Triumph out of tragedy: A Q&A with SJV seminarian Victor Martinez

Victor Martinez is a fourth-year seminarian at Saint John Vianney College Seminary, from the Archdiocese of Chicago.

At the age of 2, he was adopted from Pune, India, by his mother, Winnie, and his father, Tony. Just a few months after the adoption, Martinez lost his father to a brain tumor. Martinez was then raised by his mother, a devout Catholic woman who still lives in Chicago today.

Martinez and several other seminarians came to SJV after St. Joseph’s College Seminary in Chicago was permanently closed in 2019.

Question: Tell us about where you come from, and your vocation story.

Answer: When I was in sixth grade, my pastor recommended a prayer that would change my life. “When the priest lifts the bread and wine and says the words of Consecration, ask the Lord, ‘Is this what you want me to do for the rest of my life?’”

I said the prayer at 4 p.m. Mass that very day. I could not put it into words back then, but after four years of seminary formation, I realized I did not get this big booming voice telling me to go to seminary. Instead, I simply felt at peace and filled with joy. I kept saying that prayer throughout grade school, but once I reached high school, I didn’t want anything to do with the faith. I would go to Mass, but only to make my mother happy. Even as I tried to walk away, the Lord still guided me.

One of these instances was my attending of Quigley Scholars — an opportunity to meet other high school men discerning the priesthood in Chicago. At the time, I did it for the scholarship, but looking back now, I see how the Lord was right there guiding my heart toward Him. I saw how the seminarians wore their faith on their sleeves, and they were joyful.

seminarians at saint john vianney college seminary
Seminarian Victor Martinez enjoys spending time with his fellow Chicagoans at SJV.

During my junior year, I went on a Kairos (“God’s Time”) retreat where the Lord finally broke into my heart. I heard the testimony of others who let Christ in, I was able to go to confession, and I was able to be with the Lord in Adoration. I joined the seminary in 2018 at St. Joseph’s in Chicago and am finishing my college seminary formation at Saint John Vianney College Seminary. I have loved every second of it. I am grateful the Lord has called me to this vocation, and I am so excited to see where this goes knowing that the Lord will always be with me.

Q: What has been the biggest blessing during your formation at SJV?

A: The brotherhood. SJV has seminarians from all over the country, from Mobile, Alabama to Michigan, to Chicago, Illinois. And even with our different backgrounds and interests, what unites us is Christ. What unites us is the brotherhood we share in front of the Holy Eucharist every morning at 6:30 a.m. We abide in that love and then go out into our campus.

Q: What was it like to transition from Saint Joseph’s College Seminary in Chicago to SJV?

A: The Lord reminded me of the words of St. John Paul II, “Do not be afraid when love requires sacrifice. At first, it was hard leaving my hometown of Chicago, but the brothers and priests here at SJV opened their arms to us. I have loved every second of being here.

chicago seminarian victor martinez with his mother
Martinez’s mother, Winnie, adopted him from India when he was 2.

Q: What will you miss the most about SJV?

A: The formation. Unlike major seminary where you are just a few years away from becoming a priest, at SJV we first learn simply how to be a good Catholic man. To be men in Christ, men of the Church, men for others. I will miss that greatly.

Q: How would you describe SJV to friends and family in Chicago?

A: Firstly, we are falling in love with the Lord at SJV. And we have opportunities for community within the Chicago community here as well. For example, we (the seminarians from Chicago) have a big van that we often take as a community to get a meal together – unfortunately not deep-dish pizza. We may be away from Chicago but it remains in our hearts while we’re here.

Q: What is something practical that you will take with you?

A: The discipline. We’re required to shave every day, to be presentable. When we leave SJV, we represent the Church. SJV taught me to put my best foot forward. One simple example of this discipline is the practice of making my bed every morning. Instead of leaving something unfinished, I was taught to start my day with an accomplishment. I believe this skill will stay with me forever.

Q: What would you tell a young man considering the seminary?

A: Be patient with yourself. The Lord is going to do some crazy and amazing things with your life. In doing it, you will see your own weakness, but the Lord loves us. Through Him, we can do so much. As we say in the seminary, “coraggio,” which is Italian for “courage.” Take courage in the Lord and follow Him. You will not be disappointed.

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