Seven children from St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Metairie got a close-up view of the Litany of the Saints as eight ordinands for the priesthood in the Archdiocese of New Orleans lay prostrate June 1 at St. Louis Cathedral. Getting the angel’s eyeview of the Ordination Mass were Ramsey Macicek, Ella Brulet, Reagan Macicek, Olivia Brulet, Sophie Wilken, Connor Wilken and Henry Wilken. They were friends of ordinand Father Andrew Gutierrez. (see above photo)
By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald
Photos by Frank J. Methe, Clarion Herald
It is never ultimately about numbers when one reflects on vocations to the priesthood, but inside St. Louis Cathedral on June 1, there was a powerful sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence – men, women and children standing in the back and along the side aisles because there was not a seat, much less a pew, to be had.
That’s what happens when eight men are ordained to the priesthood at the same time – the largest ordination class in the Archdiocese of New Orleans since eight priests were ordained in 1987.
For the record books
The ordinands were Fathers Douglas Busch, Daniel Darmanin, David Frank, Andrew Gutierrez, Daniel Okafor, Leon Poché Jr., Andrew Rudmann and Damian Zablocki, who will begin their priestly ministry in parishes of the archdiocese on July 1.
It has been 51 years since more than eight priests were ordained for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. In 1968, Archbishop Philip Hannan ordained 13 new priests.
Another large class came in 2001, when Archbishop Francis Schulte ordained seven men.
Archbishop Gregory Aymond jokingly apologized for the tight quarters in the cathedral, whose pews can squeeze in about 1,000 people, elbow-to-elbow. Cathedral ushers estimated more than 1,200 people attended the Ordination Mass.
“We are sorry that so many of you have to stand,” Archbishop Aymond said, addressing the overflow congregation. “But I guess when this cathedral was built, we didn’t foresee eight ordinations to the priesthood. Thank you for enduring that sacrifice in order to pray with us and to witness the ordination.”
In his homily, the archbishop identified the unique journey each man had taken to the altar.
Over many years, Father Busch drove a 18-wheeler 1 million miles across the United States – “which became a long retreat” – before hearing his call.
The archbishop said Father Darmanin felt a vocational tug during an Easter Mass; Father Frank drew close to God as an altar server and through a friendship with his pastor; Father Gutierrez had a powerful experience of forgiveness during confession as a teenager; Father Okafor was inspired by his brother who was a seminarian and who became priest; Father Poché, a widower, was brought “closer to Christ” through the suffering and death of his wife Maureen; Father Rudmann felt God fill an emptiness in his heart that “led to a new conversation with God”; and Father Zablocki read a book as a child about Our Lady of Fatima, which led him to become Catholic and produced “an openness to priestly ministry.”
“The Lord Jesus has spoken to the hearts of these men, ‘Come, follow me. I need you to lead and to serve my people,’” Archbishop Aymond said.
Took discernment, prayer
He said the vocational call sometimes is discerned with “clarity,” but often the call can be “confusing.”
“The questions are, ‘What, Lord, does it really mean? Do you expect me to do that?’” Archbishop Aymond said. “And you have come to discern that. The call to priesthood today and for the rest of your life will always be a mystery. Don’t try to explain that mystery. Accept it, unworthy though we are. We are called to share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, nothing any of us deserves.”
The archbishop said the powerful symbolism of the ordinands lying prostrate before the altar during the Litany of the Saints encompasses the idea of “total surrender to the Lord Jesus and emptying of themselves.”
“As we know, God cannot fill what is full,” the archbishop said. “He can only fill emptiness. You are emptying yourselves so that God can fill you with his Holy Spirit in that moment, his priestly Spirit.”
As he often reminds newly ordained priests, the archbishop urged them to prepare prayerfully to proclaim the Word of God and to preach.
“There are many voices in our world today, but your voice must be strong,” he said. “And it must speak God’s word, never our own word. Pope Francis says it well when he says, ‘My brothers, preach in a simple way. Just speak to the hearts of God’s people as he has spoken to your heart.”
The archbishop explained that the new priests’ hands are anointed with sacred chrism “because your hands will touch the sacred, and you will speak in the name of Jesus. And as the priest forgives sins in the name of Christ during confession, he is a sign of the merciful father, someone who says, “Do not be afraid; you are not alone.”
He also urged the ordinands to remain connected to the fraternity of priests for spiritual and emotional support.
