By Steve Neill Of The Catholic Virginian
The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond was filled to capacity on Saturday, June 3, as three young men were ordained priests for the Diocese of Richmond.
As they processed toward the altar, Deacons John Robert Christian, Mark Edward Kowalski and Jose Miguel Melendez, Jr. were reaching the goal of priesthood after five years of priestly formation which included four years of theology at the seminary, a year-long pastoral assignment in a parish and summer pastoral assignments at three other parishes.
Following the Liturgy of the Word, the three candidates were sitting with their family when Father Michael Boehling, Vicar for Vocations, presented each by name to Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo.
“Most Reverend Father, holy mother Church asks you to ordain these, our brothers, to the responsibility of the Priesthood,” Father Boehling said.
“Do you find them to be worthy?” Bishop DiLorenzo asked.
“After inquiry among the Christian people and upon the recommendation of those responsible, I testify that they have been found worthy,” Father Boehling assured.
The three priest candidates, who had faced the Bishop during the inquiry, then turned to face the congregation who exuberantly gave them prolonged loud applause as did Bishop DiLorenzo.
In his homily, the Bishop suggested that while the soon-to-be new priests would find much success in their ministry, they must also be prepared for times when their plans would not be successful.
Bishop DiLorenzo pointed out that both Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Alva Edison did not always find success, even though Franklin developed what is now the U.S. Postal Service and Edison created the electric light bulb.
“Were they successes or failures?” Bishop DiLorenzo asked rhetorically in his homily.
He acknowledged that both men brought about things “which make our lives today bearable, liveable and comfortable.”
In the case of Benjamin Franklin, he started a German-language newspaper in Philadelphia which “went bust” after less than a year. He published another newspaper which failed after six issues.
But Franklin created the still successful Poor Richard’s Almanac which is still published today.
Of Edison, Bishop DiLorenzo said, “he failed time and time again.”
Edison reportedly said to critics, “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that do not work.”
“Jesus also had to face the same situation,” the Bishop said. “But like the rest of humanity, there were failures in his life as well.”
The challenges Jesus faced are similar to challenges of today in that the Christian message is often seen as counter-cultural to the ways of modern society.
“It is clear that Jesus wanted to bring together a community of believers,” Bishop DiLorenzo said.
But in bringing his message to the people of his day, Jesus faced opposition because many felt his values were counter-cultural.
“There was no doubt at what Jesus was saying,” Bishop DiLorenzo said. “He wasn’t mean, he wasn’t harsh, but he certainly was transparent.
“You knew what he said and you knew that he meant it.
“Jesus moved on the issues. He set the tone for the work ethic.
“He worked and he expected the Apostles to work.
“These three young men are also expected to do that.”
But as was the case with Franklin, Edison and Abraham Lincoln, the Bishop said success and failure were part of their lives. The newly ordained priests, he maintained, could expect the same might happen to them.
Abraham Lincoln, the Bishop said, had the philosophy that it is not so bad that one fails, but one should not be content with failure.
“You will have successes and failures as a priest,” Bishop DiLorenzo told the three men.
“My advice is don’t be content with failure.”
During the ordination rite the three elect promised to “exercise the ministry of the word, preaching the Gospel and teaching the Catholic faith worthily and wisely.”
They promised to “celebrate faithfully and reverently the mysteries of Christ, especially the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the glory of God and the sanctification of the Christian people.”
In making these promises, they knelt before the Bishop and joined their hands with his, promising respect and obedience to him and to his successors.
The next part of the rite included the Litany of Supplication in which the three men lay prostrate before the altar which is “symbolic of dying to the old self and rising.”
The rite also included the laying on of hands signifying the conferral of the Holy Spirit, vesting of the newly ordained with the priestly stole and chasuble, anointing of the hands, and handing over of the Bread and Wine.
Family members of the three newly ordained priest brought forward a paten holding the bread and chalice of wine mixed with water which were presented to the Bishop.
He then placed the paten and chalice in the hands of each of the newly ordained “as a sign of the sacrifice of the people that they will in turn offer to God.”
Families of the three new priests expressed much joy over the occasion of their son, brother or nephew.
Karen Melendez, mother of Father Melendez and wife of Deacon Jose Melendez, said that the last 13 and a half months have been filled with significant family occasions.
“Two of our children (Kristina and Kyle) were married, Miguel’s ordination, my father died and an uncle died,” she said.
“My father was Miguel’s biggest cheerleader,” she added. “I’m so glad he was able to see him ordained a deacon before he died.
“Now I’m done. I just feel at peace.”
Kerry Fallon, Father Melendez’s aunt, said that the Melendez-Fisher family has always shared good and bad times together.
“Our joys and our sorrows seem to be bundled closely together and the background is always the Church,” she said. “We celebrate even as we cry tears of sorrow.”
John Kowalski, father of Father Kowalski, was asked if he had suspected his son would one day be a priest. His wife, Val, died a year ago.
“We were not surprised even though it was not something he talked about with us,” he said.
“This is for him,” he continued. “He’s so excited about it and he can’t wait to get started.”
Tricia Christian, mother of Father Christian, said she felt the ordination Mass was beautiful, but added the rite of ordination is “so much bigger than us, parents and other relatives.”
“John, our son, is now part of another realm,” she said. “He is now part of the army of God.
“That was so evident in the fraternal greeting with the other priests.”
The three new priests will begin their assignments as parochial vicar July 1.
Father Christian will be at St. Bridget Parish, Richmond.
Father Kowalski will be at St. Edward the Confessor Parish, Richmond.
Father Melendez will be at Blessed Sacrament Parish, Harrisonburg.