Meet Our Seminarians

Catholic Diocese of St Petersburg Office of Vocations

Ricky Armstrong

Christopher Busser

Louis Candelaria

Isaac Cruz

Jorel de Guzman

Mark DeSio

Alexander Fleming

Matthew Fulton

Dakota Gates

Tyler Gates

John Paul Grabowski

Benjamin Harris

Caleb Malec

Austin Smith

Michael Santos

Vincent Washburn

Thuan Tran

Ricardo Velasco

Ricky Armstrong

Ricky Armstrong was born on December 23, 2003 and later adopted by Esther Armstrong. He was baptized into the Catholic Church shortly after his adoption. After his first communion, he became an altar server at Our Lady Queen of the Apostles Catholic Church in Palm Beach. It was during that time, Ricky felt his first call to become a priest. He joined the Knights of Columbus at Prince of Peace Catholic Church, in Sun City Center and started working for the church.  He is attending seminary at St. Joseph Seminary College in Louisiana. He will miss his younger brother, Jonathan, and his mother. He also appreciates everyone’s prayers.

On a personal note, he is a second-degree black belt in Taekwondo and a lover of sports. Ricky graduated second in my high school’s class. Before the pandemic, he was on the football team for his high school. He hopes to be actively involved with sports and weightlifting at the Seminary. He looks forward to beginning this journey and to becoming the man God will shape him to be.

Seminary:St. Joseph Seminary College

Studies:Propaedeutic

Home Parish:Prince of Peace, Sun City Center

Christopher Busser

Christopher Busser was born on February 11, 1999 at Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa Florida. He was baptized February 12, 2000 at Christ the King. He has grown up at Christ the King going to catechism, church and even went to school there. At Christ the King, he had received first communion, confirmation and was an avid member of Boy Scouts, going all the way from Tiger to Eagle. Christopher has one younger brother, Michael, that has accompanied him along the way. He attended Jesuit and the University of Wyoming. Christopher previously discerned with the Salesians and worked for them as a private fundraiser and a member of their summer camp administration team. He has also worked for a professional sport fishing charter company. He enjoys fishing and spearfishing in his free time. His faith is extremely important to him.

In listening to Gods will for his life, he has heard the call to the priesthood in his heart. He is discerning particularly to serve God in the sacraments as he takes this journey. 

Seminary:St. Joseph Seminary College

Studies:Propaedeutic

Home Parish:Christ the King, Tampa

Louis Candelaria

Louie Candelaria is thirty years old and was born in Appleton, Wisconsin. He graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in Communication and is going into his second year of seminary as 4th Discipleship at St. Vincent De Paul Regional seminary. His parents are Lou and Sherrie Candelaria. He has four siblings named: Jessica, Tom, Julia, and Sister Josefina. His home parish is St. Raphael’s Catholic Church and before seminary Louie had a career in software sales.

He loves to read, go hiking, play card games and fishing. Spending time with his family is very important to him. He would not be in the position that he is in today if it wasn’t for them and their support. What attracts Louie to the priesthood is the ability to celebrate the Holy Mass, administer the sacraments to others and to be a Shepard for all those in need of Christ’s mercy. Also, the idea of becoming a spiritual father and a man for others is a burning desire in Louie’s heart and believes that this vocation is the answer for that.

Seminary:St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary

Studies:4th Discipleship

Home Parish:St. Raphael, St. Petersburg

Isaac Cruz

Isaac Cruz was born in Deland, Florida and raised in Mount Olive, New Jersey. As a teenager his family attended an Assemblies of God church in Hackettstown, New Jersey.

Isaac was received into the Catholic Church in 2017 during the Easter Vigil at his home parish, St. Michael the Archangel in Clearwater. Our Lady played a pivotal role, not only in his conversion, but in his ultimate call to the priesthood.

He has an amazing father, mother, sister and niece who have been so supportive of this journey he is on.

He enjoys watching Red Sox and Patriots games, reading history books, reading and watching ANYTHING Star Wars related and cooking.

