By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published July 8, 2010
Linda Koerner remembers when a young Llane Briese started coming to the youth group at St. John Neumann Church in Lilburn just a few years ago. From the very beginning, she recognized something special in the teen, so it came as no surprise when she heard he was discerning a vocation to the priesthood.
Koerner and her husband, Greg, came to the ordination Mass at the Cathedral of Christ the King on June 26, a celebration that welcomed six new priests into the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
“It has been a privilege to watch him grow,” said Koerner as she waited for the Mass to begin. “Llane loves life … and embraces everything in the Catholic faith.”
Along with Rev. Mr. Briese, five other transitional deacons—Mario A. López, Thang Minh Pham, Michael R. Silloway, Carlos E. Vargas and Thomas Zahuta—processed into the Cathedral on the warm Saturday morning to the delight of their teary-eyed families and friends. Smiles quickly appeared on the candidates’ faces as they processed in amidst camera flashes.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, the principal celebrant, was quick to welcome all those present and offered a special thanks to all the people who encouraged the six in the pursuit of their vocation as priests. Concelebrating the Mass were Auxiliary Bishop Luis R. Zarama and Bishop Jorge Alberto Ossa of Florencia, Colombia. During his homily, the archbishop spoke directly to the future priests, offering guidance and his own encouragement as the men, who have been deacons for a year, prepared to accept their vocation in full.
“My sons, this day you will begin a new life for Jesus Christ,” said Archbishop Gregory. “You already belong to him through the sacramental bonds that you share with all of the other members of the Church. Just like your sisters and brothers, you have been washed in the waters of life, anointed by God’s spirit, fed by and with the Lord himself, and forgiven by the merciful Christ.”
“Today, the Church will call down the Holy Spirit upon you and ask that priestly grace be poured into your hearts for the service of God’s people,” he continued. “In this new life for Christ, you will be configured to him in his sacrificial offering of self. We want you men always to be made holy in the truth.”
Just before the homily, Father Luke Ballman, archdiocesan vocations director, presented the priestly candidates to the archbishop and the crowd, who filled the cathedral to capacity.
“Luke, do you know them to be worthy?” Archbishop Gregory asked.
“I testify that they have been found worthy,” the vocations director responded.
Following the homily, each of the candidates approached the archbishop to promise fidelity to the Church and obedience to the bishop’s authority.
“Do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors,” Archbishop Gregory asked each candidate, to which each replied with a hearty, “I do.”
The assembly then joined in praying the Litany of the Saints as the candidates humbly lay prostrate before the altar. It is a moment of prayer to prepare the candidates for the laying on of hands and the prayer of consecration, acts which confer the priestly office on the men.
After each candidate knelt, the archbishop silently placed his hands on the candidate’s head and prayed. Then each of the more than 90 priests at the ordination processed to the altar to do the same. The candidates knelt in silence with their hands folded and eyes closed, occasionally wiping away a tear, as each priest prayed over them in the laying on of hands, signifying the conferral of the Holy Spirit through whose power the Church ordains priests.
“The Lord Jesus Christ, whom the Father has anointed with the Holy Spirit and power, guard and preserve you that you may sanctify the Christian people and offer sacrifice to God,” the archbishop said to each candidate as part of the prayer of consecration.
Each of the new priests was then vested with his stole and chasuble, assisted by a priestly mentor.
“Today, our relationship changes. I become your father, your brother, and hopefully even your friend,” the archbishop said. “Today you begin living a truth that will empower you to serve the Church with all of your heart. That same truth will sanctify and consecrate you and you, in turn, must strive to sanctify the Church through your actions and by your example of living the Lord’s priesthood with fidelity.”
As the Mass continued, the new priests joined all the priests at the altar so they could concelebrate the consecration of the body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist for the first time.
Jayne Hoffacker, a parishioner at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Alpharetta, met Father Silloway last summer when he was interning at the parish as a deacon. It was her first time attending an ordination.
“I am always joyful to see young men entering the priesthood and I was happy to have a share in a day as important as this was for him,” wrote Hoffacker by e-mail afterward. She patiently stood in the long line after the Mass to be blessed by the newly ordained priest.
“He was very gracious in allowing me to partake in the tradition of kissing the palms of a newly ordained priest,” she continued. “I’d never done that before and that was perhaps the best moment of the day for me. I try to take every opportunity to show priests the love and respect I have for them and their office and that gesture, in my mind, is at the top of the list. Thinking about it now and really contemplating the action and why I did it seems to have increased my respect for the priest’s indispensable role in the sacramental life of the Church.”
Hundreds of other family members and friends gathered in the social hall after the Mass to be blessed by the priests and join in the celebration of their ordination. Hugs and kisses were plentiful as many shared stories of the priests growing up or watching them discover the vocation God had planned for them.
“This is something he has prepared for over the years,” said a smiling and excited Deborah Briese, mother of Father Briese. “He was always very interested in the church and is very much a defender of the faith. He is doing God’s work.”
For the new priests, the clergy and the families of those ordained, the day of ordination was quite a joyful occasion.
“Your ordination today brings a special joy to the hearts of all of your brother priests in this local Church,” said Archbishop Gregory. “We are joyful because your ordination is a reason for us to take heart in the commitment that God makes to the Church to provide pastors to tend the Lord’s flock. Indeed the entire Church in North Georgia is filled with happiness today because we recognize the providence of God acting in our midst because of your willingness to become our priests.”