By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY | Published June 24, 2010 | En Español
The three boys sitting behind me at the Delta airport lounge appeared to range in age from about 15 to 10 years old. They were obviously traveling with their dad, and the four were noticeably pleased to have just met Francis Cardinal George, their archbishop. The Tampa International Airport was overflowing with departing bishops heading home last Saturday from our June assembly in Florida.
The sight of so many clerics and the encounter with their own bishop evidently prompted one of the youngsters to declare: “Maybe I’ll become a priest.” It was that proclamation that piqued my interest as I began to pay closer attention to their ensuing conversation.
Their father was not only open to the possibility that one of his sons might want to become a priest—he was even encouraging of that option. I was relieved to hear his reaction. With three young sons, I am certain that he had entertained other such conversations about possible vocations, but in today’s environment, to have a young dad send a clear and positive message to a son about the priesthood was reassuring and refreshing.
It was apparent from the gist of their conversation that this was a family that practiced their faith and the boys were probably altar servers and they certainly attended Mass. Again, I was comforted to hear that a young family was active in passing on the faith to their children.
Then the father said something that really caught my attention: “You know some people are now very angry with the Church!” He then continued: “But there are some wonderful priests, and I would be glad if you became one!” Oh man! I felt genuinely gratified that this young dad was both honest and balanced in his view of the Church. While these boys probably lived in Chicago, it was a happy moment for me to know that there are fathers who still hold the priesthood in such high regard and who openly endorse that vocational exploration on the part of their sons.
This Saturday, the Archdiocese of Atlanta will celebrate the priesthood ordination of six men in a festive moment of joy. These men come from a variety of backgrounds, and I don’t even know when they might have begun thinking about becoming a priest. I am happy to know that along the line they must have encountered people who encouraged that vocational discernment. Maybe it was a parent, a sibling, a classmate, a friend, a priest or sister that they knew. But somewhere along the way they were encouraged to pursue this dream of becoming a priest, and Saturday will be the fulfillment of that discernment process.
May God be praised for planting the thought in their hearts and then sending people into their lives to encourage and support them along the way.
These six men are mature enough to realize that some people are, in fact, quite angry with our Church for various reasons, but—as the young father said—there still are many great and loving priests who provide a wonderful witness of faith and fidelity. We have lots of them right here in our local Church. May these six add to their number and become sources of encouragement for others—especially for any young men who might just need the witness of happy, zealous, holy and joyful priests to support their own vocational exploration.
This week we also commend to God’s Mercy another such fine example of priestly dedication as we celebrate the funeral rites for Msgr. Dan O’Connor who went home to God last Thursday. What a true Christian gentleman he was. I give thanks to God for the 49 years of priestly service he gave to the People of God here in the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
In 1961 when he was ordained, vocations to the priesthood were plentiful—plentiful enough for him to leave his native Connecticut to serve in the Southern mission diocese of Atlanta. His New England accent never left him, but his heart was clearly Southern. Whenever I visited him at his home during his illness, I was always blessed to encounter some of the many laity who had already preceded me to his residence. He was much beloved and will be greatly missed. May the Lord Jesus reward him for his faithful service, and may other young men consider following in his footsteps.