Fr. David Bello, O.P.
My Filipino father was a labor contractor working in agriculture in California’s San Joaquin Delta area when he met my dear Mexican mother, working with her family in the same area, picking tomatoes and other products. I was born on January 14, 1946 in Sacramento, but we lived in rented houses all around the Delta, from Isleton to Walnut Grove to Victor, moving with the work. When I was in fourth grade, my father’s long-time dream of being a homeowner finally came true when he was able to buy us a house in Stockton.
I went to public school there and so attended catechism classes, which were taught by the Maryknoll Sisters, known for their ministry to the poor and their great missionary spirit. (To this day, I read the Maryknoll magazine.) After a great deal of searching toward the end of high school and into my first year in junior college, I decided that I wanted to enter the religious life, and in particular become a foreign missionary. When I voiced my great desire, I was visited by a Maryknoll priest who came to my home to speak with me about my vocation, followed by a Consolato priest and a Portuguese missionary. Then one day, while browsing through my growing pile of vocation material and various orders’ leaflets, I caught a glimpse of a holy card from St. Dominic’s Church in San Francisco. It was of St. Jude Thaddeus, to whom my parents always had a great devotion. Before I knew it, Dominican Father Mark McPhee, O.P. was knocking at my door and I soon realized that the Lord had called me to be a Dominican.
At first I was interested in becoming a priest, but later I decided to become a Cooperator Brother, attracted by their community life of prayer and ministry. I remember my father asking me if I would still be able to study as a Dominican--his children’s education had always been very important to him. I told him that I didn’t know, that I might be put to sweeping floors like St. Martin De Porres. My dear father, who’d seen to it that I could read even before starting kindergarten, said that sweeping would be fine as long as I was happy. So I applied and received an acceptance letter from Brother Norbert Fihn, O.P., vocation director and a great Dominican friar. One month later, on Halloween, the 31st of October, 1964, in Kentfield, California, I entered the Dominican Order.
To my father’s great delight, after being professed I attended the University of San Francisco and received my Bachelor’s degree in English. While teaching in various Catholic high schools, I studied for my Master’s degree in counseling, and because it seemed to me that the next logical steps after counseling were hearing confession and granting absolution, the priesthood was again beckoning. I think it is safe to say that if the Provincial had denied my request to study for the priesthood, I would have remained a Dominican Brother rather than leave the order to become a priest.
While studying for the priesthood in Mexico City with Father Daniel Syverstad, O.P., I spent summers at our mission in Altamirano, Chiapas, and that’s where I requested to be assigned after ordination. The provincial, Father Stephen McCabe, O.P., explained that we would soon be trading posts with the Mexican Dominicans—they would be moving from Mexicali to Chiapas and we would be moving from Chiapas to Mexicali. So it was in Mexicali that I began serving as a priest, and in particular, as a foreign missionary, fulfilling my lifelong dream.
After four years in Mexicali, I served as prior at St. Albert’s and later as Student Master, followed by fourteen more years in Mexicali, building the parish and the convent. Then I went to Holy Rosary Church in Antioch, California, where I was blessed to minister to a wonderful parish, including many poor and Spanish-speaking, alongside a great Dominican friar and model of priesthood and missionary life, Father Francisco Vicente, O.P. Knowing my love for the missionary life and Mexicali, Fr. Vicente made Mexicali a Sister parish of Holy Rosary, continually supporting it and inviting its missionaries to preach their annual St. Jude Novena. Father has gone to the Lord but I trust in his continued prayers for me and my ministry, which may have been partly responsible for my returning to Mexicali once again, in 2016 as Parochial Vicar, transitioning earlier this summer to Pastor.
All these life experiences--from the loving guidance of my dearest parents and the Maryknoll sisters through that of the wonderful Dominican friars--have helped me to continue to grow in love for the Dominican life and the missionary apostolate. I pray that the Lord continues to bless my vocation.
My great devotion to St. Jude Thaddeus and other Dominican saints has also grown stronger. I carry images and statues of my favorites wherever I may go. Father Vicente once said to me, “David, you have a lot of saints.” I said, “Yes, Father, because I need a lot of help.” If you too need help, please send your special intentions to us in Mexicali and I will be sure to place them before the saints on the altar in my room.