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“An extraordinary class … in an extraordinary year.”
That’s how Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin described the six men he ordained to the priesthood on June 25 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis during the Church’s Holy Year of Mercy.
It was the largest number of men who were ordained priests for the Church in central and southern Indiana since 2002 when eight men were ordained.
Moments before he ordained them, Archbishop Tobin reflected on the connection between the Year of Mercy and the ordination.
“We have turned to God, begging for mercy and have been strengthened as ambassadors of reconciliation,” he said. “Since we recognize that God has torn down each and every barrier that could really divide us, we have deepened our commitment to build bridges, not walls.”
He later reflected on three questions that Pope Francis put to thousands of priests in St. Peter’s Square a few weeks ago during a special jubilee for priests during the Year of Mercy.
Where is the heart of a priest? Where is the joy of a priest? And what is the identity of a priest?
Archbishop Tobin said a priest’s heart “knows only two directions: the Lord and his people.” It is intent on prayer leading to an ever closer relationship with Christ and intimate service to God’s people.
“Pope Francis described the heart of the priest as a heart pierced by the love of the Lord,” Archbishop Tobin said. “For this reason, he no longer looks to himself or should look to himself, but is instead turned toward God and his brothers and sisters.”
In describing the joy of a priest, Archbishop Tobin said, referring to the preaching of Pope Francis, that “a priest is changed by the mercy that he gives.”
“In prayer, he discovers God’s consolation and realizes that nothing is more powerful than God’s love,” Archbishop Tobin said. “In this way, he experiences inner peace and is happy to be a channel of mercy, to bring men and women closer to the heart of God.”
Archbishop Tobin finally reflected on the identity of a priest. He noted that it is found in the celebration of the Eucharist.
“In every Mass, we strive to make Christ’s words our words, ‘This is my body, which is given for you ’ ” (Lk 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24), Archbishop Tobin said. “This is the meaning of our life. With these words, in a real way you and I can renew each day the promises we made on the day of our priestly ordination.”
After the Mass, the newly ordained priests reflected on these questions about the priesthood and being ordained in the Year of Mercy.
“It’s something that will remain in my mind, especially in hearing confessions and in approaching people,” said Father Brockmeier. “My priesthood is definitely in the context of God’s mercy to me in my own life. I hope I can hand on God’s mercy to others. It’s a two-way street.”
Father Hollowell described after the Mass how he gained a new appreciation of God’s mercy while in prayer the night before the ordination.
“God gave me the grace to understand that there was no one at this ordination today that needs God’s mercy more than me,” he said. “To know that he’s given that so freely, abundantly and continuously is a priceless gift.”
Father Tucci recalled being given a clear reminder of the tie between his priestly identity and the Eucharist when processing into the cathedral at the start of the Mass and seeing the altar before him.
“That is my ministry now, to be at the altar and from the altar to sanctify the people in the best way that I can,” he said. “Jesus works through us as priests and me as a priest.”
Later in the ordination Mass, the newly ordained priests were ritually handed a chalice and paten, symbolic of the vessels they will use at every Eucharist.
It was an emotional moment for Father Tucci.
“They’re the tools of the trade,” he said. “Christ works through me and for the Church to sanctify it. It was special, very, very special.”
One of the most dramatic moments of the ordination Mass was when the six transitional deacons lay prostrate on the floor of the cathedral while they and the congregation of nearly 1,000, including more than 100 priests, prayed the Litany of the Saints.
It was an expression of the Church’s timeless belief in the communion of the saints, which holds that all believers stretched across space and time are one in Christ.
Father Ajpacajá experienced this connection in a poignant way, since none of his relatives from Guatemala were able to attend his ordination.
“I think, somehow, we were connected in prayer,” he said. “… God has been in our journey through difficult times and through this special time.”
A few feet away, Father Hunter shared similar emotions since both of his parents are deceased. They were in his heart and mind “through the whole Mass,” he said.
Two of his aunts were present at the Mass, including Nona Dottery, a member of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis.
“It was fantastic,” she said of the ordination. “It was tearful and so joyful. I shed some tears, but they were tears of joy.”
Father Hunter has shared much joy over the years with his ordination classmates.
“You share fraternally in the priesthood with many priests,” Father Hunter said. “To do that with five that you’ve gone to school with, you’ve laughed with, talked with, had pizza with, makes that bond a lot stronger.”
Michelle Tucci was grateful for the deep relationships that her son shares with so many priests.
“They’ve all supported him so much,” she said. “I wish that all Catholics would know how the priests have a special bond with each other. It’s awesome. And they need that.”
Father Rodden knows well the importance of his brother priests, especially his classmates.
“Taking this step is so big,” he said. “It’s impossible without the grace of God. I think he’s worked a lot through my brothers throughout the seminary. Just having that much support, to say ‘Yes,’ knowing that I’m not entering alone but joining a giant group that God has provided for me to be a part of has been a big part of my discernment.”
The support extends beyond the newly ordained priests to their families.
“We’re all together and happy for each other,” said Diane Hollowell, mother of Father Hollowell. “It’s been beautiful to have these other families included, praying for each other. I’m so happy to share the joy that we’ve been feeling with other families.”
Don Brockmeier, father of Father James Brockmeier, said the prostration was an “emotionally intense” moment and gave him a keen awareness of “the seriousness, thoroughness and completeness of the sacrifice” that his son and his classmates were making.
“That’s when it became real,” Don Brockmeier said.
Father Tucci was brimming with joy after the ordination, looking forward to carrying out the mission God has given him and his five ordination classmates.
“I’m so excited,” he said. “Day by day, I will take this gift of the priesthood, thank God for it and do my best to play my small part in sanctifying the world.”
(To learn more about a vocation to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, visit www.HearGodsCall.com.) †