Born and raised in Sacramento, Father Erik Pereira’s story likely makes every local Catholic beam with joy as they meet and learn about this “homegrown” vocation. Of course, every vocation to the priesthood stirs happiness but Father Erik’s path through Catholic schools and ministries encourages the soul of the diocese. It gives hope that more men might also answer the call. His is a story of knowing, a story of fidelity, a story of response.
“I remember it,” Father Erik, says of that exact moment when he knew the priesthood was his future. “It was under Msgr. Kavanagh,” he proclaims, sharing the details of his altar service as a youth at St. Rose Parish for Msgr. Edward Kavanagh (who died in 2018).
Gratitude exudes from Father Erik's voice as he recalls his elementary years at St. Patrick School. “When Msgr. Kavanagh lifted up the Eucharist,” he says, describing the resonant priestly voice, it was “kind of like a very loud chant, ‘Through him, with him, in him.’”
“I remember thinking there is something otherworldly going on here,” Erik says, stating how he said to himself, “I want to do that.” Erik sensed a supernatural phenomenon, and reflecting on Msgr. Kavanagh today, he views him as his mentor, moved by his holiness and his commitment to be “a pastor for the people.”
“Just being in the sanctuary with him and being that close to the Eucharist,” Erik says, pinpointing feelings of “honor and privilege” while serving under the tutelage of Msgr. Kavanagh. He admits he hesitated at the invitation to be an altar server for his younger sister's kindergarten promotion Mass, yet with encouragement he did, and he fell in love with it. It was the beginning of everything, prompting him to fall in love with all things Church, to fall in love with God.
A long preparation
Three decades would pass before Father Erik's ordination to the priesthood on June 4 in the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. But throughout the years “the priesthood was always in the back of my mind,” he says, noting how “the idea obviously never left” him. His providential journey trained him at every turn, giving him ideal experiences for when he would serve in persona Christi.
“I wanted to be a basketball player,” he reveals, but admits the dream ended quickly after his freshman year at Christian Brothers High School, when he recognized his 5’3” frame might be a limitation.
He continued to CSU-Sacramento, studying humanities while simultaneously serving as a ministry leader for Recollection in Christianity (REC), a youth retreat ministry he participated in during his upbringing, and still does to this day. There he established himself as a musician enjoying the opportunity to “fully give myself to the service of the Church.”
As one thing often leads to another, Father Erik restarted the St. Rose youth group with fellow REC staff members, again sharing music and spirit. Before he knew it, the choir director at nearby St. Charles Borromeo Parish tapped him to play piano regularly for one of the Masses. By 2004, he interviewed for a part-time job teaching music and fine arts at St. Charles Borromeo School. It evolved to a full-time position when he began teaching middle school religion. He also helped with the St. Charles youth group.
Life was full and Father Erik found himself increasingly involved in planning liturgies, coordinating graduations and confirmations, and witnessing families more and more united together through Christ.
“I was being sustained and I felt the love of Christ in the parish,” he confides, fully knowing he could “do this the rest of my life.”
“I saw myself as a mentor to youth,” he recalls, fondly drawing a parallel to Msgr. Kavanagh and remembering him as an “instrument of Christ.”
“I was bringing Christ to my students and to the people of the parish,” Father Erik notes, suggesting “my place was in the Church.”
‘It all started to click together’
In 2010, Father Erik attended a discernment retreat at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park. “I felt called,” he reflects, but also acknowledges how “letting go” of REC leadership, youth ministry and teaching challenged him.
It took four years for Father Erik to submit the seminary application that had been tucked away on his desk. He lamented about the time it would take to gather recommendations and transcripts and how the demands of his ministries precluded serious attention to the paperwork.
Finally, in 2014, inspired by a diocesan vocations dinner event, he acknowledged, “OK, I think it's time to quit my job.”
“It all just started to click together,” Erik says, indicating an almost uncontained readiness and desire “to be that right now,” referring to the priesthood and motivated every time he saw a priest. He knew it was the Lord speaking to his heart.
“It was just so easy,” he remembers, thinking of his talk with the diocesan vocation director and helpful guidance from his pastor. His voice tinged with emotion, Erik considered Msgr. Kavanagh once again.
“Though Msgr. Kavanagh was already retired and living at Mercy McMahon Terrace, I was able to go there and get his blessing and letter of recommendation,” Father Erik says, sharing the details of the meaningful visit. “I remember leaving and crying,” he explains, revealing the bittersweet conversation when he told Msgr. Kavanaugh, “this is because of you…you were my influence.”
St. Patrick, patron of his vocation
Father Erik does not hesitate to identify St. Patrick as the patron of his vocation, having attended St. Patrick School and St. Patrick’s Seminary and recognizing St. Patrick as the patron of the Diocese of Sacramento and his Irish mentor, Msgr. Kavanagh. He affiliates with the revered saint who devoted his life to bringing others to Christ.
“That love of Christ I received,” Father Erik insists with conviction, “has transformed me, has converted me to be who I am. I have had a personal encounter with Christ and I want to give that to people.
“My job is to be that voice that points others to Christ,” Father Erik says of his priestly ministry, to be present and available “for what people need, walking with them in their pain and joy.”
“I feel like my motivation is to help people understand what their vocation is,” Father Erik adds, with obvious concern for how many “turn away from the gift,” opting for their own autonomy rather than the will of God.
“Your will should match the will of the Lord,” Erik emphasizes, clarifying how vocation refers not only to the clergy and religious, but also to married and single individuals. He stresses the need for a greater understanding of the sacrament of baptism as the pre-eminent origin and meaning behind God’s call.
“I hope to bring people to see that God is calling each and every one of us to something … to service … to the Church … to God and each other,” Father Erik concludes, well aware that in the back of his mind was a call that changed everything. He needed only to listen and respond.
Interested in priesthood? Contact Father Guillermo Hernandez, diocesan director of vocations, at (916) 733-0261 or firstname.lastname@example.org.