Parish community steps up to support their priest

Friday, Jul. 31, 2020
Parish community steps up to support their priest + Enlarge
By Laura Vallejo
Intermountain Catholic

SALT LAKE CITY — After hearing the news that their parish priest had the challenge of his brother needing a kidney transplant due to his battle against stage 4 cancer, the St. Ann Parish community decided to raise funds to help pay the bills.
This came about after the day that Fanny Vernal, the St. Ann Parish secretary, asked Fr. Omar Ontiveros how his brother was doing. 
“When I asked him, his faced collapsed – you could see how he was suffering,” she said.
Besides his personal worries for his brother’s health, Fr. Ontiveros was dealing with the responsibility of all the expenses for his brother health care, as well as for the surgery that he needed.
Vernal approached Deacon Robert Cowlishaw to brainstorm ideas about how to support Fr. Ontiveros.
“There was just a natural desire to support him when we heard that he has a brother with stage 4 kidney cancer,” said Deacon Cowlishaw, who set up a GoFundMe account to help with the surgery expenses.
The account is now closed, but when it first opened the parish community immediately started contributing, Deacon Cowlishaw said.
“He [Fr. Ontiveros] was very humbled by it. ... There was almost a reservation on his side but at the end he accepted it,” Deacon Cowlishaw said.
Supporting each other is important, especially nowadays, because “we are all just one body,” Vernal said.
When it comes down to the priests, “they are here alone,” Deacon Cowlishaw said, and the fundraising effort “was telling Father, ‘we have our family and we have you and we want you to know that we see you and we are with you.’”
In these trying times, the risk that Fr. Ontiveros puts himself in every day on the front line of the pandemic doesn’t go unnoticed. 
“Not only is he navigating the complexities of the parish through these times, he is also having to deal with the next wave of his brother’s disease,” Deacon Cowlishaw said. “Seeing him doing his ministry, you see the authenticity of what he does, and we could only respond to that by doing whatever we can do to help him.”
Vernal added that she admires Fr. Ontiveros’ determination and perseverance in his ministry.
“It is tough to do ministry in these conditions, but Father keeps on going, motivating us, inspiring us, being a good shepherd,” she said.
Recently, Fr. Ontiveros drove to his hometown in Sonora, Mexico to be with his brother. After arriving, he learned that his brother’s surgery had to be postponed because he had tested positive to COVID-19.
Now back in Utah, Fr. Ontiveros put himself in quarantine as a precautionary measurement, but even in his self-imposed isolation he has kept his ministry going, by doing it online.
“There is a lot of emotions; a lot of people wanted to help him, and they did,” Deacon Cowlishaw said.
The parish helping each other has been a remarkable sign that the community is stronger together, Vernal said.
“Being a community, leaving selfishness aside, shows how we are all in this together and that together we will overcome the challenges that are being thrown our way,” said Vernal, thanking St. Ann’s community for their example of being disciples.

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