New priests thankful for God's mercy
By Peter Finney Jr.
The winding journey to the altar culminated in joyful hugs and first blessings June 3 for four men – Deacons Cory Ford, David Doyle, Long Thanh Pham and Kevin Seay – ordained at St. Louis Cathedral by Archbishop Gregory Aymond as priests for the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
Newly ordained Father Ford’s ordination to the priesthood climaxed years of physical challenges, including a months-long battle with Stage 3 melanoma, a period of prayer and perseverance that left him in awe at what God has accomplished in him.
Father Ford’s journey in many ways was an echo of the 13th and 14th chapters of the Book of Job, which, interestingly enough, were included in the Office of Readings for June 3.
“I can reflect on someone (like Job) who went through a lot, but who in the end realized that it was only through faith in God that we will get the rest we need,” Father Ford said. “I took comfort in that – just rely on God, he’ll get me through. He’s gotten me this far through so many trials and tribulations, so there’s no reason I should stop believing him today.”
Stay anchored in prayer
Archbishop Aymond praised the new ordinands and urged them to remain faithful to prayer, to regular confession and to preparing worthy homilies for the Catholic faithful who are hungry for the authentic word of God.
“I suggest that you celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation regularly, as you and I as priests accept God’s mercy,” Archbishop Aymond said. “Not only are we forgiven and healed. We’re also empowered to give others that same mercy that Jesus wished to give them. We are empowered not only to be healed but also to forgive others.”
He urged the new priests not to describe their elevation to priestly orders as “my priesthood,” because that is the wrong focus.
“It is not ‘my’ priesthood,” the archbishop said. “It is only one priesthood, and it is the priesthood of Jesus Christ, and you have been chosen to act and to speak in his name. We share in his priesthood. We, as your family and friends, are very grateful today because you have been called to carry on his priesthood.”
Ancient rituals relived
The two-hour liturgy was filled with the rituals of the church that have been carried out for more than 2,000 years, Archbishop Aymond said.
The four men were “called” by name from the congregation and presented to the archbishop, who received testimony from archdiocesan vocation director Father Colm Cahill that they had received and embraced their priestly formation and were deemed worthy to live as priests.
After his homily, Archbishop Aymond examined the candidates and asked if they were ready to consent to fully give of themselves in priestly service. After they promised their obedience to the church and to the current and future bishops, they prostrated themselves before the altar as a sign of submission to the will of God.
Silent laying on of hands
The epitome of the ordination rite took place next when Archbishop Aymond silently laid hands on each man who knelt before him, invoking the Holy Spirit, and then offering aloud the prayer of ordination. The 100 priests who attended the Ordination Mass then left their pews and also laid hands on the ordinands.
Each of the new priests then removed his deacon’s stoles and received a priest’s stole, which he draped over each shoulder, and the priest’s outer vestment called the chasuble. They then took turns kneeling before the archbishop, who anointed their hands with sacred chrism as a sign that they would use those hands to consecrate the Eucharist and to bless others. The new priests also received a chalice and paten from the archbishop as a sign they will transform bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.
Father Pham, who spent eight years as a seminarian with the Domus Dei religious order, said his ordination was a gift beyond measure.
“I feel great – great,” he said. “I am grateful for all the things that God has been doing for me and letting me do. We are not worthy, but he is the one who makes us worthy for this priesthood.”
Father Pham chose Father Dominic Nghiem Van Nguyen, the pastor of Mary Queen of Vietnam Parish, to vest him with his priestly chasuble.
“He has more than 30 years in the church, and I chose him, first, because he is my godfather, and, secondly, because he is kind of like my mentor,” Father Pham said. “He has helped me through all these years in the seminary and helped me to learn how to serve people.”
Father Doyle, whose parents are deceased, said he felt a close bond with Father Timothy Wiggins, who was his parish priest growing up in New York. He has known Father Wiggins for more than 20 years.
“He was the priest who buried my parents and grandparents, and, thankfully, he was able to make the trip here to visit me,” Father Doyle said. “He’s the priest who first taught me to love the liturgy, but he also has a servant’s heart and wants what’s best for his people. No task is too small for him, and he really taught me how to serve well.”
Supportive priest in his journey
Father Seay was vested by Father John Talamo, pastor of St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Algiers, who has been his spiritual director for the last four years.
“He’s been so supportive and so helpful both in the spiritual life, with direction, and just as a mentor, guide and kind of a friend at this point,” Father Seay said.
Father Ford was vested by retired Father Walter Austin, the former pastor of Ascension of Our Lord Parish in LaPlace. Father Austin was his pastor when Father Ford decided to enter the seminary.
“It took no time (for him), taking me under his wing, teaching me,” Father Ford said. “I remember he sat me down and said, ‘This is what you’re going to need to know by the time you get to your ordination.’ And, I tell you, almost everything he told me I’ve had to know. I’m very grateful that he did that and he watched me over the years. He’s a very practical man.”
New assignments begin July 1
The four new priests already have their first parish assignments, beginning July 1: Father Doyle will serve at St. Anselm in Madisonville; Father Ford will be at Our Lady of the Lake in Mandeville; Father Pham will be assigned to St. Edward the Confessor in Metairie; and Father Seay will serve at St. Catherine of Siena in Metairie.
They each have thought about what lies ahead.
Father Seay: “It’s just one day at a time and enjoying every step of the process and just the day by day, new things. If I feel like I’m drowning, it’s just one day at a time, but then, at the end of each day, I will step back and enjoy this beautiful time in my life.”
Father Pham: “I want to serve for the salvation of souls and the glory of God.”
Father Ford: “I hope to really engage people that are kind of on the outskirts, on the fringes. That’s what I do in my deacon’s ministry. I found a lot of joy in going out to the sick, even to those who don't come to Mass for medical or health reasons, or maybe they just work too much because they have more than one job. Jesus still walks among them and can still be in more places than just the building.”
Father Doyle: “My hope is that my life and my priesthood can be dedicated to doing all I possibly can to bring God to the people and bring them to God and be transformed by his wonderful power.”