By Julia St. Clair
While growing up in Haiti, Fr. Dieunel Victor, SDB and CYM and theology teacher at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, MD, was led to the faith through his mother. “I started going to church faithfully with my mom when I was 11. We made our first communion together, along with my sister,” he reminisced. “It was a beautiful and very meaningful moment.” He also wondered about his vocation. “My first vocation was to get married, be a doctor, and have 12 kids. Then, I wanted to be a civil engineer because I like to construct things.”
In 2000, Fr. Dieunel’s father brought him and most of his family over to the US. Four years later, he decided to answer his vocation and become a priest. “People always said I’d be a priest, and I would say they were out of their minds, but God knew what He was doing” he beamed. “One person I credit in helping me realize this is my mother, who instilled vocation in me. My brothers and sisters have also always been with me since day one.” After he made the decision to enter religious life, Fr. Dieunel discovered Don Bosco. “I encountered him through the movie The True Story of the Apostle of Youth by Ben Gazzara, and Fr. Franco Pinto helped me to join the formation program in Orange, NJ after I decided, reluctantly, to give it a try,” he recalled.
Overall, Fr. Dieunel is very happy and grateful for his vocation. “Becoming an SDB and priest is the best decision I’ve ever made,” he remarked. “It’s a privilege to see the world in a different way, to minister, to rejoice, to grieve with others, to reach out to others, and to guide them to Christ.” Even in times of sorrow, Fr. Dieunel has always held onto his faith. “During my first year in Orange, NJ, I lost my mother and brother in a car accident. It was the most terrible thing that could happen,” he reflected. “Then, in 2014, I lost my father in a tragic way. God helped me grow and pushed me to do better, overcome the odds, and be steadfast in the faith.”
These odds also include some unfortunate incidents Fr. Dieunel encountered that no one should ever have to experience. “One time, I was driving, and someone hit the back of my car. I got out and asked the woman, ‘Are you okay?’” he remembered. “I was not in my priestly attire, and because of the color of my skin, she turned against me, even after I presented myself as a Catholic priest. She called her husband and son to come. They had guns on them, and it was a scary, unfortunate experience.”
And while he’s had a mostly positive experience in the Church, Fr. Dieunel has also had some moments where he faced discrimination. “Even in the Church, it is a challenge to be a person of color, especially if you’re a black person. I’m the only person of color in my community, and there is no difference between us,” he began. “Overall, I have not been treated differently because of my color, but outside of the community, there are individuals who put a label on you. Some people don’t come to me for communion because of my skin, but I ignore it. I will not let those people stop me. As a Haitian-American priest, I reach out to others. I don’t look at color—I love and appreciate everyone.”
Fr. Dieunel credits his Salesian Family and others for aiding him along the way. “I thank God for all the great people I’ve encountered in my journey, including my Catechist in Haiti; my former Pastor in Brooklyn, NY, Bishop Guy Sansaricq; Fr. Franco Pinto; Fr. Pat Angelucci; Fr. Tom Ruekert; the young people; and some others I’ve met in other countries,” he declared. “If it wasn’t for the Salesians, I don’t know where I would be, especially after I lost my mom and brother. The Blessed Mother has taken care of me for as long as I can remember and even more after my parents and brother were gone.” He also remains focused in his mission and does not let negative experiences stop him. “I don’t let the downs prevent me from leading God’s mission,” he said. “Most Salesian places I live in have been mostly with people of different races and cultures, and it sometimes can be a challenge. If I go for a walk, I think at times ‘are they going to call the cops on me? Will they come in my house and ask if I live here?’ Yet it doesn’t bother me much, and I try not to let negative experiences get in the way.”
Additionally, Fr. Dieunel would like to remind the youth of a quote from St. Francis de Sales— “Be who you are and be it well.” Fr. Dieunel advises them to “be who God created you to be. There’s always hope and good news, especially when it comes to vocation,” he continued. “Don’t be afraid to say yes to God. In knowing God, we will know and love ourselves. We come to understand who we are as people because God is truth. And when we are faithful to ourselves, God will help us fulfill the mission He has for us.”