Last month, Father Israel ‘Izzy’ Hernandez was appointed to serve the parishioners at St. Stephen Catholic Church in Riverview. In a short amount of time, Hernandez has settled in and has been actively getting to know the congregation.
Hernandez’s parents were originally from Puerto Rico; however, Hernandez was born and raised in Lutz. His home parish is Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church in Land O’ Lakes, where he received all his sacraments of initiation and where his vocation was nourished and enriched.
After high school, Hernandez graduated from the University of South Florida in Tampa. While entering his final year of college, he began to consider joining the priesthood.
“Part of this process meant going to a St. Andrew’s dinner where I met Bishop Lynch, our shepherd at the time,” said Hernandez. “Here I heard his vocation story, the vocation story of my pastor who recently retired, Fr. Ron Aubin, and that of another priest. This led me to visiting the seminary not too long afterwards and then beginning the application process for the Diocese of St. Petersburg.”
Seminary life was transforming and eye-opening for Hernandez.
“I learned a lot from my summer assignments, which were: Institute for Priestly Formation; St. Michael the Archangel in Hudson, FL; Spanish Emergent Program in Guatemala; St. Joseph’s in Tampa; Clinical Pastoral Education program at Tampa General; and then Incarnation Catholic Church in Tampa for my diaconate summer,” he said.
Hernandez has a heart to serve and couldn’t be happier with his assignment to serve at St. Stephen.
“I am so glad that I ended up at St. Stephen Catholic Church. I had asked for a parish that had young families because I love serving the youth,” said Hernandez. “I loved youth ministry when I was in high school and ultimately decided to give back by serving the youth ministry at my home parish. Ministering to the youth challenged me to be better and to do better. I also asked for a parish which would allow me to walk with those couples seeking the sacrament of marriage. This seemed like an opportunity to learn more during my first assignment.”
Hernandez is looking forward to walking with couples preparing for marriage and assisting them in developing a fuller understanding of what marriage in the Catholic Church, in God’s eyes, looks like.
“Pope Francis, in his 2016 apostolic exhortation, expressed, ‘The sacrament of marriage is not a social convention or an empty ritual or merely the outward sign of a commitment. The sacrament is a gift given for the sanctification of the spouses, since their mutual belonging is a real representation, through the sacramental sign, of the same relationship between Christ and the Church.’”
As with all new assignments, the most difficult part about any transition is the learning curve. “Every parish does things slightly different,” said Hernandez. “Another challenge is remembering people’s names. They only have one to remember, while I have thousands to begin remembering. I am ready for the challenge.”
St. Stephen Catholic Church is located at 10118 St. Stephen Cir. in Riverview. For more information, visit www.ststephencatholic.org or call 689-4900.