Published September 15, 2005
The hot, muggy summer morning with the threat of rain in the air did not deter over 500 people from attending Father Eric Hill’s installation as pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Church by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory at the 11:30 a.m. Sunday Mass on July 31. This is Father Hill’s first pastorate.
“This is an important time for a parish to have a new beginning,” Archbishop Gregory said, “and important for the new pastor to be introduced by the bishop in a formal introduction, welcome and blessing.”
At the beginning of Mass Archbishop Gregory acknowledged the people of Sts. Peter and Paul and also welcomed Father Hill’s parents, Harold and Ann Hill, his sister, Nancy Burk, and his nephew, David Burk.
After Deacon Jerry Lett proclaimed the Gospel, Archbishop Gregory went to the lectern and began the installation ceremony. After praying to the Holy Spirit, the archbishop invited Father Hill to stand by his side and said, “I now commend Father Eric Hill as your new pastor.” Immediately there was tremendous applause and a standing ovation by the congregation, which lasted several minutes.
Then Archbishop Gregory went to the ambo for his homily, which was taken from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans 8:35, 37-39: “What will separate us from the love of Christ?”
He stated that Paul’s world was just as messy as the world today with natural disasters, wars and everyday life.
“God’s love is more powerful than any obstacle, any difficulty, any problem, any disaster—natural or manmade—any worry that we might have,” Archbishop Gregory said. “With that security, we must face the world in which we live.”
Archbishop Gregory talked about how Paul’s community faced real martyrdom. “Still Paul reminds them that even the dangers that they faced would not separate them from the love that Christ has for them.”
“And so it remains true for us all, even today in our very messy and often hostile world,” he continued. “In spite of it all, of the bad news that fills the media—nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.”
Then Archbishop Gregory spoke of Sts. Peter and Paul’s “vibrant community of faith,” its proud history, and the pastors who have led the community to develop a “strong and generous faith.”
He continued, “You have helped to shape these same men as ministers of the Gospel. You have wept together, prayed together, and celebrated both the good times and the challenges of being Catholics and neighbors to this community.”
“Today you welcome a new young pastor. He is beginning his first pastorate in your midst. He is young and enthusiastic. He is energetic and hopeful,” Archbishop Gregory said. “He comes to you with the vitality of youth and the need to learn the art of being a successful pastor of souls. Within this community, together, priest and people will celebrate the mystery of our Catholic faith.”
“It is very important for a parish to be united with its pastor—it’s equally important for a pastor to enjoy the esteem and support of his people,” Archbishop Gregory said. He continued by praying that the community of Sts. Peter and Paul would experience the same spirit as Paul’s community to develop them into strong believers. “For after all, God’s creation can be messy at times and we need to strengthen one another for those challenges.”
After he finished his homily Archbishop Gregory gave Father Hill some advice: “When you love people, people will love you back.” He then walked over to the celebrant’s chair and, amidst tremendous applause, hugged Father Hill.
Then, at the lectern, the archbishop gave Father Hill the Book of the Gospels and prayed that Father Hill would “always be a loving father, gentle shepherd, and a wise leader.” After the profession of faith, Archbishop Gregory raised his right hand over Father Hill’s head and prayed over him.
Soloist Latonya Davis, accompanied by the parish choir, piano, drums and tambourines, sang the Communion meditation hymn “God Is.” Many in the congregation found her rendition prayerful and raised their hands or applauded during the hymn. At the end of the hymn, Davis, speaking, encouraged everyone to praise and worship God. While she spoke the choir softly sang in the background. When she finished the congregation gave her tremendous applause and a standing ovation.
Archbishop Gregory again recognized Father Hill’s parents, sister, and nephew. Father Hill thanked the archbishop for coming, and thanked his staff, the Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver, and the Women’s Council for planning the installation.
As he started to thank his parents he became emotional and, when he could not continue, the congregation began to applaud. When he tried again he was still too emotional, even when Deacon Lett put his hand on Father Hill’s back for support. So the congregation stood as a sign of support for Father Hill and applauded.
The fourth degree honor guard of the Knights of Peter Claver escorted the processional and recessional party. The choir was led by Frederick Ellis, choir director, the lectors were Felicia Mitchell and Cyprian Vickers, and the Communion gifts were brought up by the Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver.
“I love it here,” Father Hill said. “I’m very excited being here. This is a great parish. It has a long past with a great future ahead. There’s a lot of potential here.”
He continued, “I’m impressed with the archbishop. He came and spent time to talk to the people after the Mass. His great homily and beautiful Mass helps to pull together this community. This is a time for us to share, to express ourselves and our gifts with music, with the reception, with people gathered together at Mass.”
Father Hill grew up in Crown Point, Ind., and attended both Bradley and Purdue Universities before entering St. Vincent’s Seminary in Latrobe, Pa. He was ordained in 2000 and was first assigned to Transfiguration Church in Marietta and then Prince of Peace Church in Buford before coming to Sts. Peter and Paul.
“It was very special to me,” Father Hill’s mother, Ann, said. “I’m very impressed by the crowd here. It’s very special to have had this.”
Harold Hill, Father Hill’s father, said his son is “quick-witted, very adaptable to situations. You’ll like him.”
“It’s been a dream of his to become a pastor. He has leadership skills. I think he’ll learn a lot. This will be a good learning experience for him,” the new pastor’s sister, Nancy Burk, said.
“I thought it was a beautiful service. The archbishop had the wisdom to put a lot of heart, soul, and prayer in his decision to appoint our pastor,” parishioner Juanita Baranco said. “Our parish is the benefactor of that kind of thinking.”
“The installation was nicely done, very smooth. Father Eric looks OK to me. I’m going to support him as long as he’s here,” said Alvin Miles, who belongs to Sts. Peter and Paul Church.
Linda Giles, president of Sts. Peter and Paul’s Women’s Council, said, “It’s been such an awesome day. It was so touching when he tried to thank his parents.”
“Today was very beautiful, the ceremony so simple,” Paul Giles, parish sacristan, said. “I love the liturgy. It’s very easy to follow him. It’s easy to discuss things with him also. He likes give and take.”
Visitors from his former parishes said Father Hill was beloved in places he’s already served. Terry Jansen, a member of Transfiguration Church, said, “We love him at Transfiguration. We’re so proud of him. The people will be blessed having him here. He’s very spiritual and practical. I think he’ll make a wonderful pastor.”
“I think everyone should be commended for today. It was a great, great Mass. Father Eric is going to go far,” said Margaret Pritchard, a Prince of Peace parishioner.
A reception followed in the gym of St. Peter Claver Regional Catholic School, which is on the parish grounds. Kenley’s Catering and Sandwich Shop provided the food, consisting of chicken fingers, meatballs, cheese and crackers, mixed vegetables, mixed fresh fruit, dips, ham and turkey club sandwiches, brownies, cookies, wine, iced tea and punch.