By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published June 21, 2018 | En Español
ATLANTA—Five men were ordained at the Cathedral of Christ the King June 16 to serve in the Atlanta Archdiocese as priests.
As the men take on the ministry in a skeptical age, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory encouraged them to be “faith witnesses to the living Christ” by serving as “humble credible men of faith.”
Archbishop Gregory led the ordination rite, joined by Bishop Joel M. Konzen, SM, and Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III, along with visiting bishops and close to 80 priests.
The Saturday morning ceremony, witnessed by family and friends who filled the wooden pews of the Peachtree Road cathedral, completed years of discerning, schooling and ministry for the men.
The newly ordained are Father Michael Bremer, Father Jack Knight, Father Brian McNavish, Father Michael Metz and Father Carlos Ortega.
For Father Knight, the moment was one he would not have predicted. He wasn’t someone who knew since childhood he was destined to be a priest. But he was encouraged by two priests to apply to seminary “to give God a chance to call me.”
And once in seminary, Father Knight said, “I never looked back.”
Four of the five new priests were ordained deacons in 2017; Father McNavish was ordained to the transitional diaconate in 2016. They range in age from 27 to 38. Two of them worked before enrolling in seminary—Father Ortega as an English teacher and Father Knight in a coffee shop, as a missionary and as a administrative assistant.
Father Tim Hepburn, director of vocations for the archdiocese, shepherded the men from application to ordination. He is leaving the vocations position to serve as pastor of St. Michael Church, Gainesville.
“These guys really stand out in their joy, love and zeal for the Gospel,” he said.
He said the new priests know the community well, by working and living in the Atlanta area.
“They are healthy, and holy, and prayerful and they are friends with each other and many others,” he said.
Hope for the church
The ordination rite began with presentation of the men to the archbishop and their consent to be ordained. Thunderous applause from the congregation followed their acceptance.
Sitting in the cathedra, the archbishop wrapped each of their hands in his hands and accepted their promise of obedience. The men then lay face down on the marble floor in a sign of humility as the congregation prayed for the intercession of the saints and God’s help.
Later, each man kneeled again as the archbishop placed his hands on each one’s head in turn, delivering the prayer of ordination and conferring God’s Holy Spirit. The other priests attending followed him, doing the same.
With that, the number of priests in the Atlanta Archdiocese had grown by five.
After the ordination prayer, the men were helped into their robes by priests who had inspired them as role models and friends.
Before they joined the bishops and priests at the altar, the hands of the newly ordained were anointed with sacred oil and they received bread and wine to be placed on the altar.
In his homily, Archbishop Gregory said their ministry as priests at the Eucharistic altar and in all aspects should be directed toward Christ’s people. He reminded them how Jesus, along with faith and grace, is already alive in faith communities before they show up.
“Just ask respectfully to be invited into the lives of those fine people to help them on their journey toward Christ,” he said.
Archbishop Gregory reminded them not to present themselves as experts or try to shoulder alone the weight of the society’s growing skepticism of religion. Instead, he said, “Always simply to point to the One who is the very foundation of faith for all ages.”
Now their ministry will rely on prayer, especially with Jesus as a “cherished friend with whom you speak daily,” he said.
The archbishop told them their ordinations represent a sign of hope for the local church.
“Today, our priests look upon you with gratification that the ministry to which they have generously given their own lives will be carried forth in you, their youngest brothers,” he said. “The parishioners to whom you will be sent will receive you with joy as your youth and enthusiasm will energize those parishes.”
People’s trust a treasure
Pat Metz watched from the front pew alongside his family, as his son was ordained. He said a goal of his and his wife, Marion, is for each of their children to have the courage to know their vocation and the courage to follow it. The path of their son confirms the effort, he said.
“Everyone who knows Mike could call him fun. He’s very easy to laugh with and joke with. He’s very much at ease,” he said.
Elianny Sanchez, 38, attended a teaching college in Venezuela with Father Ortega, who worked as an English teacher before attending seminary. She and her family drove from their home in South Carolina.
Upon seeing her friend, “I felt chills,” she said, admitting to tears of joy. “I remember him as a funny guy, an excellent friend. He’d study as much as he can. He was always so nice.”
In the line of well-wishers to be blessed by the new priests was Mark Gomez. The 23-year-old journeyed from his home in Florida for the ordination. He knows Father Knight through his own brother, recently ordained a priest in Miami.
“He is incredible with young people. It’s an instant connection. The first time you meet, it’s like you’ve known him for years,” Gomez said about the new Atlanta priest.
Each of the newly ordained said a joy of serving is experiencing how Catholics welcome them at both key life events and in daily experiences.
Father Ortega, 38, said as a deacon he was humbled to see the trust people place in church leaders.
“People are very open and honest when they talk to you, and they are ready to trust you with their lives. It is a very humbling situation because it is by the grace of God and not because I have met them before that I have been given this trust. It is something to treasure,” he said.
For Father Bremer, 27, his journey began on a service trip to the shrine of Lourdes, France. Up until then, he said he had no interest in serving as a priest.
“At some point I came to the conclusion that God is smarter than me, and therefore should have a say in what I do in my life.”
Archbishop Gregory’s words to the new priests resonated, “Preach, minister, pray and live as Christ would—that will take you an entire lifetime to do well. Begin today to be the men that the Church so needs … Let God’s Holy Spirit make you into Christ’s faithful servant ministers for his people beginning today.”
Meet the new priests here.