By MARY ANN CASTRANIO, Staff Writer | Published March 11, 2004
In the presence of family, friends and well-wishers, Neil Joseph Herlihy was ordained to the transitional diaconate by Archbishop John F. Donoghue on Feb. 27 at Holy Family Church.
This step in his journey to priesthood has been a long time coming. Originally from New York, Herlihy moved to Atlanta over 15 years ago and became a member of Holy Family Church. He was in the process of discerning his vocation to the priesthood when his father became ill in 1997. Herlihy spent three years going back and forth from Atlanta to New York to help with his father’s care. This time period, he said, “just reaffirmed my calling.” After his father’s death in 2000, he entered St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, Pa., to pursue his calling full time.
The candles shining against the wall of windows behind the altar created an intimate, prayerful atmosphere as Herlihy processed into the church along with the archbishop, pastor Father Edward J. Thein and other priests and deacons.
The music for the event, performed by the Holy Family choir, brass ensemble and hand bell choir, matched the joyful mood of the evening. Lectors for the liturgy were Dennis and Patrick Herlihy, brothers of the new deacon.
In his homily, Archbishop Donoghue noted that this “event of great joy” was occurring just two days after the beginning of Lent. “But we have to say, that there is indeed much to be joyful about on this day. There is, first and above all, the joy of knowing that God is working to give His Church another priest, by now bringing our brother to that stage in his formation when he is prepared to accept the role of deacon in the Church for one year. We can anticipate the joy with which this diaconate will end—when Deacon Herlihy will return to the altar, seeking priestly ordination. May God be praised for His love and generosity, and may He protect our brother during this final time of preparation.”
The archbishop continued, “Today, in this rite of Ordination, we unwrap, like an early present, what is given today to the Church in Atlanta and North Georgia. This gift is the vocation of our brother—his answer to God’s call, his confirmation in the way of obedience, his persistence in seeking the priesthood. Today, a last bend in his journey is taken, as he is raised to the order of deacon, and takes up the duties proper to his final year of preparation.”
The archbishop explained that the work of the deacon takes place principally in three areas—assisting at the sacrifice of the altar, teaching the laws of our faith, and performing “acts of charity and selfless love,” to share the “abundance of Christ’s love he has already received.”
He then addressed the candidate.
“In the days leading up to your priestly ordination, remember that our Lord Himself has set the example for you to follow. Always attentive to the sacred rites of His people, always searching for God’s truth in Sacred Scripture, always ready to share the Father’s bountiful love, the Lord Jesus Christ lived perfectly the ordained life you are now called to follow. By serving others to the best of your ability in these three holy works, you will also be serving that same Lord, who has called you, and who now will accompany you in this final year of formation.”
He added, “Remember every day that Jesus Christ walks by your side. Guard your purity of soul and body, for your name is to be linked now with His; live with the Lord’s purpose in mind, and He will bring you success in your ministry; preach hope of resurrection to those who come before you for instruction, for hope was the Lord’s message; and express in actions of charity, the life of His word in you.”
Father Brian Higgins, vocations director of the archdiocese, presented Herlihy to Archbishop Donoghue for acceptance by him and the people. Herlihy then confirmed to the archbishop his commitment to a life of celibacy and service to the church. He then humbly prostrated himself in front of the altar while those in attendance prayed the Litany of the Saints in song.
The archbishop laid hands on the head of the candidate and said a prayer of consecration. Following Rev. Mr. Herlihy’s investiture, the archbishop presented him with the Book of the Gospels.
After Communion, Father Thein addressed the congregation, saying that it was a “tremendous pleasure to see Neil’s progress to deacon,” inviting all those there to also pray for the other seminarians in formation from Holy Family. He also asked for prayers for future vocations.
Following the ordination, parishioners and well-wishers gathered in the parish hall for a reception in honor of Rev. Mr. Herlihy.
His brother Patrick said, “We couldn’t be happier for him. He has been blessed his whole life and has always had a way of helping people. This is a perfect day. He has such a good heart. This is such a tribute to our mom.”
The new deacon said that his role models were his mother’s brother and his father’s brother, one a diocesan priest in New York and the other a Dominican priest. “Both used to come to the house for dinner and compare notes and complain about the little frustrations . . . but their joy of priesthood always came out. They were both so happy. They had a profound effect on me.”
His mother Grace, visiting Atlanta for the first time to attend this special occasion, noted that her husband had died in February 2000, and now Neil was ordained in February four years later. “God works in strange ways. Neil was always a devoted boy, and his father would have been so proud.”
Then she corrected herself, “His father is so proud.”