Father Greg Mirto has been a priest for fifty-seven years, come April 3, 2022. So you can just imagine he has many beautiful memories to share with us.
Coming from a huge family, he is the fifth of twelve children, born on December 20, 1941 in his hometown of Kalibo, Aklan, Philippines. He was born when the II World War was raging. According to his description, the fifth or the middle child always learns to be “self-sufficient”. One can appreciate this when he tells us of his life as a priest.
His mother, Isidra, was a high school principal in the local Catholic college of his hometown. His father, Gregorio Sr., was a medical doctor, who practiced Medicine as a general practitioner. Father Greg attended the local public school in his hometown. He comes from an extended family of many priests and religious sisters (nuns). He had lots of uncles who were priests, so much so that the priesthood was not an alien topic for him to decide later to become a priest.
The interview took us to the Philippines and its more than 7,000 islands. (Jokingly, Fr. Greg explained that there would be over 7,000 islands when it is low tide. But when the tide is high, that’s where there would be less islands, since the smaller islands would be covered by water). Panay, the island where he was born, is an island in the Visayas region of the Philippines (it is in the middle portion of the country). The island of Panay is comprised of 4 provinces, to wit: Aklan, Antique, Capiz and Iloilo. Fr. Greg speaks three different dialects or languages from the Philippines, namely, Tagalog or Filipino (which is the national language of the Philippines), his own native language of Aklanon, and Ilonggo (the language in the province of Iloilo). Besides English, he also speaks Spanish and Italian (which he learned through Spanish) as well as Latin.
After elementary graduation, Fr. Greg went to the seminary as a young boy of twelve years and a half. The seminary was the Minor Seminary of St. Vincent Ferrer, which was in Jaro, Iloilo, south of his province. That seminary was run by the Vincentian priests from Spain. Some of the old priests didn’t speak English, so much so that after a year of talking to them in Spanish, the seminarians got the knack of speaking in Spanish. This is clearly the process of immersion.
The subject of Latin was well emphasized in his minor seminary days. Latin was offered throughout the 4-year high school seminary course, plus the first year in the college seminary. There was an hour of class in Latin in the morning (this was Latin grammar) and another hour of it in the afternoon (this was Latin literature). The study of Latin in the minor seminary was--for all practical purposes--quite intense--and because of that it was going to be a great advantage in learning the Iberian languages that are derived from Latin, which are Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese and Romaine.
After three years in St. Vincent Ferrer Seminary, the Seminary of St. Pius X opened up in his home diocese of Capiz. That was where Fr. Greg and other seminarians were recalled by their bishop to enroll in the new seminary in the Diocese of Capiz for his fourth year high school. At the opening of St. Pius X Seminary, they were a total of thirty-three seminarians. The first rector was Father Jaime L. Sin, who later became Jaime Cardinal Sin, the well-known and revered Archbishop of Manila from 1974 to 2005. After 2 years at St. Pius X Seminary, Fr. Greg went back to St. Vincent Ferrer Seminary for the rest of his college seminary studies.
After his college years at St. Vincent Ferrer Seminary, Father Greg was sent by his bishop to study at the Central Seminary of the University of Santo Tomas in Manila for the Theology course. He was in the Central Seminary from 1962 to 1965, earning the degree of Licentiate in Sacred Theology.
Fr. Greg was ordained a priest on April 3, 1965 at the age of twenty-three. His ordination was at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Roxas City, which his grandmother (his maternal grandmother), many aunts, uncle and other members of his family attended. After ordination, Fr. Greg was assigned in the Seminary of St. Pius X as one of the priests formators. He was there from 1965 to 1974. In 1974, he was elected as National Coordinator of the Directors of Vocations in the Philippines (DVP), which was a national organization of all diocesan and male and female religious vocations in the Philippines. This made him move from his home diocese of Capiz to the big city of Manila. As coordinator of vocations, he was working for the Episcopal Commission on Vocations of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). He was in Manila from 1974 to 1982.
After 8 years of working for the CBCP in Manila, Fr. Greg was sent to study in Rome to take up Canon Law. He enrolled in the Universita di San Tomasso
in Roma, taking up residence in the Colleggio Filipino in Rome. He was in Rome for 5 years from 1982 to 1987. While he was writing his doctoral thesis, Fr. Greg was also asked to take up the course of studies in the Roman Rota. This is a course of specialization in matrimonial cases designed to become Rotal Advocate at the Vatican.
Fr. Greg successfully defended his doctoral thesis in June of 1987, thus earning the degree of Doctor of Canon Law (J.C.D.). A month later in July, he took the final examination of the Roman Rota for becoming a Rotal Advocate at the Vatican. In August, Fr. Greg passed the final exams of the Roman Rotal as his name was published (together with 2 others) in the Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper.
Months before defending his thesis, Fr. Greg wrote his bishop in the Philippines for permission to spend a whole year of sabbatical after 5 years of study in Rome. His bishop acceded to his request. Fr. Greg went from Rome to the United States, living in El Paso, Texas, where he had a younger sister. From El Paso, he transferred to the Archdiocese of Denver, always with his bishop’s consent. It was in Denver when Fr. Greg worked in its Archdiocesan Tribunal for 2 years. From there, Fr. Greg was transferred to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception serving as one of its Parochial Vicars from 1991 to 1994. The next assignment was as Parochial Vicar in Light of the World Parish in Littleton, Colorado from 1994 to 1997. Finally, Fr. Greg was appointed as Pastor of St. William Parish in Fort Lupton, Colorado, with its 2 other mission churches of St. Nicholas (in Platteville) and of Our Lady of Grace (also in Fort Lupton). It was here in St. William’s when Fr. Greg became officially incardinated to the Archdiocese of Denver. He was at St. William’s from 1997 to 2012, a total of 15 years as pastor. St. William’s was Fr. Greg’s first and last and only parish.
