By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published July 6, 2017 | En Español
ATLANTA—On the solemnity of the birth of St. John the Baptist, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory ordained two new priests for the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
At the rite of ordination June 24 at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Archbishop Gregory said he was pleasantly surprised when the ordinandi themselves suggested that the feast offered an appropriate Scripture lesson for the day.
“Being a priest means acquiring a heart like John’s and constantly pointing others toward the Lord in your ministry,” the archbishop said. “As you stand at the altar presiding over the Eucharist, you must draw attention only to the Christ whose words you will use and whose sacrifice you will offer.”
The new priests are Father Bryan Kuhr, 36, and Father Bradley Starr, 31. While Father Kuhr was born in Dayton, Ohio, and Father Starr in Charleston, South Carolina, both spent much of their youth in Georgia.
Joining Archbishop Gregory, Bishop Luis R. Zarama and Bishop-designate Bernard E. “Ned” Shlesinger III at the ordination were representatives of the seminaries of the two priests.
Father John P. Trigilio Jr., formation advisor and spiritual director of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland, was a concelebrant. Father Luke Ballman, associate director of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, represented the Pontifical North American College in Rome, Italy, as its former formation director. The priests of the archdiocese also concelebrated.
In his homily, the archbishop said the new priests must listen as Jesus did and imitate his gentle touch when administering the sacraments of reconciliation and anointing of the sick.
“Like John, you must always remember that someone who is greater than you is in their midst through your sacramental ministry,” said Archbishop Gregory. “We priests do not live in the desert or along the banks of the Jordan, yet our responsibilities are often like those of John who continued to keep an eye out for the one who was to come and then shouted out enthusiastically that he was the Lamb of God.”
The archbishop urged the candidates to have constant conversations in prayer with Christ. He also encouraged them in their commitment to celibacy and in the promise of obedience to the bishop they would be making.
“You will promise me obedience and respect, and I, in turn, must promise you a tender and a loving heart. Both promises must go hand-in-hand,” said Archbishop Gregory. “As you both know from your own lives as sons and brothers in your own families, love makes even the most difficult situation acceptable and bearable.”
He continued by thanking the candidates’ families for helping them discover the “great treasure of love” within their homes.
“That discovery has made it possible for you to stand before the Church today and to become our priests,” said the archbishop. “May you continue to delight in Christ’s presence and then joyfully and enthusiastically announce him to those who look to you for hope and mercy.”
Humbling for priest’s mother
In the rite of ordination, the candidates promise fidelity to the Church and to the duties of priestly office and promise obedience to the archbishop and his successors.
The assembly knelt in prayer for the candidates as they prostrated themselves before the altar. In a litany, the prayers of the saints were invoked on their behalf.
Then, in silence, the archbishop laid hands on each candidate to signify the conferral of the Holy Spirit upon them. All priests came forward to repeat the gesture, each placing their hands in prayer upon the candidates.
Following a prayer of consecration, the new priests were vested with stoles and chasubles of white with gold embroidery. Father Jack Durkin, pastor of St. Monica Church in Duluth, was vesting priest for Father Starr. Father Charles Byrd, pastor of Our Lady of the Mountains Church in Jasper, assisted with the investiture of Father Kuhr.
Friends and family members of the ordained brought gifts of bread and wine forward, which were then presented by the archbishop to the new priests as signs of their office.
Father Starr is the son of Larry Starr, of Tucker, and Jean Baylot, of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. His parents, his grandmothers, his brother, Christopher, and other relatives attended the ordination.
“He has found where he belongs,” his father said.
He said his son first shared an interest in becoming a priest more than seven years ago and had also talked about being a police officer.
Father Starr earned a degree in music education from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana, in 2007. After discerning his vocation, he went on to attend Mount St. Mary’s Seminary.
Baylot had a chance to see her son before the ordination. “He was beaming,” she said.
The priest’s mother learned more about the traditions surrounding ordination in the past few weeks, calling it an emotional time.
