, communal seminary life. Fr. Michael Corpus, vice-rector at St. Augustine’s, was one such mentor.  

Corpus, who said Jacob “is a really fun, great guy,” views his friend as a man who will connect powerfully with parishioners. 

“I think what is so relatable about Deacon Sean is that he is a man who experienced a personal conversion even within that mess of (secular culture). This is especially the case for Deacon Sean, he knows the language and the culture of the people and understands he has been set apart by God so that he can draw them towards Jesus.”

For Jacob, he believes the best road he can take in claiming lives for Christ “is by being joyful in how I live out the faith and be authentic. We can show that loving God and being faithful to Him really does fill us with joy.”

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