By STEPHEN O’KANE, Staff Writer | Published July 2, 2009
Over the last few years the bear traveled with the young girl from Atlanta to Canada to Ireland and back, and all the while Aisling offered the requested prayers for Ignacio Morales, the name that was included with her stuffed animal.
On Saturday, June 27, Aisling and her mother, Laura, attended the ordination Mass welcoming eight new priests into the archdiocese, including Father Morales, whom they met for the first time.
In addition to Father Morales, seven other priests were ordained: Father Nicholas Azar, Father Timothy Gallagher, Father Salomón Garcia Cortés, Father William Hao, Father Omar Loggiodice, Father Brian Lorei and Father Dominic Tho Tran.
Two of the new priests, Father Azar and Father Gallagher, are Georgia natives, while others reflect the international characteristics of Atlanta. Father Tran was born in Vietnam and Father Garcia and Father Morales in Mexico. Father Hao, a native of the Philippines of Chinese descent, has been a part of the business world here.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory served as the principal celebrant for the Mass, where the eight received the sacrament of holy orders and where their families and friends assembled to support the newly ordained and share their joy.
Hundreds filled the pews at the Cathedral of Christ the King and even more crowded the parish hall, which served as an overflow room, complete with a live feed projecting what was happening inside the church.
On the blistering Saturday morning, the church was alight with colorful dress from various countries and bright, almost constant flashes as loved ones snapped photos.
An ornate procession led into the Mass, complete with seminarians, deacons, more than 80 priests, the archbishop, Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue and Abbot Francis Michael Stiteler of the Cistercian Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Conyers.
The Mass proceeded through the reading from John’s Gospel, in which Jesus told his disciples, “Sanctify them in the truth. Your word is truth.”
Then the rite of ordination began with the reading aloud of each candidate’s name as he stood. Archbishop Gregory asked Father Luke Ballman, vocations director, “Luke, do you know them to be worthy?” Father Ballman replied confidently, “I testify that they have been found worthy.” At his words, the assembly burst into a standing ovation, one of many rounds of applause throughout the Mass.
“The Archdiocese of Atlanta is truly blessed with a great many wonderful, generous, joyful, zealous and holy priests,” the archbishop said during his homily. “Today, we pray that the Holy Spirit will provide us with eight more new such ministers of the Gospel.”
“My sons, today a dream that you each have nurtured will come to pass. No matter how long you have thought about and prayed over your vocation to the priesthood, today is the fulfillment of those prayers and dreams. But today is only the first day of your priesthood, and it may also be the easiest of those days,” Archbishop Gregory said.
Coming from all walks of life—one a veteran U.S. Army tank driver, another a financial analyst, another a software developer—the eight priests gathered in Atlanta’s mother church for the same reason of offering their lives in service to the church.
During the promise of obedience, each candidate reverently walked toward the cathedra, or bishop’s chair, knelt in front of Archbishop Gregory, who clasped their hands, looked them in the eye and asked, “Do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors?”
The candidates responded in the affirmative, drawing another response from the archbishop.
“May God, who has begun the good work in you, bring it to fulfillment,” he said with a sincere smile.
The eight then prostrated themselves before the altar while the congregation joined Archbishop Gregory and the Cathedral Choir in singing the Litany of the Saints.
The archbishop then laid his hands on each one in silence, which signifies the conferral of the Holy Spirit. All of the bishops and priests present followed, laying their hands in prayer on each man individually and silently.
Archbishop Gregory then said the prayer of consecration, completing the act of ordination and the newly ordained were vested with the stole and chasuble.
“Grant us these helpers that we need to exercise the priesthood that comes from the apostles,” prayed the archbishop.
The Mass continued with the Liturgy of the Eucharist, with the new priests participating at the altar. At the end of the Mass, the new priests stood around Archbishop Gregory, who asked for their blessing. It was a moment captured by the cameras of many, and one captured by the hearts of the priests.
As the procession left the sanctuary, the new priests again received boisterous applause, departing smiling and, for the first time, not as seminarians or as deacons, but as priests.
“I am very humbled that Jesus has called me to lay down my life and follow him in his priesthood, and I am grateful that Archbishop Wilton Gregory has confirmed this call,” said Father Gallagher, 37. “I see it as a sure act of God’s love, patience and generosity to call me from my little town of Madison, Georgia, to be a priest, even though I resisted for years.”
Jan Pitts, a secular Franciscan from St. Philip Benizi Church in Jonesboro, came in support of Father Azar, a good friend. Pitts met the future priest when both worked at Delta Airlines in the mid-1990s.
Then worshipping as a Southern Baptist, Pitts said she and her co-worker talked about Catholic doctrines, particularly the Eucharist and the real presence of Christ. He encouraged her to attend a Mass in order to satisfy her curiosity.
“I went to one Mass at St. Philip Benizi and that was it,” she said, smiling. A few years later she was welcomed into the Catholic Church. She is grateful to Father Azar for his guidance and openness during what was a time of discernment in both their lives. Knowing something of his journey made the ordination liturgy very meaningful, she said.
“(The ordination Mass) was beautiful because I had witnessed his whole discernment process,” Pitts said.
As special as the day was for their families and friends, for the priests themselves it was the climax of years of discernment, perseverance and study.
“It took the help of our Mother Mary through the rosary to turn me back to her Son’s church and to open my heart and mind to following Jesus as a priest in a time when I was rejecting many things of the Catholic faith,” Father Gallagher said, adding that it was appropriate that his ordination took place on the feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
“I have always felt called to become a priest ever since I was a little boy,” said Father Hao. “What actually made me sure was thinking that even if after getting married and having a family of my own, I would always look back and regret why I hadn’t become a priest. Now, after a full career and five years of formation, I am finally beginning a new chapter in life of loving and serving God and neighbor as a priest.”
“The Catholic priesthood is a gift for the Church which comes to us from Christ Jesus himself, the first and the most perfect priest,” the archbishop said in his homily. “He willingly entrusted this treasure to the Church, first through the gift of our baptism by which all of God’s children are made priestly and sharers in the Lord Jesus’ hallowed office.”
“But beyond that universal share in his priestly ministry the Church possesses the sacrament of Holy Orders through which men like you and me are uniquely and ontologically configured to Christ in his sacrificial offering of himself to his Father.”