By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published February 19, 2015
JONESBORO—The prayer card for the ordination of Father Gabriel Mary Scasino depicts a wounded pelican feeding her starving young with her own blood. The image has long symbolized Christ’s giving of himself for others.
His ordination brought a lot of joy to the parish community of St. Philip Benizi Church where it was celebrated Feb. 14. A Connecticut native, the new Conventual Franciscan priest has been living at the parish with fellow friars for eight months while a transitional deacon. He is also the chaplain at Our Lady of Mercy High School in Fayetteville. He will now serve the parish and the high school as a priest.
Former Jonesboro pastor, Savannah Bishop Gregory Hartmayer, OFM Conv., celebrated the Mass and ordained Father Scasino.
Bishop Hartmayer emphasized that as former pastor he is “yesterday’s news.” This day celebrated a moment in Friar Gabriel’s life, the bishop said.
“He is in the headlines today, and it is all about Jesus and the priesthood,” said Bishop Hartmayer. “This young man, Friar Gabriel, a son of St. Francis, is presenting himself today for ordination to the priesthood.”
Jesus Christ, the high priest, chose some followers to carry out his priestly ministry, the bishop said. Priests are the established “co-workers” of the bishops, he added.
“As a priest, he will be molded into the likeness of Christ,” said Bishop Hartmayer. “By consecration, he will be made a true priest of the New Testament.”
Bishop Hartmayer urged Friar Gabriel always to celebrate the Mass with purity and reverence and not to please others.
“Let what you teach be nourishment for the people of God,” he said.
Bishop Hartmayer advised the young priest that leadership should not be rooted in self-centeredness.
“As a priest, Gabriel, you will be assuming leadership positions,” said the bishop.
Even for religious leaders, he noted the responsibility “can be a seductive, slippery slope.”
Bishop Hartmayer told the friar not to let himself be caught up in what others think a priest should be.
“Simply be a friar priest in imitation of Christ, nothing more, nothing less,” he said.
Being a son of St. Francis and chosen to be an instrument of Christ “demands true humility and sacrifice,” said the bishop.
Father James McCurry, OFM Conv., minister provincial of Our Lady of the Angels Province of the Conventual Franciscans, also participated in the ordination. Friars at St. Philip Benizi Church belong to the province, which extends from Canada to Florida.
The rite of ordination took place after the proclamation of the Gospel and the calling of the candidate. The minister provincial assured the gathering of the candidate’s preparedness and worthiness. The rite also included promises made by the candidate and the litany of supplication, in which he prostrated himself as a sign of humility before God while the congregation interceded on his behalf.
Bishop Hartmayer prayed the prayer of ordination, after which the newly ordained priest was vested with the stole and chasuble.
Following the anointing of the priest’s hands and the presentation of the bread and wine for his first celebration of the Eucharist, Bishop Hartmayer gave him a fraternal embrace, welcoming the new priest into the shared ministry in the Franciscan order.
He helps teens “be closer to God”
Applause and cheers from the young people erupted in the packed church as parishioners welcomed the new priest they have come to know in recent months.
St. Philip Benizi pastor Father John Koziol, OFM Conv., extended his good wishes to Father Gabriel and his family.
“Happy Valentine’s Day. It’s one you will never forget,” said Father Koziol.
The ordination was a special experience for parishioners, said Father Koziol. “What a blessing that has been to the church,” he said.
Father Gabriel’s mother, Mary Ann Scasino, his aunt, Nancy Demaio, his brother, sister-in-law and a niece traveled from New Haven, Connecticut, for the ordination. Family and friends gathered with the new priest for a meal before Father Scasino returned to the church to offer his priestly blessings.
Family members said Father Scasino has always wanted to be a priest and they drove him straight from high school to seminary.
“We’re very proud of you and love you very much,” said Anthony Scasino as he waited in front of the church to see his brother.
Our Lady of Mercy High School students Zakiya Tindal and Chichi Njoku were among many OLM students and staff attending the Mass. They are both parishioners at St. Philip Benizi Church.
Njoku said the priest’s morning greetings always put students in a good mood and that he is active in the parish’s youth ministry. “He comes every week,” said Njoku.
Both say it’s easy for teens to talk with Father Scasino.
“He is very, very passionate, and I believe he can help us on our journeys to be closer to God,” said Tindal.