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Former Bartender Shares His Not-So-Smooth Sailing Journey To Becoming A Priest

“I learned the art of listening confessions even before I entered the seminary when I was working as a bartender in Manila."

Fr. Fernando “Fernan” Zamora Serrano was not a much-adored or loved child in his younger years. He was introverted, a kind of “leave me alone” person, but a very independent one. His journey to the priesthood came as a surprise, but maybe it is God’s plan for his life.

He was born and raised in Rodriguez (formerly known as Montalban), Rizal and is the eighth in a brood of 12. He left his home town after high school to work for almost nine years to help support her mother’s cancer treatment and medication. 

Entering priesthood was unthinkable for Fernan.. “I really want to become an architect or a painter, after all my namesake is the National Artist – Fernando Amorsolo. I was not a ‘church person’ never been an altar server or member of any church organization or ministry,” he admits.  

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Photo coutesy of subject

While he attended regular Sunday Masses, he fell asleep most of the time or left early because he was exhausted from 12-hour work. “I worked the night shift for years. I was a living vampire then – working at night; sleeping in the morning, attending school in the afternoon. The cross at times can be very heavy.  I was indebted to people who supported me throughout those years,” he says. But this experience prepared him for his life as a priest, he added. 

“I learned the art of listening confessions even before I entered the seminary when I was working as a bartender in Manila,” he says.

Entering the seminary

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Photos coutesy of subject

After the death of his mother, Fr. Fernan began questioning his life choices and his life purpose. 

He was 26 years old when he joined a religious community in Laguna. After a year of being a postulant, he was admitted to “novitiate” on the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Only three persons from his family attended. 

“Sojourn in Laguna was very short. On the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, I was on my way to Rome to continue my seminary formation and studies. It was indeed a wonderful experience. I never ever dream that I will travel almost the entire Italian peninsula,” he says.

After three years in Rome, Fr. Fernan realized that he was not meant to be part of a religious order as he was outspoken. He speaks his mind, always so passionate to tell and uphold what he believed in. He got into trouble many times, even locked horns with the bishops.

Uncertainties

Fr. Fernan went back to the Philippines in June 1995 uncertain of what he will do. He thought of going back to work and continue his secular studies. But on the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, he received the Letter of Admission from the Cardinal Archbishop of Toronto and from Dean of Studies of Saint Augustine’s Seminary! Once again, so once again, Fr. Fernan left the Philippines on the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary to attend an interview– to which he passed so excellently.

“With God through God and in God, everything is possible, and one can be smart. God always ready to provide we have to do our part – to have faith and to entrust oneself in his divine hands,” he shares.

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Photo coutesy of subject

Priestly ordination

In 2001, Fr. Fernan a day before the celebration of Mother’s Day. It was a very simple celebration, which consisted of two boxes of pizza, two bottles of soft drinks, and a roast chicken. The only guest he had was a friend from high school who traveled all the way from New York, a relative from Virginia– who cried all the way from the beginning to the end of the ordination calling the name of the mother.

“I was numbed and just focused on what had to be done [and do it right] that day. Thank God I was told it was indeed a scene. Again with divine providence, all was well,” he says.

His journey as a priest

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Photo coutesy of subject

His first assignment was as an associate pastor at the western pastoral region of the Archdiocese of Toronto. After that, he was assigned for a year in a parish to assist priests with health concerns. He then became the associate pastor at Saint Patrick for almost three years and then to Our Lady Queen of the World where he assisted a priest to come to terms with his psychological battle and to enter his retirement year.

After a year, he was assigned in haste to Saint Joseph Parish to assist another priest with a grave health problem. He was assigned to serve both the English and Italian members of the parish. It was also the year he was given the task to be the Spiritual Director of the Devotees of the Patron of Pampanga.

After a year or so at Saint Joseph, he moved back as associate pastor to Saint Isaac Jogues. He then became the parish administrator of Saint Leo the Great Parish where he oversaw the completion of the parish hall and settlement of financial trouble of the parish. A year after he was once again called to be the pastor of Canadian Martyrs Parish in downtown Toronto.

“I stayed as pastor of Canadian Martyrs Church for eight years.  Years of continuing learning how to be and to become who and what I am today,” he shares.

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