Seminary:St. Joseph Seminary College

Studies:4th Discipleship

Home Parish:St. Michael the Archangel, Clearwater

Jorel de Guzman

Jorel de Guzman was born and raised in Tampa, Florida. Along with his mom, dad, and sister, he spent the entirety of his life up until seminary within the Diocese of Saint Petersburg. He began schooling at Most Holy Redeemer and then graduated from Mother Teresa Catholic School in Lutz. After middle school, he went to Jesuit Tampa. While in high school, he worked at Panera Bread and as a parker for Tampa Sports Authority at Raymond James Stadium. He is an avid reader and enjoys taking hikes in the 1200 acres that surround the seminary. A huge basketball and football fan, he tries to represent the Diocese in all the sports, especially soccer, that the seminary offers.

Ever since fourth grade, he was a parishioner at Mary Help of Christians. His attraction to the priesthood, especially the Diocesan life, has found its root in my upbringing in this Diocese. Throughout his discernment, the grace to provide ministry to the very people who helped support him in prayer has been nothing short of humbling.

Seminary:St. Joseph Seminary College

Studies:3rd Discipleship

Home Parish:Mary Help of Christians, Tampa

Mark DeSio

Mark was born and raised in the Diocese of Saint Petersburg and came from a large Catholic family. He is 1 of 6 kids and has an uncle who is a priest! Blessed Sacrament in Seminole is his home parish and where he attended grade school. For high school, Mark attended St. Petersburg Catholic until changing schools his senior year and graduating from Clearwater High in 2014. After high school he had a profound conversion like that of the prodigal son (Lk 15:11-32).

Having his mind set on becoming a firefighter, Mark attended St. Pete College for their EMT and Fire programs. He always assumed his vocation was marriage; the priesthood wasn’t even on his radar. When Mark’s plans left him feeling out of place, he sincerely asked God what His plan for his life was. In that prayer, the Lord put the call to priesthood on Mark’s heart. He then entered seminary in the fall of 2016 (the year of mercy). After over four years in the seminary, he took a leave of absence and taught theology at SPCHS where he had attended high school. In January 2023, Mark re-entered seminary formation and is entering Configuration II. Thank God for His love and mercy!

 

 

Seminary:St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary

Studies:2nd Configuration

Home Parish:Blessed Sacrament, Seminole

Alexander Fleming

Alexander Fleming was born and raised in Tampa and graduated from Robinson High School in South Tampa in 2019. He was baptized and confirmed at Christ the King Parish in south Tampa in 2020. He worked as a cook at a local Tijuana Flats for three years and left to go into seminary. He is now in his second year of formation at St. Joseph Seminary College in Louisiana.

He has always been close to his family; his mom and dad, grandparents and brother all have played a huge role in his journey to becoming Catholic and discerning the priesthood. Alexander first felt Gods call to discernment when he was in the RCIA program to become a Catholic. At first, he thought it was just an interest in what the priesthood was, but as time moved on, he could not stop thinking about the possibility of becoming a priest. Going to Mass and a daily prayer life were two major ways that he has been discerning the call.

He loves sports, especially the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and loves to read during his free time. Cooking is another passion of his, as well as cooking for his friends and family. He is grateful for your continued support as he continues the journey in discerning God’s call.

Seminary:St. Joseph Seminary College

Studies:3rd Discipleship

Home Parish:Christ the King, Tampa

Matthew Fulton

Matthew Fulton was born in Clearwater, FL as one of five boys given by God to his loving parents. He grew up in the bay area and received his sacraments at St. Luke the Evangelist in Palm Harbor. Upon arriving at the University of Florida, Matthew encountered the Lord in a deeply personal way for the first time and was introduced to a full life in the Church by new and lasting friendships. After receiving a degree in economics, he found himself working at an intelligence company, first in Tampa and then New York City. After three years in a variety of roles, Matthew resigned and moved into full-time mission work with the poor and homeless in the South Bronx with an organization called LAMP Catholic Ministries. It was here that the Lord fostered healing and a great love of his beloved poor. After two years as a missionary, and in the search for peace around unanswered questions, he made the decision to apply for seminary, choosing to come back to his home Diocese of St. Petersburg. Matthew is looking forward to hearing ever more clearly God’s voice and will for his life.

