By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published June 23, 2011
Once engrossed in microbiology, chemistry and investment banking, three men who found their vocation in Christ were ordained priests of the Archdiocese of Atlanta on Saturday, June 18.
Archdiocesan seminarians, more than 60 priests, Auxiliary Bishop Luis R. Zarama and Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory joined the candidates in a procession that entered the Cathedral of Christ the King to the sound of joyous music provided by the Cathedral choir.
In the rite of ordination, Father Joshua Allen, Father Charles Okeke and Father Juan José Teran Sanchez joined the presbyterate of over 200 priests serving in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. The multilingual Mass reflected that they originate in the United States, Nigeria and Mexico, respectively.
The candidates smiled broadly as they processed into the Cathedral. The three men have each taken a different path to the priesthood. They evidently share an affinity for academics and love of learning, where each has excelled.
During his homily, Archbishop Gregory helped define what it means to be a priest, speaking of the heart of the priesthood to the men and to the congregation of their friends and families.
“The priesthood of Jesus Christ in its essence is a great act of love, but not love in the way that the world customarily thinks about that word,” the archbishop said. “The priesthood speaks only the language of love which by its very nature is always sacrificial and selfless.”
“That is the universal way of love—it is always freely given and never withdrawn even when we ourselves might not be loveable at the moment,” said Archbishop Gregory. “That is how God has loved us—even when we were in our sin, even when we were obviously not very loveable.”
During the rite of ordination that followed, the three candidates promised fidelity to the church and obedience to the archbishop and his successors before lying prostrate in front of the altar as the assembly knelt and sang the Litany of the Saints, invoking the intercession of the saints for them.
Archbishop Gregory placed his hands on each of their heads in silent prayer. Then Bishop Zamara and all the priests in attendance did the same. The archbishop recited the prayer of consecration, concluding the ritual and the new priests were vested in the stole and chasuble before joining the other priests at the altar for the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
Father Allen’s journey to the priesthood led him through periods of doubt and faith, he said, from when he was a “well-tuned atheist” to humbly accepting his vocation to serve God as a priest.
“My path to the priesthood has brought me from the depths of the most miserable form of intellectual atheism to this moment: poised to receive the Holy Spirit at the hands of Archbishop Gregory and be made a priest forever,” the Atlanta native wrote by e-mail in the days before the ordination Mass.
“I cannot but feel grateful to the people of Atlanta,” he wrote. “I have received such warm support from this diocese. I am grateful for Archbishop Gregory, who has always shown the tender care of the Good Shepherd with his seminarians.”
Father Allen, who will be 34 in July, earned a bachelor’s degree in management from Georgia Tech in 1999 and spent nearly six years working as an investment banker and private equity analyst before seriously considering the priesthood. He received a baccalaureate in sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, Italy, in 2010 and will return in September to complete a graduate degree. Interested in marriage preparation and youth ministries, Father Allen will be serving as parochial vicar at St. Theresa in Douglasville this summer.
About his two new brother priests, he wrote, “They will bring such amazing talents to the presbyterate of Atlanta.”
“I think it fair to characterize their entire personalities as oriented towards the service of the people of Atlanta in the work of sanctifying this diocese and the whole world,” he wrote.
“These men are my friends. They are my brothers. And I will be honored to call them Father,” he added.
Father Okeke, who is 55, earned a doctorate in medical microbiology and taught the subject at the University of Nigeria. He also worked as a medical research scientist in universities across the world, from Germany to Japan to the United States. It was the study of science that eventually brought him to discern a vocation to the priesthood.
“Studies in molecular genetics set me wondering about the power behind creation, but science was not answering the questions I posed,” wrote Father Okeke about discovering his vocation. “So I turned to my Catholic faith for answers. I began to attend Mass daily and receive holy Communion. That was when I felt the vocation to serve God in a special way.”
In 2005, he entered the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers discerning a possible vocation as a Trappist monk, but further prayer led him to apply as a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. He will serve at St. Benedict Church in Johns Creek as a parochial vicar and expressed his delight in the prospect of preaching regularly.
Father Teran, 39, was born in Guanajuato, Mexico. A student in engineering and mathematics at the University of the Army and Air Force and the University of Guanajuato, he has taught chemistry and worked in the poultry industry. His seminary study was completed at the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein, Ill., where he graduated summa cum laude with a baccalaureate in sacred theology and a master of divinity degree.
Father Teran has a special place in his heart for learning about the lives of the saints, especially St. Paul, Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, St. Theresa of Lisieux, Don Bosco and St. Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer. He wants to become involved with training ministerial leaders at the parish level. He hopes “this will be the beginning of the formation of professional pastoral agents that may serve in multicultural settings,” he wrote by e-mail. Father Teran will serve as a parochial vicar at Transfiguration Church, Marietta.
Following the Mass, the large crowd gathered in Kenny Hall, where long lines of family and friends awaited blessings from the newly ordained.
Lorena Teran Sanchez, a sister of Father Teran and a gift bearer during the Mass, graciously waited with many other family members for her brother to give them blessings. She said the family had traveled from other parts of the United States and beyond to celebrate with her brother.
“We are really excited to be here because the whole family came together,” something that hasn’t happened in several years, she said. “We have waited a long time for this day.”
Nearby, Father Okeke and Father Allen received hugs and words of encouragement from the faithful.
Cassie Freeman, a close friend of Father Allen, came with her husband, Garrett, and their young children. She worked with Father Allen at St. Theresa Church in Douglasville a few years ago. She described him as a great teacher and a humble servant, who is able to reach people in their spiritual need.
“(Father Allen) brings real-life experience to the priesthood so he can meet people where they are,” she said. “He is 100 percent dedicated to his vocation.”
Father Allen said that he is “awed by the mystery into which I will be inserted upon ordination, and I am humbled by it.”
“To know that the people of God seek me because I bring the sanctification and reconciliation of Jesus Christ is no small thing. I cannot wait to begin loving the folks of the Archdiocese of Atlanta as their priest,” he wrote about his ordination in the days beforehand.
Archbishop Gregory reminded the new priests in his homily of the example of Christ they will now be called to imitate.
“Our people want and deserve to be served generously and faithfully by their priests,” Archbishop Gregory said. “They love and respect their priests as you will soon quickly discover. Be gentle and zealous in caring for them, as would Jesus himself. And love them always as would the Christ, since today you tell them that is the example of love that you will live in their midst for the rest of your lives.”