Meet Father Paul Henson

Priesthood: the word lingered in his mind

Though Fr. Paul Henson was raised in a religious home and decided he wanted to be a priest when he was still in elementary school, he didn’t join the Carmelites until he was 30 years old. His path to the priesthood was quite different from that of many men in previous generations who went to the seminary at 13 and were ordained in their 20s.

Fr. Paul, a 38-year-old second generation Mexican American, was raised by a great aunt who was a devout Catholic. She made sure he attended Mass at 6 every morning and prayed the rosary each night throughout his childhood. Fr. Paul found inspiration and friendship with parish priests who offered him the male role model he lacked in his own family. And when two recruiters for the local seminary spoke at St. Marianne de Paredes, his grade school in Pico Rivera, California, Fr. Paul remembers thinking, “I want to be just like them.”

His life follows a different path
After he graduated from high school, Fr. Paul went to St. John’s Seminary College in Camarillo, California, where he earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy. Then he met a young woman and fell in love and his path in life changed.

He worked at a Catholic Charities drop-in center as a caseworker and as an elementary and high school teacher. He planned to marry, have children, and lead a life similar to most men his age. He spent weekends hanging out with friends and took vacations to Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta. He was an “ordinary” guy.

But the call to the priesthood never really left. It was there, in the back of his mind, persistent, but quiet. It would creep into his thoughts at night or when he took a walk. Then his relationship ended and he decided he needed to take a harder look at his call to the priesthood. “I did everything possible for this to die out and it just never did,” Fr. Paul explains. “I can see why they call it a call from God.”

A decision to answer the call
After careful reflection, Fr. Paul decided to enter the Carmelite seminary. He worked and studied, earning his Masters in Divinity from the Washington Theological Union in Washington and serving two years in Peru and rural northern Mexico, an experience he said solidified his commitment to the priesthood. He was ordained in June 2002. He now puts his teaching talents back to work at the Encino, California Crespi Carmelite High School. One day, he hopes to start a high school in Mexico.

As one of about 400 Latino priests in the Los Angeles Diocese, and one of only a handful of American-born Latino priests, Fr. Paul is “a sign of the great expectations we have in the U.S. Catholic church that Hispanics, recently arrived and many generations present, will assume their rightful place…of leadership,” noted Fr. Vincente Lopez of St. Raphael parish in Los Angeles where Fr. Paul was ordained.

What advice would Fr. Paul give to a young man interested in becoming a Carmelite? “Not to rush it… just consider it… and have the courage to follow it.”

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