Seminary:St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary

Studies:3rd Discipleship

Home Parish:St. Luke, Palm Harbor

Dakota Gates

Dakota Gates was born in Clearwater, FL but his parents, Krist and Nancy, are originally from upstate New York. He has one older brother, Tyler, who is also a seminarian of our diocese. Dakota graduated from Countryside High School in 2019 and received an Associates Degree from St. Petersburg College. He had worked at Publix (the best grocery store) and was a Life Teen missionary in Georgia for two years. He enjoys fishing, Star Wars, and competing in all sports. His attraction to the priesthood sprung through sharing in real graces with the faithful of Jesus Christ, and he is humbled to be on this journey. Dakota will be studying at St. Joseph Seminary College in Louisiana.

Seminary:St. Joseph Seminary College

Studies:Propaedeutic

Home Parish:St. Ignatius, Tarpon Springs

Tyler Gates

Tyler was born in Albany, NY and a year later moved to Pinellas County. His parents are Krist and Nancy Gates who reside in Palm Harbor. Tyler has a younger brother, Dakota, who is also a seminarian of this diocese.

Tyler attended Florida State University and graduated with a bachelors degree in Biological Science. He was actively involved in the Catholic Student Union at FSU, which inspired him to answer the Lord’s call to discern the priesthood. He returned to the Tampa Bay area after finishing college and spent a year working in the operating room at Mease Countryside Hospital. This past spring, he graduated with a master’s degree in Philosophy from St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, FL.

Tyler is currently in his third year, I Configuration, at SVPD. His home parish is Christ the King in Tampa. Tyler became drawn to the priesthood when he witnessed the fraternity and example of the priests in this diocese. He enjoys watching FSU and Tampa Bay sports and spending his free time with his family and friends, at the beach, the pool, or on the golf course.

Seminary:St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary

Studies:1st Configuration

Home Parish:Christ the King, Tampa

John Paul Grabowski

John Paul Grabowski was born in Binghamton, NY. After high school, he moved down to Florida from Pennsylvania to study Aerospace Engineering for two years. Then he transferred over to University of South Florida – Tampa where he studied Industrial Engineering for three years before transferring to seminary.

He is the fourth of five children of his lovely parents, Joseph and Alaine and his home parish is the Catholic Student Center at USF – Tampa. In the past, John Paul has worked for the Boy Scouts, Lowe’s, Allegiant Air, and Busch Gardens.

In his spare time, he enjoys being with friends, playing the Ukulele, gaming, trekking in the outdoors, and collecting LEGOs. Most importantly, John Paul was attracted to the priesthood because of the total self-giving of different priests he had met and the sheer love for God that they emit.

Seminary:St. Joseph Seminary College

Studies:3rd Discipleship

Home Parish:Catholic Student Center, USF - Tampa

Benjamin Harris

Benjamin Harris is in his fourth year of philosophy studies at St. Joseph Seminary College in Saint Benedict, Louisiana. He was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, but is proud to have grown up mostly in the Tampa Bay area, calling the Diocese of St. Petersburg his spiritual home for most of his life, with St. Anthony the Abbot in Brooksville being his home parish. Benjamin comes from a family of 6, being the second oldest of 4 kids.

His hobbies are reading, cooking/BBQing, playing/watching sports, rosary making, and swimming in the rivers near his house and at the seminary. What attracts him to the priesthood is the thought of devoting his life to the study of the Word and being a vessel of the Lord’s love and mercy for His people. He loves the fatherhood aspect of it, fatherhood being a desire of his heart that the Holy Spirit continues to foster.

Seminary:St. Joseph Seminary College

Studies:4th Discipleship

Home Parish:St. Anthony the Abbot, Brooksville

Caleb Malec

Caleb Malec is from St. Stephen Catholic Church in Riverview, Florida. He was the 4th of 5 children to be born in New Jersey from his family. He grew up in Florida where he attended St. Stephen Catholic Middle School, Tampa Preparatory High School for two years and graduated from Riverview High School in 2018. Growing up and throughout high school he raced motocross, BMX (bicycle motocross) and played lacrosse. Caleb loves to spend quality time with friends and family, especially if they are able to have fun and explore the outdoors or play sports. Right out of high school he became a full-time missionary for two years. His first year was with NET Ministries and second year was with Life Teen, in which he lived at Camp Covecrest.

Thankfully, Catholicism has always been a part of Caleb’s life. With God’s grace, he began taking the faith much more seriously in high school because of his youth group. Ever since restoring his relationship with Christ, he has had this zeal to help others encounter the love, generosity, and freedom the Lord provides. The many young priests he has interacted with during high school and as a missionary, daily personal prayer, and a faithful community were the three pivotal factors that helped him to realize this desire of his to pursue the priesthood so that he can serve God and His Church in such a unique way!