“In priestly ministry, we cannot be a lone ranger,” he said.
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.
New priests share their prayers, dreams after June 1 ordination at St. Louis Cathedral
Father Daniel Okafor
“I’m excited. I’m so happy that in spite of my unworthiness, the Lord chose me to be delivered to this office of the priesthood. Just like the archbishop said in the homily, to empty myself in total surrender to God and then to be filled with the Holy Spirit so that I can minister to his people. For that gift of the priesthood, I am so happy. … I’m so grateful. I’m so happy. Like I said, I’m so excited to be given this gift.”
Father Damian Zablocki
Father Zablocki felt an overwhelming sense of humility throughout the Ordination Mass, especially during the Litany of Saints and the moment he was able to join his fellow priests around the altar for the Eucharistic Prayer. “I can’t believe that our Lord took me – he chose me – among so many people that are much more worthy than I am to do this,” he said.
Father Douglas Busch
“I’m feeling the most inexpressible joy that you can feel as I give myself completely to our Lord and the people of God. It’s been a long journey through thick and thin, and the Holy Spirit has guided me the whole way and has reigned in my heart. It’s only through the great gift of God that I’m able to give my life again to him and to his church. Thanks be to God. God is good!” Father Busch used an item of clothing from his late son, to whom he has dedicated his priesthood, to wash his hands after they were anointed with sacred chrism. “I’ve dedicated my priesthood to him and consecrated it to our Blessed Mother. The oil of chrism – it just fills my heart.” Father Busch celebrated his first Mass at 4 p.m. on June 1 and later that night presided at the wedding of another son. “Thanks be to God, again, for all of this.”
Father Daniel Darmanin
“I’m exhilarated. I’m simply at a loss for words. … It hasn’t quite hit me yet that I’m now ordained. It’s a very long journey, but God has been good, and I trust him. It’s going to take a while just to sink in what has just happened.
I still have a lot to learn at St. Angela Merici from Father Beau Charbonnet and also from the parishioners there. (I’m excited) to offer sacraments. It’s going to be an exciting year, certainly a year of transition.”
Father David Frank
Father Frank said he teared up at “the moment of ordination,” as the archbishop recited the Prayer of Consecration over him. “I am just amazed at how God has worked for me and how he’s going to work for me. I have no idea what (the priesthood) is going to look like, except that I know that God’s with me.”
While he looks forward to regular priestly duties such as celebrating Mass, hearing confessions and anointing the dying, Father Frank said he couldn’t wait to make himself available to all who desire a priestly blessing.
“I’ve always wanted to be able to give blessings to the people of God – bless people’s houses, bless couples on their anniversaries – any kind of blessing.”
Father Andrew Rudmann
Father Andrew Rudmann took to heart the archbishop’s reminder, delivered during the homily, of the priest’s need to “empty” himself and to trust that God would be there, every step of the way. Father Rudmann said the archbishop’s wisdom helped him put aside worries such as preaching at his first Mass and the other responsibilities of his new role.
“As I was lying prostrate on the ground, I really focused on that (emptying of self),” Father Rudmann said. “I just decided in the Mass to empty myself of all (those worries) and allow Jesus to fill me, because it’s he who is going to be ministering through me. And so, just really being able to do that was a great grace during the Mass, and I’m filled with tremendous joy right now.“
Father Leon Poché Jr.
“Just feeling great and feeling blessed and filled with the Holy Spirit. And we’re thankful that God chose me to serve this church.” Asked about his expectations for his first year as a priest, Father Poche said: “Just do whatever God asks – just the peace and quiet and the love of God.”
Father Andrew Gutierrez
“If I had to articulate the expression that I felt really throughout most of the ordination rite, it was, ‘Are you for real?’ I kept on repeating in my head: ‘Are you for real, Lord? Did you just do that?’ And that is 100 percent the fact of the sacrament. It’s a guaranteed encounter with Jesus. He imparts grace upon us for this purpose. This is really not about us and my seven brothers, but is really about the glory of God and praising him and giving him thanks.” Father Gutierrez’s father – Deacon Martin Gutierrez – was at the left hand of the archbishop. “Seeing my dad there (was) just so amazing, knowing that my dad was praying for me throughout all of this; that he’s praying for me and he’s taken care of me in his own fatherhood and fulfilling that role.”