The Clarion Herald asked priests and deacons who are celebrating their 25th, 40th or 50th anniversaries of ordination this year to reflect on their call to serve God through ordained ministry.
60 years a priest
Administering the sacraments, teaching, administration – the works to which I have been assigned these last 60 years – have given me an opportunity to grow as a person for others. There have been many challenges but many more occasions of joy. To be a Jesuit is to grow as a friend of Jesus. Jesus told us on many occasions that we can find him in those around us – especially those in need. I thank God for the enormous love I have received in return for the little I have been able to give.
50 years a priest
Nearing my 50th anniversary of ordination has stirred many memories of deep and awesome gratitude and an awareness that I have been graced with God’s mercy and love sustaining me through joys and sorrows.
I’ve always been grateful to celebrate Eucharist and the other sacraments, to let Christ in me gather his people to himself. I’ve met so many wonderful people just because I am a priest, and I realize God uses me to be a connection to himself.
There have been challenging and painful moments learning humility, obedience and how to love, but God’s grace is strong and lasting and has brought me through to this moment, and I know will continue to be with me. To be honest, it just keeps getting better and better, happier and happier!
I’m grateful to my Dominican community for supporting me as a pianist and composer. Yours, “The Piano-Playing Priest.”
I was born in my family home in Reading, Pennsylvania, just three blocks from the Schuylkill River. I retired from St. Joseph Church and Shrine in Gretna, just six blocks from the Mississippi River. As many retirees do, I have reflected on what has occurred in between my 82 years!
The Letter of St. Paul gave me the answer: “We know that God makes all things work together for the good for those who have been called according to his decree” (Rom 8:28).
I acknowledge with gratitude and thanksgiving that Jesus has fulfilled his promise: “There is no one who has given up house, family for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive hundreds more brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers in this present age … and eternal life in the age to come” (Mark 10:29-30).
It is and has been a joy to serve God’s people, both with the Salesians of St. John Bosco and the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
Father Harry Grile, C.Ss.R.
Fifty years – that’s a long time! It has been a very fast 50 years with many blessings, especially in ministering with people of all sorts. When I was ordained, I volunteered for the foreign missions. That was not to be. I have been blessed to serve in a variety of ministries – teaching, preaching, pastoring, publishing, “provincializing” (administration) and now praying with people at the Seelos Shrine. The one word that captures it for me is gratitude. I thank God that God called me and continues to sustain me in this wonderful calling.
40 years a priest
In the late ’70s, I read Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s book, “The Priest is Not His Own.” It had a powerful impact on me! This title and the meaning of the words led me to travel far and wide to grasp and understand the true meaning of “Not His Own.”
Emptying, dying, giving up, all embracing “to become all things to all men” led me from being on the pedestal on the altar to a traveler walking on the ground in the streets, in the swamp and jungle, countries and cultures, living as a signpost of contradictions in the real world.
These are the images coming to my mind: Francis of Assisi, Bede Griffiths of Thaneerpalli, the Little Flower, Oscar Romero, Pope Francis, etc., who constantly challenge my mind and heart with Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” question in dealing with the challenging world!
Priesthood initially began as thrills and frills and excitements, middle years, breaking down the conventions and concepts in pain and suffocation. It presently exists as a sign and eternal hope of the future amidst the anticlimax of the modern world.
As I look back on my 40 years as a priest, I realize how blessed I have been and reflect on the joy and peace that I have experienced. Over the years, the good Lord has put some very wonderful people into my life who have both supported and challenged me to be my very best.
The gift of my priesthood has allowed me to enter into a number of various faith communities as Christ’s representative in both good times and bad. I can honestly say that I have never regretted becoming a priest; a pastor, however, is another story for another time.
I thank God every day for his call to me be his priest and my courage to say yes.
It has been a wonderful blessing for me to be able to serve as a priest here in the Archdiocese of New Orleans for the last 40 years. As I celebrate this anniversary, I am especially mindful of my wonderful parents, who I know are smiling down from heaven. They provided a loving home for me and my three siblings, where living our faith was at the center.
I have had many wonderful assignments in the archdiocese, including vocation director and CYO/Youth Ministry director. However it wasn’t until I became a pastor in 1995 that I really experienced the great joy of serving as a priest. I have served in only two parishes as a pastor – 19 years at Mary Queen of Peace Parish in Mandeville and for the last four years at St. Catherine of Siena in Metairie. I can say without a doubt that God sent me to two outstanding parishes.
I give praise and thanks to God for all his blessings, and I pray that he will strengthen me so that I may continue to serve as his priest.
Celebrating 40 years of priesthood, I stand in awe of the God of surprise. When I follow Jesus into the valley to help shepherd his flock, God renews his call for me to manifest the compassion of God. I’ve learned to treasure everything and every person along the way. Scripture is correct: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
Shout “AMEN! God is Good” – God brought us and kept us. Moan, groan “Lord, hold my hand” – when I realize that any desire for control leads to destruction.
Celebrate “Hallelujah!” – doing what is given me to do. “Glory to God in Christ Jesus.”
My life as a priest, which began on March 18, 1978, at St. Ignatius Church in Tokyo, Japan, can be summarized in three words: presence, communion and sacrifice.
