On June 3, Archbishop José H. Gómez will ordain eight new priests for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
The Class of 2023 has heard God calling them through the ups and downs of their professional careers, family lives, and the quiet intimacy of Eucharistic adoration.
In the days leading up to your ordination, we will introduce a new father-to-be. Los Angeles, meet your new priests!
Parish of origin: Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels
Assignment: St. Francis Medical Center, Lynwood (chaplaincy)/St. Raymond Church, Downey
Since his ordination to the diaconate last year, César Galán has had a bit of an identity problem. Is he still brother César? Or the deacon Caesar? Or both?
It’s been an amusing dilemma but of little consequence for Galán, whose life has been grappling with more serious issues.
Galán was born the sixth of eight children. The faith was transmitted to him by his father, who took Galán and his brothers to mass and taught them to say the rosary. But the streets of Artesia, where Galán grew up, offered many temptations but little hope for young men like him.
To keep him off the streets, a friend offered him a job in a warehouse at age 13. Working the night shift every day after school allowed her to buy his own car at age 15, even before she had a driver’s license. When he finished high school, he earned enough money to live alone in a better neighborhood.
The day that all changed was April 3, 2001. After he got off work, he went to hang out in a friend’s backyard “man cave” with a few others. Among them was “one of the boys from the neighborhood” who had just been released from prison, and Galán’s brother, Héctor.
Hector and the man began to argue. They eventually left to continue their discussion in the front yard, but Hector returned to ask his brother for his car keys: “I thought to myself, okay, no problem,” he recalled.
The sound of gunshots rang out moments later. As Galán ran to see what had happened, he nearly collided with the man who had just shot his brother, who was running in the opposite direction. Galán tried to take the gun from her hands. The next thing he knew, he was lying on the pavement, unable to move. He had been hit by two bullets, one in the shoulder and one in the spine.
Looking up, Galan could see the stars in the night sky. Everything looked beautiful. “How come you never noticed this before?” he asked himself.
A moment of peace seized Galán. “I heard a voice deep inside me that said: ‘Don’t be afraid, I’ll be with you always,’” he recalled.
He opened his eyes in a hospital room at St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood two days later, after being heavily sedated for a series of operations. The shot to the spine had left him permanently paralyzed from the waist down.
When she first asked about Hector, family members said he was in the next room, but did not say he was on life support with no chance of survival. After his sister finally told him the full story, Galán asked to see his brother one last time.
The chaplain arranged for him to be taken to Hector’s room while he was still connected to the machines. The two brothers were left face to face, lying in their respective beds. Galan struggled to move his hand to Hector’s. The chaplain brought them together.
“I didn’t say it out loud, but I told him, you know, this is not the end. I told him, ‘One day I’ll close my eyes and when I open them, I know you’ll be there, you’ll be the first to greet me.’ ”
After the death of his brother, Galán began a process of what he called “surrender.” Instrumental in that trip was that chaplain, Brother Richard Hirbe, a friar of the sick poor who had gone to be with Galán and his family the night of the shooting. During his recovery, his friendship helped guide the newly paraplegic Galán back to God, and to a new life as a chaplain.
“He was Jesus to me at the time,” she recalled.
By then, Galán was “in love with Faith.” He decided to go one step further and made his profession of perpetual vows as a friar of the sick poor in 2015 in the chapel of St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, the same hospital where he had been taken that fateful night.
Eventually, Galán began to feel that God was calling him to something more. He struggled with the feeling for two years, telling no one until he finally opened up to his superior. After that, the decision to enter the seminary became easier. But what about his life-changing disability?
“Where there is a will, there is a way”, he likes to reply.
Following his ordination to the priesthood, Galán will become a priest of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles while remaining a member of the religious order. He hopes to split his time between St. Francis, where he will be priest chaplain, and St. Raymond Church in Downey.
Galán, who grew up with the “an eye for an eye” mentality, firmly believes that “we all want that peace. We just don’t know what it is.”
That’s where the lesson of surrender comes in.
“It’s a part of us that humility that says, ‘I’m not God.’ And there is someone who created me who loves me even beyond my wildest imagination.”