Meet The Reverend Santos Castillo, fondly known as “Father Sunny” to his parishioners at Mary Queen of Heaven Parish in Elmhurst, IL. Prior to this, he was given the charge of consolidating three parishes where he also served as pastor - Saint Teresa (2011-2017), Saint Martin (2015-2017) and Saint Rose (2015-2017) so that in July 2017, he became the founding pastor of St. John Paul II Parish in Kankakee. Prior to these pastorate assignments, he served as parochial vicar at Saint Mary Immaculate in Plainfield (2004-2007), Saint Michael in Wheaton (2007-2010), and Saint Dominic in Bolingbrook (2010-2011). Being the founding pastor of JP2 is just another bright bit of glass in the mosaic that comprises his priesthood.
Although his journey took a meandering path, all steps seemed to guide him to the mission he so uniquely serves. Named after a Benedictine monk who visited his family in Candon City, Philippines (“Santos Castillo” translates roughly to “Castle of Saints”), he began early study at the San Pablo Seminary in the Philippines, but left to priestly formation to discern more deeply and mature more in his personal life. He ended up pursuing a career in show business in the Philippines, singing and co-hosting a children’s show on national television there. He acted on Filipino soap operas and worked as a commercial model for Cosmopolitan Philippines, showing enough promise in those pursuits to know that he could realize both fortune and some fame. That didn’t seem to be enough, however, and he returned to school to achieve his master’s degree in philosophy while teaching philosophy at the Ateneo, the Jesuit University in Manila.
Through those years, something indefinable kept tugging at his heart; he recognized it as a call to return to the Seminary. In 2000, he did just that. His American spiritual director encouraged him to become a “diocesan missionary” to a foreign country that might be in need of priests. He was encouraged by the idea of giving back on behalf of the Catholic Philippines, who “had received evangelization from missionaries from the West.” He ended up in the Joliet Diocese through an online application process, and was sent to Mundelein Seminary to finish his seminary formation.
Father Sunny was ordained a priest on June 5, 2004, only the second Filipino to be ordained for the Diocese of Joliet, and perhaps the first to view the United States as his mission.
This priest is surely one for the modern ages: his website (castleofsaints.com), his books of poetry (Whistle of Boatmen and Plant Me On The River), his photography, favorite recipes and original songs. Over the years, Fr. Sunny has led many pilgrimages to holy sites in Europe and Asia, participated in mission trips in the USA, South America and the Philippines, and is the spiritual director of a Support Group for Filipino Seminarians in the USA and the World Apostolate of Fatima Joliet Chapter. He has done various parish missions and presentations, taking with him an endearing sense of humor and sense of humanity, and his profound love for God and the Church. All these endear him to his flocks on the internet, in the pews and wherever his missionary heart leads him to speak the voice of God.
In 2018, he was awarded the Ernie Norbeck Service Award for his work as a Filipino priest, but admitted that he felt awkward receiving an award for something that he was supposed to be doing in the first place. And so, he continue to do the holy work that he was ordained for, and gives thanks to God even for the smallest, quietest moments of divine intimacy that his priestly ministry brings to his joyful soul.
Singer, Actor, Poet, Blogger… Priest!
(adapted and updated from an article written by Kristin M. Seely of Saint Michael Church, Wheaton, IL In June 2010)