As a priest and as a member of the Society of Jesus, I have had the joy of being present in friendship and companionship to many people all over the world. My theology studies in Tokyo and my work teaching in Hiroshima and Kobe, Japan, gave me many opportunities to bring Christ’s presence to people and to be present to them.
My life as a priest after Japan, teaching at Loyola University New Orleans and at St. Joseph College Seminary, has included sacrifice and working without always seeing the fruits of ministry, but always loving what I was doing and being grateful for it.
The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, Communion with our Lord and the sacrifices of many people for me and their friendship have been the center of priesthood for these 40 years. I will always be grateful to God for these gifts and to the people I have known.
25 years a priest
I’ve been privileged to accompany families in important times of joy and sadness. I learned the Spanish language, culture and particular needs of Hispanic Catholics. I taught religion with children and youth groups at schools, parishes and retreat programs. I visited the sick and elderly in hospitals, senior living centers and homes, bringing them the sacraments and listening to their stories. I served in pro-life ministry, offering prayer, educating the public and peacefully protesting the immoral treatment of the unborn, disabled and others. I studied in Rome and then served in the formation of seminarians. I have helped the poor and homeless. Others have inspired me. I grew in my faith life through serving the Charismatic Renewal in small Christian communities, healing retreats and joyful praise.
I have lived a rich life, and I thank God for the blessings I have received in bringing Christ to others.
Nothing prepares you for the surprise of the priesthood. I thought I had learned something while in seminary formation; however, the last 25 years of ministry have been a process of getting to know Christ in order to truly reflect something or some aspect of his love for humanity, because no one can truly reflect all of Christ. The closer I got to Jesus, the more I realized that every moment of my priestly life was a gift sent from him. I am the beneficiary of a great love; for this, I am grateful on the occasion of this jubilee.
Father Pat Williams
I have often told people that priesthood for me is like having a front-row seat to God’s grace. I have been blessed to see how God can work in people’s lives to transform sorrow into joy and despair into hope. It can be quite challenging at times to walk with people when they experience heartache and pain, but I continue to be amazed how God can use my priesthood to help people in their time of need. I remember when I became a priest thinking that I wanted to help people know God more deeply. I realize now that being a priest has helped me to know God in ways that I never dreamed were possible.
25 years a deacon
After 25 years of diaconal ministry, I still stand in awe that I have been graced to receive the sacrament of holy orders. Being a deacon has enriched my marriage to my wife Donna beyond measure. I am able to serve because of her generosity, love and support, without which I could never have committed the time and energy necessary to serve as a deacon.
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to serve in many and varied ministries in parishes and the archdiocese. My journey as a deacon has been both exciting and humbling. I have always felt that I have received much more than I gave. I will be forever grateful for God’s call to the permanent diaconate.
Deacon Richard Brady
As I reflect on my 25 years after ordination, one thought continues to come to mind – I am overwhelmed by God’s grace. Having the privilege to walk with God’s people on our journey of faith is a unique privilege. Helping couples preparing for matrimony and witnessing their marriages, with families baptizing their children, with families saying their final farewells, with people seeking annulments, the ability to break open God’s word and speak to the hearts of his beloved people – I am overwhelmed by God’s grace. I am thankful for my wife’s willingness to share in this journey with me in God’s vineyard.
Deacon Nicholas F. Chetta
I thank God for my 25 years serving as a deacon. As I look back on my ministry, I recall the many people with whom I interacted. The duties may be many and varied, but the
highlight of being a deacon is preparing people for the sacraments, performing sacraments for parishioners, bringing people back to the church and counseling individuals or couples when called upon. It is meeting and speaking with others while spreading the Gospel.
That is the joy of my ministry. God has blessed me in my years of serving him as a deacon, so I can truly say, “It’s a wonderful life.”
“I baptize you, Cecile Marie … I baptize you, John William …”
When I baptized our twin grandchildren and their sister, Dillon Marie, I experienced a deep joy, parallel to none. I was thinking how rewarding the diaconate ministry can be.
A great inspiration to me at Holy Family in Luling was Father John Finn. He allowed me to do the baptisms; he presided at the funerals.
He encouraged me to participate in or officiate at the important liturgical functions of the church. I enjoyed working with the altar servers and encouraging men in our parish to consider the diaconate as a vocation.
My greatest anxiety centered on the preparation and delivery of homilies. I knew that when the parishioners heard my homily, they were supposed to hear the message of Christ. I worked hard to achieve this goal.
The prison ministry touched me deeply in that I would always come away with the thought, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
I am truly blessed in so many ways, especially that my wife, Jeri, has been on the journey with me.
Reflecting, I ask myself, “Why me?” In hindsight, I still have not found an answer to that question.
Having said that, I think of all the people who have become part of my life because of my ministry. What a blessing and a gift they have been – the joys of sharing the sacraments of baptism and matrimony with so many families. Yet, doing a wake service of an infant with parents who were dying inside, how deeply it touched me to be there for them, giving me a sense of purpose like none ever felt before.
A sense of God’s presence in each of us, each with a unique purpose. I believe being a deacon has no answer to the “Why me?” question and never will. I have learned I don’t really need one and would not change a thing.
Deacon Henry Nuss
I have been a deacon for more than 25 years now. When God called me to the diaconate, he gave me the opportunity to go to heaven by increasing my faith. It is my hope that I have had a positive influence on others so that one day we can all go to heaven. Thank you, Jesus.