By Chaelee Park,
Archbishop Mitty High School, ‘20
My earliest memories in the Church include sitting around Monsignor Fran at the foot of the altar during his homilies, gathering with all of the other children at Sunday Mass.
Monsignor Cilia instilled a sense of church community in me and has impacted my life in various ways, just as he has influenced the lives of so many people in our community.
Monsignor Cilia was born in San Francisco, the eldest of twelve children. By the time he was three years old, he was already the oldest of four, none of his siblings being twins. Because his father was often working and his mother was always caring for young children, he held many responsibilities in his family, from cooking to watching his brothers and sisters. Just a block away from his childhood home was his neighborhood church and Catholic school, where he attended daily Mass before school. As a Catholic household, his parents found it very important to attend Mass as a family every Sunday. “The church was presented as a friendly force in our lives.”
Due to the influence of his family, Monsignor Cilia felt a desire to become a priest at a young age. In sixth grade, he attended a retreat in Santa Barbara for the Franciscans. Despite the wishes of his father, who had been raised by Franciscans, Monsignor Cilia soon realized that the Franciscan life was not for him. Two years later, he took the test for the diocesan seminary and entered the seminary as a Freshman in high school. When he left home, his father said, “remember, you can always come back. If this isn’t for you, there are other high schools closer to home, and we’d be happy to send you there.”
Monsignor Cilia’s desire to enter the priesthood was cultivated by his parents, “who fostered a vocation; they did not force one.”
At the seminary, Monsignor Cilia lived among 200 other boys, all 14 to 18 years old. There, he was restricted under a strict schedule. “When the bell rang at seven, we got up, went straight to morning prayer and breakfast. We had mass at 11:30, lunch, and some free time. After that, we had classes and dinner, and at night, we studied until lights were out at 11:00.” Although conditions were somewhat strict, the seminary ultimately helped shape Monsignor Cilia in his faith and strengthened his resolve to become a priest. He realized that his true calling was to act as the hands and feet of God by administering to the people. Seeing the struggle of “brothers and sisters in their sixth year of college who did not know what they wanted to do,” Monsignor Cilia was very grateful that he had a concrete idea of the path he was walking. In May 1979, he was ordained as a priest for the Archdiocese of San Francisco and eventually joining the Diocese of San Jose when it was formed in 1981.
Throughout the years, Monsignor Cilia has undoubtedly become a cornerstone in our diocese, currently serving as the Vicar General and the Vicar for Clergy. He truly enjoys all aspects of being a priest. Although his role in diocesan administration is quite different than that of a parish priest, his great joy still remains celebrating Mass. “If I were to think of anything that were pulled out that would ruin my life, one would be the Eucharist, the other would be the ability to minister to people.” Along with Eucharist, Mass, and prayer, the hope that he is helping people in our community truly sustains him as a priest.
Reflecting on his favorite aspects of being a priest, Monsignor Cilia reminisces on memories he has with parishioners in our diocese. “It’s really touching when people say, ‘we have your picture on the refrigerator from Confirmation or First Communion.’ I mean, how many people’s albums am I in? I’m doing weddings for the kids of people that I married 39, 40 years ago.” Celebrating his 39th ordination anniversary this year, Monsignor Cilia has been part of hundreds of milestone events in parishioners’ lives, always bringing joy and warmth in his presence. Without a doubt, Monsignor Cilia tremendously impacted the lives of so many people in our diocese.
My conversation with Monsignor Cilia helped me to understand that God truly has a plan for every single one of us. From a young age, Monsignor Cilia was guided to the Church and developed in his faith, which eventually led him to priesthood. Because God led him to the religious life, he has been able to live out his passion for administering to the church community and affect parishioners through his profound homilies and compassionate deeds. Just as God led Monsignor Cilia to his intended purpose in life, God desires to guide all of us to the roles that we are meant to fulfill.
The Valley Catholic Young Journalists Group is a team of high school journalists. If you have stories that you would like to share, or would like to join the group, please contact Justin Chung at firstname.lastname@example.org.