June 8, 2007

Laying themselves down for Christ: Fathers Kovatch, Nagel and Summers begin life and ministry as priests

Deacons Kovatch, from left, Nagel and Summers lay prostrate on the floor of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral shortly before they were ordained to the priesthood.

Deacons Kovatch, from left, Nagel and Summers lay prostrate on the floor of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral shortly before they were ordained to the priesthood.

By Sean Gallagher

On the cold terrazzo floor of a cavernous cathedral, three men dressed in white laid face down, prostrate in prayer.

In laying themselves down before more than a thousand family members, friends, priests, deacons, seminarians and Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein on June 2 in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral, Deacons Thomas Kovatch, Eric Nagel and Randall Summers took on the image of Christ, who laid down his life for all humanity.

Just minutes later, Archbishop Buechlein, in a ritual gesture that can be traced back to the Apostles, of whom he is a successor, laid his hands upon them, and the three were ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Each thus became what has classically been called an alter Christus, “another Christ.”

In his homily just prior to the ordination ritual, the archbishop spoke to the three men about the meaning of the vocation to which they were called.

“Today, you put yourself at Christ’s disposal,” Archbishop Buechlein said. “You offer yourselves to serve the people of our local Church, to do that in the person of Christ, the high priest and bridegroom of the Church.

“Today, we pray with you that Jesus will take you by the hand again and again and lead you in your priestly ministry.”

As the liturgy progressed, the newly ordained Fathers Kovatch, Nagel and Summers gradually took on more and more visible signs of the priesthood.

They were vested in a stole and chasuble. Archbishop Buechlein anointed their hands with chrism and presented them with a chalice and paten.

And the approximately 90 priests present for the liturgy joined the archbishop in the imposition of hands on the new priests, and in a joyous sharing of the sign of peace.

As the eucharistic prayer began, the three new priests stood at the altar with Archbishop Buechlein and participated for the first time in consecrating the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.

Finally, at the Mass’ conclusion, Fathers Kovatch, Nagel and Summers joined the archbishop in blessing the congregation. They individually blessed the archbishop as well.

After the Mass, the celebration continued across the street with a reception at the Archbishop O’Meara Catholic Center Assembly Hall.

Long lines of well-wishers waited to greet the new priests and receive blessings from them.

All three commented during the reception about their hopes for their priestly life and ministry, and how the power of the visual symbols of the ordination matched profound thoughts and prayers running through their hearts and minds during the liturgy.

Father Nagel said he was aware of how he was imitating Christ when he was lying prostrate on the cathedral floor.

“I said to the Lord in prayer, ‘I lay down my life for you this day. And I’ll continue to do my best to follow faithfully,’ ” he said.

Starting on July 3, Father Nagel will begin his ministry as the associate pastor of Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood and associate vocations director for the archdiocese.

Rita Nagel, Father Nagel’s mother, spoke of her own prayers during the litany of the saints.

“I was praying very hard that his deceased father was looking over him at that time,” she said.

Mary Lou Kovatch, mother of Father Thomas Kovatch, was filled with emotion after the liturgy.

“It was just humbling, very humbling. [I prayed,] ‘Sweet Jesus, you’ve brought us here’ ” she said with tears. “I’m just so grateful that everything turned out so well.”

Father Kovatch said he was nervous before the liturgy, but his anxieties quickly faded and were replaced by broad smiles.

As he looked forward to serving as the associate pastor of the three parishes that make up the Richmond Catholic Community and as chaplain of Seton Catholic High School, Father Kovatch said he hopes “to try and go out there and really be a joyful priest, a happy priest, to draw people closer to Christ.”

Father Summers also said he is anticipating the beginning of his ministry as associate pastor of St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis.

“I just look forward to a lot of new relationships, and to see how the ministry grows and blossoms,” he said. “It was a wonderful day.”

Father Eric Johnson, archdiocesan vocations director, helped guide the three newly ordained priests through the final years of their seminary formation.

“I think this is a happy day for the Church,’ he said. “We have three wonderful men that have come forward and said not only yes to God’s call but, in doing that, are themselves kind of an image of faith for the rest of us.

“They trust in God, and they trust in all of God’s promises and God’s people.” †

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