By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published June 7, 2012
Two men promised their obedience to their bishop and were solemnly blessed on Saturday, June 2, as they became priests for the Archdiocese of Atlanta at the Cathedral of Christ the King.
Hundreds crowded the Peachtree Road cathedral to witness the ordination of the two priests, one a former teacher and the other previously a professional engineer.
Applause filled the Gothic building as the two men, Father Tri John-Bosco Nguyen and Father Mark Starr, stood and were deemed worthy to be ordained priests.
During the rite of ordination, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory pressed his hands on to the heads of the men in the laying on of hands ritual, conferring the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of holy orders, and later blessed their hands with oil. Earlier, the two prostrated themselves in front of the altar in a sign of humility while the congregation asked God to help them in their priesthood.
Archbishop Gregory said the new role for the men is intended to serve the whole church, not as a God-given grace that is a personal possession.
“These men who are our sons, brothers, and friends, believe and the church has confirmed that they have received a grace that is intended to enrich all of us,” he said. He urged them to live as Jesus did, sacrificing for others.
“A priest seeks out those that are lost and afraid and brings them ever closer to Christ, who is the source of all our well-being,” he said.
These two men come to the priesthood “as no starry-eyed youths,” Archbishop Gregory said, so they know life is lived happiest when people are “givers rather than takers.”
Father Starr, 51, a former professional engineer, said he looks forward to celebrating the sacraments, especially confession and the Eucharist.
As part of his training at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, in Emmitsburg, Md., Father Starr spent eight weeks in Mexico in an immersion program to learn Spanish and the Mexican culture.
“I also have a heart for those on the outskirts of the faith and our many Hispanic brothers and sisters in Atlanta,” said Father Starr.
He is the oldest of seven children of a computer software engineer. He was born in Ohio, grew up in Florida, and attended Georgia Tech.
As a new priest, Father Starr said he’ll make an effort “to not try to do too much at once and to balance my prayer life along with my priestly duties.” And then there will be the meeting of new parishioners.
“I also will have to work hard to remember names and faces,” he said.
Father Nguyen, 36, taught and counseled young people at Atlanta area schools, including St. Joseph School, Marietta; Atlanta Technical College, Atlanta; and Georgia Perimeter College, Dunwoody.
A native of Vietnam, he lived in Stockbridge for 10 years and worshipped at Our Lady of Vietnam Church, Riverdale, before attending St. Vincent Seminary, in Latrobe, Pa. He comes from a family of three children. He earned a master’s degree from Georgia State University in teaching English as a second language.
Just as he was influenced as a young person by priests, Father Nguyen hopes to be “sharing the love of God” in his ministry.
The men credit the influence of family, priests and sisters in pursuing their vocations.
Growing up in Vietnam, Father Nguyen said the Franciscan sisters and priests at his childhood parish were an early inspiration. Also, since arriving in the United States in 1993, practicing his faith with the Eucharistic Youth Movement, an international organization for youth and young adults that is very active in the Vietnamese community, formed his view of his vocation.
His sister, Thuy Nguyen, 42, who works at Macy’s, recalled her younger brother saying at 6 years old that he was going to be a priest.
“He is the baby of the family. He seemed more mature than us,” she said.
Father Starr’s journey to the priesthood was not a straight road, although he was raised Catholic. After college, he became an evangelical Christian as he made a career as a professional engineer and opened his own consulting business.
Conversations starting in 2001 with Father Richard Tibbetts, the pastor then at St. Theresa Church, Douglasville, encouraged him to explore a possible vocation.
“Basically my cry to the Lord when I returned to the faith was ‘Lord, whatever you want me to do, I will do—I just want to serve you with all my heart,’” he said.
Patricia Starr, the new priest’s mother, wiped away tears. She said the family felt “blessed.”
“He knows exactly what he is doing and exactly what God wants of him,” she said.
At a time when Catholics read negative headlines about church leaders, the two new priests said they are not discouraged, but instead want to serve as joyful priests.
“I desire to show people that the priesthood and the Church is alive and well. Yes, there have been many challenges to the priesthood in recent years, but the Church has weathered these storms before,” said Father Starr. “I am very excited about what lies ahead for the Church of Atlanta. These are exciting times for Catholics throughout Georgia as we continue to grow and flourish.”
Father Nguyen said he knows the full picture of the church isn’t captured by the media reports.
“Priesthood is a wonderful vocation, there are a vast number of priests and religious all over the U.S. and the world who faithfully and heroically serve their people and serve the Church in their priestly ministries. I so much want to be part of it,” he said.
Thu-Hang Tran, 20, a college student at Kennesaw State University, has known the new priest for years. She is a youth leader now and considers Father Nguyen a mentor. She said he’s very funny, the type of person with a friendly ear whom others trust to help deal with problems.
“He is the kind of person who doesn’t demand respect, but instead he gains it from us, he earns it from us. He is one of us,” she said.
Matthew Sulhoff, 40, who works in the computer industry, shared a townhouse with Father Starr for three years when they attended college. They met at a men’s Christian retreat and have been friends ever since.
“I know his heart. I know how much he loves God. He’s always been a servant of God. I’m really, really proud of him. He is a servant. He loves to serve God. He loves to serve God through people. He is the kind of person you want in charge of a flock because he truly denies himself and follows Christ. I’m proud of him and I love him,” he said.