By ANDREW NELSON, Staff writer | Published June 9, 2016
ATLANTA—Two transitional deacons were added to the ranks of clergy in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, as the men continue their spiritual journey toward ordination as priests.
Rev. Mr. Brian McNavish and Rev. Mr. Bradley Starr will proclaim and preach the Gospel, visit the sick, and celebrate baptisms and marriages, while they continue in pastoral work or seminary study.
As Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory told them, “Deacons announce to the entire world that there is life-altering good news in discovering Christ and following him.”
Among their tasks, he said, will be caring for those on the margins of society and of the church community.
“Deacons remind the entire church that we are obliged to care for God’s poor,” he said.
Responded to vocational call in college
Friends and family from nearby and from as far away as Nevada and Pennsylvania gathered at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta, to be part of the Mass and ordination on Saturday, May 28.
Led in by a procession of about 20 priests and a dozen deacons, along with Bishop David P. Talley and Bishop Luis R. Zarama, auxiliary bishops of Atlanta, the two men first sat with their families in the wooden pews. Following a declaration of their election as candidates, the two men vested in simple white albs received a standing ovation. They moved to seats closer to the altar.
Rev. Mr. McNavish, who is 26, pursued his vocation after three years at Kennesaw State University. He received a bachelor of arts in philosophy and theological studies from St. Joseph Seminary in Louisiana and is studying for a master of divinity degree at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago. He will spend the next year serving as a deacon at Our Lady of the Americas Mission, Lilburn, before returning to Mundelein. He is spending the summer in Guatemala in a Spanish immersion program.
“I am excited to be a servant in the parish both liturgically and non-liturgically. I look forward to working alongside other Atlanta communities regarding justice and human rights issues,” he said in an email.
His family traveled from Texas, where they now live. They attended St. Michael Church, Gainesville, for 10 years before relocating.
His mother, Carol, said her son does not draw attention to himself, so he will help others without fanfare. She was proud and excited to see her son reach this milestone in the path toward priesthood.
“It’s been a nice journey watching him go through this process,” she said, sharing the front row with her husband, David, in addition to other relatives.
Rev. Mr. Starr, who is 30, pursued a music degree before being accepted as a seminarian for the archdiocese. He waited tables before seminary to pay off his college debt. Starr’s confirmation saint was St. Peter, “who denied Christ and yet was forgiven. He is also the saint who would put his foot in his mouth quite often.”
His mother said his pursuit of seminary was a bit unexpected. Jean Baylot said she had given him a choice as a teen whether to get confirmed. He did receive the sacrament, but did so later, when he was in college, where he embraced the faith.
“He’s always had this gift for explaining things to kids, being close to people,” said Baylot, whose hair was draped with a white mantilla.
His father, Laurence Starr, who isn’t Catholic, remembered his son being very nervous to talk with him about going into the seminary.
“I could tell that’s where he belonged,” Starr said. “I gave him my blessing.”
He received a degree in philosophy from Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland, in 2013 and is studying at that seminary for his master of divinity degree, which he is scheduled to receive in 2017.
A third Atlanta seminarian, Bryan Kuhr, who is studying at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, Italy, is scheduled to be ordained as a transitional deacon there in September.
Deacons must encourage faithful in journey of faith
In a thank you to the families who raised the men, the archbishop said their service as clergymen will be built on the values of honesty, integrity, generosity and faith they learned at home.
“But I must also caution all of these same family members that the task remains unfinished because these men will continue to need you to encourage and to love them, to challenge and to support them,” he said.
The two men are excited, he acknowledged, but that emotion must be tempered by the instruction of Jesus that “achieving greatness or being first requires becoming a servant in his name.”
“Service according to the Gospel paradigm demands diminishing your own self-importance, and that’s always a difficult challenge for every person. You must become deacons by freely deciding to become a man for others,” the archbishop said.
As “heralds of the Gospels,” he said, their ministry will focus on “the living good news of mercy and compassion that everyone longs to hear and believe.”
The two men will be anchored in the daily Liturgy of the Hours prayer. They will serve at the altar, which Archbishop Gregory said should be done with “dignity and fidelity.” He highlighted their role in preaching as one of the most significant tasks deacons have in helping people walk in faith.
Archbishop Gregory said, “Our homilies must help them to see the hand of God present in their lives and encourage them to continue their individual journeys of faith with hope during the coming week.” And as celibate men, they will know loneliness as part of “a daily struggle to put Christ at the very center of our lives,” he said.
“The first deacons were chosen because they were reputable men,” said Archbishop Gregory. “We in the Archdiocese of Atlanta believe that we have found two more just like them to join the ranks of deacons to serve in our own time.”
After the two-hour ceremony, well-wishers waited in Kenny Hall adjacent to the sanctuary. Some received a blessing and others snapped photos with the deacons.
Mary Beth and Danny Kline attended to support Rev. Mr. Starr, whom they met at St. Theresa Church, Douglasville, where he served his first parish assignment in 2011. He isn’t shy, which will serve him well, they agreed.
“He’s very well-grounded. He never stands off. He’s engaged,” said Danny Kline.
He visited the new deacon at his Maryland seminary and shared meals with him. Rev. Mr. Starr always takes time to explain his situation to non-Catholics and learns about them and makes a good impression, Kline said.
Friends who met at the Kennesaw State Catholic Center gathered for Rev. Mr. McNavish, one of their own. The center was a place where they talked in depth about where their lives might lead.
“I’m pretty amazed and in awe of his vocation. You can see the journey and a true calling,” said Audra Pagano, of Atlanta.
Jameson Curnick, of Roswell, said, “It was cool to see where we started and where our paths took us. I’ve seen some incredible growth in him.”