AN ORDINATION NOT SOON FORGOTTEN
Sheila Grove and Anne-Marie Welsh
ERIE — “O Comforter, draw near, within my heart appear, and kindle it, your holy flame bestowing,” were fitting words in the song that welcomed Deacon Kevin Holland, Deacon Joe Petrone, and the small group of family and clergy assembled at St. Mark Catholic Center in Erie — as well as hundreds of online viewers — to the deacons’ ordination to the priesthood on May 29. The chapel was nearly empty at the private event, but the joy and hopes of all involved more than filled the space.
In his homily at the ordination Mass, Bishop Lawrence Persico expressed his thanks for “the particular call to priesthood that God planted in the hearts of Kevin and Joe – an invitation built upon the universal call to holiness which all of us have received in baptism.
As priests, you will be ministers of the Lord, you will share in his mission and you will act in his name,” Bishop Persico said to the deacons, who were seated directly in front of him. “This has less to do with your rank and status among the people of God and much more with a perpetual challenge to be like Christ.”
This was the first time priests ever have been ordained for the Diocese of Erie in the St. Mark Catholic Center chapel. Traditionally, ordinations are held at the mother church of the diocese, St. Peter Cathedral. As Bishop Persico explained, the decision originally had been made to hold the event at St. Patrick Church in Erie because of the seating restrictions at the cathedral, which is undergoing a restoration. Then, when it became clear the ceremony would have to be held privately due to the pandemic, plans shifted to the intimate setting of St. Mark Chapel.
And so it was that the deacons found themselves being ordained in the same location where their seminary experience began, and where they had been ordained to the transitional diaconate last year. Both had indicated prior to the event that they were far more focused on the sacrament than the locale.
To date, despite the smaller setting, more than 3,000 people have watched the ordination on Facebook, many of whom enjoyed the livestream in real time.
The Rite of Ordination began with the presentation of the candidates by Father Nicholas Rouch, vice rector of St. Mark Seminary, immediately accepted by Bishop Persico and the assent of the assembly, always a moving moment as the candidates turn to the people and receive their enthusiastic applause. After the bishop’s homily, the candidates made promises, including a promise of obedience to the bishop.
During his homily, Bishop Persico also reflected on St. Peter’s call in the Gospel of St. John. Although he had denied Jesus three times, the bishop said, Jesus’ invitation to ‘follow’ affirmed the all-too-human Peter three times, and called him to engage the mission of proclaiming the Good News.
“Remember,” Bishop Persico challenged the soon-to-be priests, “when you teach in the name of Christ; when you work for justice, truth and freedom; when you gather others into the church through baptism; when you forgive sins in the name of Christ and the church; when you comfort the sick and the dying; when you serve the poor and when you celebrate the sacraments; you are both a servant of the church and a member of the people of God.”
In an always poignant moment of the ceremony, the deacons then prostrated themselves in front of the altar while the community invoked the intercession of all the saints. As he looked ahead to the event, Father Kevin had noted he was especially looking forward to that aspect of the rite.
“It really shows that our faith is more than just what meets the eye,” he said. “At every Mass, I believe that all the saints and angels are really with us.”
The ordination continued as Bishop Persico laid his hands on each of the elect in silence. Other priests present then followed suit, signifying the common spirit they share as priests. This most solemn aspect of the ceremony continued as Bishop Persico offered the prayer of ordination, conferring the reception of the sacrament of holy orders.
Next, Father Jason Feigh and Father Michael Kesicki, who served as the sponsoring priests for Father Kevin and Father Joe respectively, helped to vest the new priests as they donned the stole and chasuble for the first time.
This was followed by the anointing of hands — a moment signifying the priest’s participation in the priesthood of Christ, and one that Father Joe had indicated would be a highlight of the ordination ceremony for him.
The new priests then received their chalices — gifts from their families — chosen with special significance as part of a tradition they will cherish throughout their lives. The ordination rite concluded with a fraternal kiss of peace from the bishop and the other priests who were present. The new priests then concelebrated with Bishop Persico as the Mass continued with the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
After his final blessing, a kneeler was brought forward so Bishop Persico could receive the first blessing from Father Kevin and then from Father Joe. In a gesture made more moving as a result of the livestream camera, each priest then turned to those assembled to offer them his blessing.
Father Kevin prayed for the intercession of Mary and St. Therese of Lisieux, well-known for her commitment to pray for priests, as he offered his blessing; Father Joe asked for the intercession of Mary and of St. Patrick, patron saint of the Diocese of Erie, with his blessing.
The 2020 ordination of Father Kevin Holland and Father Joseph Petrone will long be remembered for the fact that it occurred during a pandemic. It was a private event. Most of those present wore masks. Among the chrism and the incense, there were moments when hands had to be sanitized. But as with any ordination, what will truly be remembered and cherished, is the willingness of two young men with generous hearts, eager to lay down their lives in service to Christ, to his church and to his people.