Justin Chung ’19
This is the fifth in a series of interviews conducted by Justin Chung. Justin is a junior at Bellarmine College Preparatory and an active parishioner at Holy Korean Martyrs Parish.
Knowledge is one quality that certainly asserts itself among the many strengths of Father Engel Gammad. He studied eight years of theology; four years of philosophy at multiple universities in the Philippines, and after his ordination, proceeded to study canon law for six years at the University of Navarra in Spain where he received his master’s and doctorate degree. It is safe to say that his education has guided him through priesthood.
During his teenage years in the Philippines, Father Gammad attended a seminary high school. The school ran a strict system that enforced discipline and prayer, a practice that Father Gammad credits to helping him become a better person. A typical day consisted of a 5:30 a.m. wake-up call, a short meditation in the chapel until morning Mass began at 6:15 a.m., breakfast at 7 a.m., classes from 8 a.m.-noon, and then another session of classes from 1-4 p.m.
By 4:30 p.m., students were obliged to engage in physical activity offered through a variety of sports. From 6-7 p.m. a silent study period was enforced. At 7:30 p.m., dinner was served and by 8 p.m., students were free for 30 minutes to socialize. When the bell rang at 8:30 p.m., students went to their dorms and prepared themselves for bed. At that time, everything needed to be done in silence since the day was over and there was always a priest who made sure that rule was enforced. The final bell rang at 9 p.m., indicating that all students had to be in bed.
Despite the stringent culture, Father Gammad loved his high school experience. “High school life was the best life. Those were the times I developed real friendships and I encountered people of my age. We enjoyed… going hiking, studying… doing a lot [of things] together: played together, prayed together, and studied together. High school was a time when I discovered a lot of things in life and when I started to think more seriously about what I should become. The best of high school was the whole of the formation. I loved it.”
Father Gammad’s experiences in the seminary certainly influenced and played a large role in his calling to the priesthood. “Little by little as I was in the seminary I embodied everything that was taught … all of this helped me decide to become a priest.”
As a young man, Father Gammad was attracted to the ministry because he desired to serve people in a different way and do something great; he wanted to make a difference. After high school, he advanced to study theology for four years. In looking back on this experience, Father Gammad reflects that, “I observed and I’ve seen how things are in the Church. I observed how the people live and how these people help the priest become what he should become and I said to myself, ‘I feel in my heart I’m called to serve these people and live the life of a priest.’ ”
Father Gammad’s final discernment occurred during a self-directed retreat where he had an opportunity to reflect and make sure that his current position was God’s will. “I went back from the time when I was a child to elementary school, high school, college, and then I looked at my relationships with my family, my Church, and myself and how I relate[d] to people. I saw the connection of all the events in my life that lead me to where I was at that moment when I was deciding and I saw that there was a pattern. I said, ‘This is where God wants me to be’ and without a doubt I knew that God had chosen me to become a priest.”
Subsequently, Father Gammad went on to study philosophy for four years and then theology for another four years. On May 24, 1984, he was ordained a priest in the Philippines.
After serving in the Philippines for ten years, Father Gammad’s diocese sent him to study canon law. He was sent to Spain to study at the University of Navarra and received his master’s and doctorate degrees after six years. “[It] was one of the most beautiful experiences I had as a priest because I had a chance to live in Europe … to be trained in Europe is quite different. The university system is different and [so is] the mentality of the Europeans, so that helped me in my training.”
From a young man who was molded by education from seminary school, to studying for 12 years in the Philippines and an additional six in Spain, Father Gammad’s passion for learning lead him towards the priesthood and provided guidance and determination.
Father Gammad moved to Los Angeles, initially assigned to go from parish to parish asking for mission appeal for churches in the Philippines. He decided to move to San Jose in 2005 seeking a more peaceful and quiet environment. He served for two years at Holy Family and served another two years as the assistant pastor at Saint Clare Parish in Santa Clara. Then, he became a judge at the Tribunal of the Diocese of San Jose from 2008-2014. Since July of 2015, he has been the Pastor at Saint Joseph Parish, Mountain View.
Father Gammad has been a priest for 33 years. He finds sustenance in celebrating Mass and in the Holy Eucharist, “The Mass makes me see things from the perspective of Christ. It’s extraordinary because it’s a sacrament … It unites heaven and earth … For 33 years I’ve been doing that and I cannot think of a Mass I have not enjoyed. It sustains me. What makes me strong in the ministry is the Holy Eucharist and I always like to share that with everyone because I know that it is laypeople’s strength as well. When you are close to Jesus no matter what happens in good times and bad you feel you are not alone. You feel that there’s God and Jesus helping you go through all those difficulties… And that’s exactly what I feel. I think a lot of laypeople have the same experience, people who come to Mass everyday. I ask and they say the same thing, ‘Father, we get strength from the Mass.’ That’s the mystery of it and I tell you, I love it. For 33 years it’s been a beautiful experience.”