Seminary:St. Joseph Seminary College

Studies:4th Discipleship

Home Parish:St. Stephen, Riverview

Austin Smith

Austin Smith grew up in Brandon, Florida, and has attended his home parish of Nativity Catholic Church since he was very young.  Before entering seminary, he attended Jesuit High School in Tampa and felt the call to be a priest the summer before his junior year of high school while sitting in solitude and silence.

After graduating, Austin moved to Nashville for two years where he ministered to teens in middle school and high school with a group called the Love Good Apprenticeship Program. While in Nashville, his calling to priesthood was deepened, and after a year at Ave Maria university, he joined the seminary in the fall of 2020.

Studying and praying in seminary is a blessing, but outside of these activities, he enjoys shenanigans with friends, watching and playing sports, working out, reading fiction, adventuring, eating, and listening and analyzing music.

What attracts him to priesthood most is the idea of being a spiritual father, and being able to hear confessions.

Seminary:St. Joseph Seminary College

Studies:4th Discipleship

Home Parish:Nativity, Brandon

Michael Santos

Michael Santos was born August 12, 1998, to Edwin and Denise Santos. Growing up in New Port Richey he received all his sacrament at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church and was always very active in the life of the parish, where he got his first job in high school as a maintenance man. He is also blessed with a younger sister, Mary Santos. Michael was home schooled through high school and attended Ave Maria University, receiving his bachelor’s degree in music and history with a minor in Medieval Studies. After graduating college Michael worked as a teacher for two years, teaching 3rd grade and then 6th grade history/high school art history. Michael has always felt very close to the priesthood and feels that now God is calling him to a new love, to step out in faith and surrender to God’s will, in service to the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

Seminary:St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary

Studies:3rd Discipleship

Home Parish:St. Thomas Aquinas, New Port Richey

Vincent Washburn

Vincent Washburn is a seminarian from St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Hudson. He spent his entire childhood growing up in Hudson, graduating from Fivay High School in 2016. After attending Pasco-Hernando State College, Vincent transferred to the University of South Florida – Tampa in 2018 and graduated in May 2020 with a degree in Psychology. He was involved in his parish for many years as a volunteer before joining the staff in 2018 as the Youth Minister; eventually becoming responsible for Liturgical Ministries and their outreach to the sick and homebound as well. His hobbies include watching movies and TV, reading, playing piano, exercising, and hanging out with friends.

While the idea of becoming a priest has been in his head since childhood, he seriously began discerning the possibility of a vocation during his transition from high school to college. Encountering a priest much like himself, who joyfully lived out the gospel in his own vocation, opened Vincent’s eyes to the Lord’s call for him in his life. After two awesome years at St. Joseph’s in Louisiana, this year he is in Configuration I at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, FL.

Seminary:St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary

Studies:1st Configuration

Home Parish:St. Michael the Archangel, Hudson

Thuan Tran

I was born in Bao Loc a small town in Vietnam. When I was 12, my family moved to America. I graduated high school and have an Auto-Body Certificate. I am the youngest in a family of five. We attend Holy martyrs of Vietnam Parish in St. Petersburg. I like to work outside and I like kayaking but I actually don’t know how to swim. In my young age I always felt the call to become a priest.

Seminary:St. Joseph Seminary College

Studies:1st Discipleship

Home Parish:Holy Martyrs of Vietnam, St. Petersburg

Ricardo Velasco

Ricardo Velasco was born in Miami Florida, but his family moved to Riverview Florida when he was about two years old. He has four siblings, and his parents are migrants from Venezuela. He was raised Catholic, and as a kid, would attend Resurrection Catholic Church. As a kid, Ricardo had always felt interested in priesthood and the life of a priest, then after graduating high school, the calling for priesthood grew significantly. He spent a year attending Hillsborough Community College while at the same time discerning the priesthood. He has entered his first year in seminary and the Lord has blessed him significantly. He likes to watch and play sports, chess, and he likes being social.

Seminary:St. Joseph Seminary College

Studies:Propaedeutic

Home Parish:Resurrection, Riverview

All seminarian pictures are done by Will Staples Photography