CATHOLIC VALUES COLUMNIST
Whether he’s studying, hanging out in the JC Williams Center or meeting students for spiritual direction, Brother Christopher Orante, MIC, approaches all his actions with an animated, joyful spirit.
“It’s just great to be here,” the 34-year-old California native said with a grin as he sat outside of Egan Hall.
A member of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, or Marians for short, Orante has spent four years at Franciscan University of Steubenville — two years for his undergraduate studies and now returning after a short hiatus to continue his theology studies. This semester, he began serving as one of two hall chaplains in St. Junipero Serra Hall.
Orante grew up 30 minutes from Los Angeles and became acquainted with Franciscan through the Steubenville San Diego summer youth conference, although he was never able to attend it himself.
Still, the university remained on Orante’s radar as he looked at college options. Along with Thomas Aquinas College, Franciscan was a consideration for Orante, but he ended up enrolling in California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.
“I think I was too scared to move away from home at the time,” Orante said, reflecting on his decision. “So, I went to the state school to finish my education.”
By this time, he felt the urge to discern the priesthood and decided to study philosophy in preparation for the possibility of seminary. However, studying philosophy at a state school wasn’t exactly great preparation for someone considering seminary, so he “just bounced from major to major.”
But even after a couple years of trying out majors like teaching and Asian-American studies, he didn’t have the passion or desire to finish, partly because he didn’t know what he wanted to do.
“Well, I think I (already) knew what I wanted to do — the priesthood,” Orante said.
While in college, he helped with youth and young adult ministry at his home parish and continued this after leaving college. That’s where he was in 2010, when a friend from his home parish who had joined the Marians was slated to be ordained. Marians have the option of being ordained in their home parish, which his friend chose, leading to a key encounter with his future vocation.
With several Marians in attendance, Orante was pushed by his ordained friend’s mother to meet with the Rev. Don Calloway, MIC, the order’s vocation director. That began a serious discernment process that ended in 2012, when he had to choose between the Archdiocese of Los Angeles or the Marians.
“All doors opened to the Marians,” said Orante. “It felt like home, immediately.”
He entered the community in 2012 and spent the first year in Washington for his novitiate, followed by a year at the Marian’s National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
In 2014, Orante got the news that he would spend the next couple years pursuing a bachelor’s degree in philosophy at Franciscan University.
“I was definitely excited,” he said. “But I tried to be open. I didn’t want to come in with any preconceived notions of things I wanted to do. I wanted to let God bring whatever he wanted to bring to me, and I think it worked out nicely.”
As an undergrad, Orante went on the Chicago spring mission and served on liturgy committee as co-head of readers. His favorite part of being on committee, he said, was serving campus during the Easter Triduum.
After graduating in 2016, he was sent to the Philippines to help at the Marians’ missions there and continue his studies. After eight months, however, he returned to Franciscan to work on a master’s degree in theology. Orante is now also part of the university’s pilot school of spiritual direction and serves as a hall chaplain in Serra Hall.
In addition to his Marian community, Orante has found two more groups with whom he shares community: the other religious on campus and his fellow Pinoys.
Interacting with the other religious, he said, “is like when married couples get together and talk about their kids — we share stories and talk about our respective vocations.” As for his Filipino brethren, “culture is something big for me, and it should be for everyone. It’s been great sharing in that with the other Filipinos.”
But a greater joy for him is being able to tie together his studies in theology and spiritual direction to serve students on campus.
“Taking what I’m learning in the school of spiritual direction and sharing that with students, to accompany someone in their journey of faith, is such a privilege,” he said. “I try to be available to students and let them know I’m here to listen to them and just be present.”