Many newly ordained priests give their mothers a linen cloth used to clean their own hands after they were anointed with chrism by the bishop at ordination. At the time of her death, the cloth is buried around the mother’s hands, signifying she gave the gift of a son to the priesthood.
“You never think, ‘I’m giving you my son.’ I’m so humbled,” said Baylot.
Trust in Christ
Father Starr’s grandmothers, Nora Baylot and Cindy Starr, traveled from Mississippi and Texas respectively to attend the ordination. Cindy Starr recalled the childhood of her grandson.
“He was an absolute sweetheart, and he still is,” she said.
Father Starr’s first assignment is as a parochial vicar at St. Patrick Church in Norcross. Earlier, he shared by email how the last year as a transitional deacon further readied him for the priesthood.
“Ordination to the diaconate prepared me for the ability to lay complete trust at the feet of Christ,” said Father Starr. “I learned really quickly that he would provide all of the grace necessary to complete my ministry, especially in those areas I did not believe myself capable of doing.”
Peg Patrick, a parishioner of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus Church in Douglasville, came with other church members. Father Starr spent one summer during seminary helping with various ministries at the parish. He assisted at daily Mass and worked with altar servers in their ministry.
“I think he will be devoted, and obedient to the magisterium and the Church,” said Patrick.
She stood in line after Mass to receive a blessing from Father Starr and kissed each of his hands. She said he is a good role model for seminarians, including her grandson, Sam Adams.
Father Starr celebrated his first Mass at St. Monica Church the evening of June 24 and was to celebrate a Mass of thanksgiving the following week at St. Theresa Church.
A surprise announcement
Relatives from Cincinnati, Ohio, joined Joe and Peggy Kuhr, of Alpharetta, for their son’s ordination day. He was a part of All Saints Church, Dunwoody, and St. Brigid Church, Johns Creek, growing up and graduated from the University of Georgia.
Peggy Kuhr said the experience of volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America helped her son decide on the priesthood. At the time, he was working in corporate finance at Ford Motor Co. in Detroit, where he spent seven years.
“Yes, I’m quitting Ford,” she said, recalling her son’s words. “We were very surprised.”
Feeding the poor
Father Kuhr studied at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois and the Pontifical North American College in Rome. Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston ordained him a transitional deacon at St. Peter’s Basilica last fall with his parents in attendance.
After his ordination, he was able to assist at a marriage celebrated in St. Peter’s, a rare occasion.
The Rome experiences helped prepare him for the priesthood in many ways, he said.
“I had opportunities to preach to women religious houses and college kids in Rome, as well as in the North American College community. I was also assigned as one of seven deacons on the St. Lawrence Food Pantry Apostolate, helping to reach out to the poor and gypsies in Rome that we see on the streets every day,” he said.
Father Kuhr said that even greater than material poverty is the existence of spiritual poverty. He hopes service in the food pantry apostolate helped the suffering to see their dignity as children of God.
The priest’s first assignment will be at St. Benedict Church in Johns Creek for the summer.
“I will return to Rome for another year of studies to finish the licentiate degree in dogmatic theology in September,” he added.
This August, Father Kuhr will celebrate a Mass of thanksgiving at Our Lady of the Mountains Church in Jasper, where he served in summer ministry as a seminarian.
Siblings Katie and Zach Beckman, parishioners of Our Lady of the Mountains, became acquainted with him during that time. Zach, a student at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California, is considering a priestly vocation. He compared the ordination to seeing other friends decide to become married—each a vocation in service to Christ.
“I’m looking forward to having him, hopefully, as a spiritual director,” he said.
Katie Beckman said she believes Father Kuhr will be “a great shepherd.”
“He’s really a gentle soul,” she said. “That’s something we need now more than ever.”
Before a reception, Father Tim Hepburn, director of vocations, thanked the people of the archdiocese for prayers and financial support of seminarians through the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal. Father Hepburn also expressed gratitude that seminarians are able to witness the beauty of the rite of ordination.
“I’m always very inspired, and I thank you for your efforts to give your life to the Lord,” he said.