In 2012, Fr. Greg asked his archbishop for optional retirement at 70. To his surprise, the archbishop agreed to grant him retirement. From cold Colorado, Fr. Greg went down south into warm Texas for his retirement. He opted to go to Texas for 2 good reasons: (1) Texas’ climate is basically the same as that of the Philippines (hot and humid – if Texas is infested by hurricanes, so also is the Philippines by typhoons); and (2) Fr. Greg has younger siblings both of whom live in Sugar Land.
While in Texas, Fr. Greg first took residence in Sacred Heart Parish in the city of Richmond. He was there for 3 years. From Richmond, Fr. Greg transferred to Sugar Land (which is only 11 miles away from Richmond) at St Theresa Parish, where he holds residence at present as a priest-in-residence, helping around in sacramental ministry (celebrating Masses, hearing confessions, administering anointings of the sick, etc.).
WHAT ARE THE HARDEST THINGS HE HAS HAD TO DO AS A PRIEST?
You know, to be honest, there is really nothing as “hardest things” to tackle. While those “hardest things” come and present their ugly heads, I just take one day at a time and actually – as the saying goes, by way of a metaphor – take the “horns of the bull” and tackle them. I don’t mean to be so simplistic in this regard, but part of me as a priest is the reality that, in my life as a priest, I needed to connect with the Lord for guidance and assistance. And so, those “hardest things” don’t seem to be hard after all, since nothing is impossible with God. I am just happy to say that I have God on my side.
I have been a priest for more than 50 years. And looking at my life in hind sight, there were some "hardest things" that happened to me in my life, like for example, the death of my mother in 1956. That event devastated me to say the least. I thought that my world went into shambles. For 2 years I was beside myself. That must have been part of my grieving process. But with a lot of prayers and reliance on God, I got out of it--thanks be to God.
WHAT CHALLENGES HAS HE HAD AS A PRIEST?
This question is related to the previous question. Years ago when I was younger as a priest, I looked at my future as a priest as a huge challenge. The challenges were along the lines of “Can I do it? Can I become and persevere as a priest? Can I become a holy priest?” Life, as a priest, presents itself as a challenge. Definitely, if I am still up to it, namely if I am still a priest, then it is all by the grace of God that I had and have been facing the challenges and overcoming them.
Now that I am retired, I do not see retirement as spending days with nothing to do. To be honest, I get bored with nothing to do. Definitely, even in retirement, I need to do something (call this as "therapy"). I hate doing nothing and thus hate losing time. So much so is that retirement for me is not, say, lying down on a hammock on a beach resort, having a beer in my hand and munching peanuts, looking at the blue skies, doing nothing. If this is my way of life on a daily basis, then it'll not be long for me to succumb to a heart attack. This is really morbid!! Personally for me, that is not my idea of retirement.
Now since I am a priest, it is the “priestly” things and activities that I know well. And so even in my retirement, I still manage to celebrate Mass on a regular basis, hear confessions, anoint people who are sick, etc. For me, doing these things are like “therapy”. What I really relish in my retirement days is the fact that I do not have the pressures I used to undergo when I was still in active service as a priest, such as fundraising, meetings, deadlines to meet, pressures from people, etc. So right now, while in retirement, what I'm having is "reduced labor." This is my “philosophy”: if I rest, I rust.
WHAT DOES HE DO FOR FUN?
There are several things that I really enjoy – that is, that I “do for fun”. Since I am a very musical person, I love listening to music, especially classical music. Also I am into operas by the great masters, such as Verdi, Puccini, Wagner, etc. I love watching operas on DVDs or CDs performed by great musical artists, such as Domingo, Carreras, Pavarotti, Cura, Villazon, Nillson, Sutherland, Price, Caballe, Fleming, Netrevko, etc. Now since I am basically a homebody person, I also love just being at home and enjoy reading books, magazines, facebook, messenger texts, etc. A third area has something to do with family. I am very very much a “family person”. And as such, I love going home to the Philippines and join in our family reunions. What happiness and joy I feel in my heart when I get to see my family members – nephews and nieces and their spouses, their children, and children’s children.
WHAT CAN PAPA DO FOR YOU?
PAPA’s objective, as an organization, is already doing a great thing not just for me, but also for other priests. I appreciate all the PAPA members for the prayers they are saying specifically for me. Please continue praying for me. Truth of the matter is that we priests are also human and hence we are also sinners, and as such, we do have a great need of prayers. Since we are also human beings, hence we priests need to be prayed for, like everybody else.
Again, this is related to the question on challenges. There is really nothing to be afraid of, since we have God on our side. If God is with us, who can be against us?
It was a pleasure spending time with Father Greg Mirto and having a “birds-eye view” of his life. He is quite practical and has endless energy. The parishioners of St. Theresa Catholic Church in Sugar Land benefit from his homilies and confessions as he helps them get closer to God.
Thank you, Father Greg, for your years of service.
God bless you.