From Venezuela to Vermont
For a time, the needle on Lino Oropeza's personal compass bounced one direction, then another.
Computers felt like his natural calling. His parents had an accounting business in his native Caracas, Venezuela, exposing him to advanced computers at home from early youth. He was programming by age eight.
But enrolling out of high school in a college computer-engineering program proved a wrong turn. Computers were one thing, but math and physics left him cold, so the school invited him to leave. Unfazed, Oropeza partnered with a classmate to launch a computer maintenance, software development and networking business. Quickly he was experiencing "what the world would call success." Good money, job security.
"And still I felt some emptiness," he says. Maybe, his mother suggested, he should return to church, which he'd stopped attending amid the demands of a new business. Oropeza decided maybe she was right, so he got involved at his childhood Caracas parish, Holy Trinity, founded and run, as it so happens, by Edmundites.
When he was 10, Lino had announced to his parents he wanted to be a priest. They'd consulted a psychologist, who determined their son was normal, well-grounded and as serious as a boy his age might be on this topic. But Rev. Ed Dubriske, SSE '60, his pastor, gave solid advice: "Grow up, live your life, go to college and if you still want to be a priest then, come talk to me." Now, returning to church a decade later as an adult, he says, his vocation "came back strong" during a parish retreat's forgiveness ceremony. "I started liking life again," he says.
Another close priest friend told him his vocation sounded legitimate, but he really needed to try full-time service work before going further. Oropeza spent a year running a church-sponsored house for kids from remote villages that needed a place to stay on weeknights so they could go to high school. He loved it, and decided to enter diocesan seminary. The Edmundites had no novitiate then, and therefore weren't recruiting, he says, or he'd have tried that first. But four years of seminary-study later, Oropeza happily heard from Dubriske that the Order would welcome him, along with two other Venezuelans who'd shown interest.
And so, after a year of guided discernment by a spiritual advisor who was neither Edmundite nor diocesan, he joined the others to visit Vermont, meet the community, work on their English in the Advanced Linguistics program and see where it led. The others got homesick and left eventually, but Oropeza felt he'd found his right path. He entered novitiate, took classes to complete a philosophy degree in 2011, and on August 15 this year at St. Anne's Shrine in beautiful Isle LaMotte, on a perfect summer day, took perpetual vows to enter the Society of Saint Edmund.
Fast on his heels is a young American-born novice in earlier stages of Edmundite vows: Michael Carter '12 made his temporary three-year vows at the same August ceremony at the shrine, which is run by the order. Carter was with Oropeza this year at Boston College, also studying for Edmundite priesthood and ordination. "I love it with all my heart, but I also cannot wait to get out after this year and start my ministerial life," Oropeza says, noting how his full-time summer stint in Clinical Pastoral Ministry at Burlington's Fletcher-Allen Health Care taught him things he never could have learned in a classroom.
While Oropeza knows his story is atypical in many respects for a modern Saint Michael's student, he also sees in it many key elements that impact the hearts and careers of every graduate. In each student's case, he says, it's a matter of having found the right place to find your right path by way of strong academics, service to others, an accepting and affirming spiritual climate, and good healthy fun. Oropeza says he's taken up snowboarding with a vengeance thanks to the college's popular low-cost-pass deal with Smuggler's Notch. "Now I love winter," he says. To relax, he'll sometimes play his four-string Venezuelan guitar called a cuatro. In warmer weather you'll find him flying two-string stunt kites as a hobby, his iPod earphones plugged in as he prays and thinks, "just enjoying nature and God's creation."
"It's not only about your major here, but about how that major connects with everybody else and with everything else in your life," he says. "In Venezuela, the computer courses were narrow on one topic but there was no perspective. I think the liberal-studies core at St. Mike's gives you an ample view of the big horizon to know what's going on in the world."