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The Duke's Grandson a New Priest

The Region

February 25, 2002|CHRISTINE HANLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

John Wayne's grandson Matthew Munoz returned to the chapel of his youth Sunday as a newly ordained Roman Catholic priest, sharing the story of his spiritual struggle that began with boyhood misadventures on Balboa Island.

"Me and my brothers raised hell here," Munoz joked as he opened 10 a.m. Mass at St. John Vianney Chapel on the island, drawing bursts of laughter. "And now we're going to try to bring a little heaven back."

Munoz, 37, is the eldest of five children born to Melinda and Gregory Munoz. His mom is a daughter of John Wayne and his first wife, Josephine. His dad, now remarried, is a judge in Santa Ana. His parents, grandmother and other relatives filled the front pews for the hourlong service.

"It's the most wonderful thing that ever happened," said Josephine Wayne, who traveled from Los Angeles for the occasion. "It's a great gift from God."

With wavy dark hair and a goatee, Munoz cuts a cleaner image than during his soul-searching years. Even he pokes fun of the way he used to look, when he considered himself a hermit and let his hair and beard grow past his waist.

Munoz also acknowledged the struggle of his spiritual journey. He spent the early 1990s in seminary but left in 1993, unsure whether he wanted to devote his life to God or get married and start a family. He spent the next seven years teaching high school and working with the poor in Mexico before resuming his studies, on the counsel of Msgr. Lawrence Baird, pastor at St. John Vianney.

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