In their own words: Father Blaise Berg

Meet Fr. Blaise Berg:

Father Blaise Berg, 57, grew up in a family of 12 children in Yuba City and graduated from St. Isidore School and Yuba City High School. During summer vacations from high school and college, he worked in the fields of Sierra Gold Nurseries, a 700-acre wholesale fruit and nut tree nursery in Yuba City, started by his father and grandfather. He received a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from the University of San Francisco.

Later he earned a master’s degree in business administration from California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, with a specialization in agribusiness. To explore a vocation to the priesthood, he moved at age 29 to Casa Balthasar, a house of discernment and formation in Rome, Italy, while studying theology at the Gregorian University. He was there three-and-a-half years, completing his bachelor’s degree in theology at the Gregorian and applying to be a seminarian for the Diocese of Sacramento.

After a year in pastoral ministry at St. Philomene Parish in Sacramento, he returned to Rome to study the theology of marriage and family life at the North American College, the seminary for U.S. students in Rome. Over the next five years, he obtained his licentiate and doctorate in theology at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family at the Lateran University and was ordained to the priesthood in June 1998 at age 37.

When he returned to the diocese in July 2000, Father Blaise served as parochial vicar of St. Rose Parish in Roseville for 18 months before becoming vice chancellor and secretary to Bishop William K. Weigand, whom he served for the next four-and-a-half years.

In June 2006, became director of the Newman Catholic Center in Chico, and in January 2008, added the responsibilities of pastor at St. John the Baptist Parish in Chico. From July 2012 to July 2016, he served as Vicar for Clergy for the Diocese of Sacramento. Since July 2016, he has been pastor of St. Mary Parish in Vacaville.

Fr. Blaise Berg, in his own words:

In my late 20s I was pondering marriage and raising a family. I was dating someone and working with my father in the family business. It became clear that I never explored a vocation to the priesthood and given my full attention to it. There was some fear and part of the fear was living alone. Marriage and family are so attractive and I valued my experience of being in a large family.

If you feel called to the priesthood or religious life that’s great, but it shouldn’t be an escape from the married state. You should have a very good understanding of what you are giving up and the sacrifice you are making.

Celibacy is not lived in a vacuum. When we talk about the evangelical counsels, celibacy is also connected to obedience and poverty. A diocesan priest doesn’t make a vow of poverty in the same way a religious does, but there should be a certain amount of simplicity of life, a detachment from material goods. All three of the counsels have to work together. My celibacy is connected to my obedience, for example, in doing the things I need to do to be able to be a good priest -- to be happy, healthy and holy.

I’m obedient to the Code of Canon Law and what a priest should be doing. The code says a priest is earnestly encouraged to celebrate Mass daily. It’s for the priest’s own good -- among other reasons -- so that he is in front of his people every day, so that he is with his bride, the church, to encourage him and to give him some constructive criticism from time to time. It’s obedience in the sense that I need to be available to celebrate Mass and to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, not just for myself, but as a prayer for the whole church. I need to have a life of prayer. All of these things tie into obedience.

I feel very blessed, as unlike many of our priests, my family lives here and I get huge support from them. There’s also some friendships with a deep spiritual bond and that’s a beautiful thing. Friendships with brother priests, married couples and single people are essential.

Being celibate does allow me more time to be there for others. In a practical sense, it’s helpful as a priest to look at others and learn. When I’m at daily Mass and I see a young mother with her six-week-old child and how much attention that child takes, I know she can’t leave that child hardly at all in that point in the child’s life. If she has to be available to that child, I need to be available when the phone rings from the hospital for a sick person. It’s a good reminder of what I need to be doing.

Many are being called, but fewer are answering the call to priesthood. St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises says there’s a certain point in life where you are choosing and if you don’t think you are called to the religious state, make double sure about that, because the married state is much harder! Part of it also is perhaps we are not doing a good enough job of sharing how gratifying it is to be a priest, to be celibate, to be able to serve in this way.

We all have to identify what we have control over. I need to be intentional about living chastely and making sure that I’m making good decisions about how I use my time, and that I am doing things to take care of my body, my spirit and my soul. It’s not something that just happens. That’s all part of chastity, whether one is single, married or living celibately.

When priests say yes to Christ, they become witnesses of Christ’s power to change people’s lives.

The promise of celibacy adds a special dimension to priestly holiness, filling out the dimensions of holiness within the body of Christ, the church, and opening up a unique and irreplaceable pathway to follow Christ. Living the promise has its challenges, but is also be a source of great joy, life and vitality for the church and God’s people.

Recently, four priests of the diocese of various ages, backgrounds and experiences discussed with Catholic Herald magazine how they discerned, embraced and are living out their promise of celibacy, highlighting how it is integral to being shepherds of the faithful. Here are excerpts from each conversation.

Catholic Herald Issue