Joseph Espaillat is making history in the Catholic church.
The 45-year-old New York City native became the youngest Roman Catholic bishop in the United States when he was ordained at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan in March.
In an interview with Al Roker on TODAY Thursday, Espaillat recalled what it was like to receive a call from the Vatican telling him that he was going to serve as an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New York alongside Bishop John Bonnici, who was also recently appointed.
Espaillat said that when the phone rang the first time, he decided not to pick up because he thought it wasn't important.
"Four times, this call from Washington, D.C. And I was just like, 'I'm not picking this up. I don't owe anybody money,'" he joked.
But when the phone rang the sixth time, Espaillat knew that it was time to answer.
Soon, he was on a call with someone from Washington, D.C., and was hearing about how his life was going to change.
Espaillat has become popular for his unconventional ways of teaching. He is known for rapping to young people in his community to help them connect with God. He also hosts a podcast called “Sainthood in the City.”
"They think a saint can’t be hip, a saint can’t be cool, a saint, you know, can’t wear hoodies, you know, a saint can’t wear Jordans," he said. "We just said, let’s just go out there and, let’s do it."
Espaillat explained that he started to take his faith seriously after a "great priest" challenged him to in high school.
"He said 'Jo, I think God might be calling you to become a priest.' And at that point, it wasn’t like, OK!" he said.
He wasn't convinced of his path until he graduated from Fordham University in the Bronx and had an "intense spirituality year" in rural Pennsylvania.
Espaillat came up with the idea of using rapping as a teaching tool when he was a parish priest.
"There was a talent show at this parish, Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, and a couple of the young boys wanted to rap, but you know these secular songs and they had a lot of bad words in them," he told Al.
"And I said, 'I bet you money, I could come up with a rap song' ... and they were like, 'Oh no, Father, you can’t rap,' and I was like, 'Watch.' I was like, challenge is on, so I took the challenge."
When asked what he would say to anyone who might question his way of teaching, Espaillat said he's just using his talents to speak to his community, the same way Jesus did.
"Jesus preached to his people, in his day, using their language, using their images, using their culture," he said.
After being ordained to the priesthood in 2003, he's now making history as the first Dominican bishop in the New York Archdiocese.
Espaillat said many Catholics in the Latino community in New York were "happy" to see him take on the role.
"It’s a nod to the people of color, of minority, in saying, we see you. And you are important," he said.