Community Was Everywhere
by Jennifer Szweda Jordan
September 5, 2017

Community was everywhere.

As two men moved closer toward life in a priesthood with the Paulist Fathers this Labor Day weekend, they were surrounded by church, friends, and family. Paulist priests from across the country came to celebrate. Men and women from other religious orders stood in the pews and cheered. And the mens’ parents, siblings, and aunts and uncles wiped away tears and expressed awe at their loved ones’ commitment.

“The high point today obviously was just kind of seeing everyone there around you and the reactions and knowing that you’re not by yourself doing this,” said Paulist seminarian Ryan Casey.

Ryan, along with Paulist seminarian Michael Hennessy, was ordained a transitional deacon Saturday morning. Both are slated to be ordained priests in May, 2018.

Paulist Fr. Eric Andrews, president of the Paulist Fathers, presided at an intimate Mass Friday evening in the chapel of St. Joseph’s Seminary in Washington, D.C.  There, all of the Paulist seminarians made promises to the community:

For Ryan and Mike, those were final promises.

Paulist seminarian Geno Flores prays during the special Mass on Friday, September 1, 2017, at which he made his first promises to the Paulist community.
Paulist seminarian Geno Flores prays during the special Mass on Friday, Sept. 1, at which he made his first promises to the Paulist community.

Genaro “Geno” Flores made his first promise after a year as a novice.

Michael Cruickshank, Evan Cummings, Paolo Puccini, and Richard Whitney all renewed their promises to study, work and pray in the Paulist seminary for another year.

Like Ryan, Mike Hennessy was also touched by being surrounded by brother priests. The most moving moment for him was “when the other Paulists who have already made their final promises came up and we were all together surrounded each other.”

“They’ve all been where I’ve been,” Mike said. “And, you know, they have years of experience and ups and downs and struggles and joys that I’ll be able to, God willing, share in now myself.”

Fr. Eric said that the evening’s second reading of the Acts of the Apostles reminded him of the seminarians: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

Friday’s celebration also included a traditional moment of levity when Fr. Eric gave Ryan and Mike each a symbolic penny in payment for a lifetime of ministry work. The men also were given the traditional Paulist Mission Cross, dark wood crucifixes that symbolize the community’s mission.

“For some, the cross is foolishness, for others a stumbling block,” Fr. Eric prayed during the blessing of the mission crosses. “But for those who believe, it is the Power of Christ and the Wisdom of God.”

Fr. Eric thanked each of the men for their commitments and shared anecdotes about their service during formation in seminary.

“I was heartened by many examples that you seven have shown me through this past year and years’ past,” Fr. Eric said.

He spoke about Geno’s work with the Paulists in Knoxville.

“What made the difference for you there for people from many walks of life, and different opinions about things … you were able to listen to them and hear their stories, and be able to enter in where they were.” Fr. Eric said this was “the beginnings of what it means to be a missionary. To go to a place you cannot know and learn from those who are there.”

Fr. Eric teared up as he addressed Ryan.

“No one I know meets the variety of people along their Christian journeys in so many different wild places than you do,” Fr. Eric said. “You are one of our most amazing missionaries because you don’t see any walls or boundaries or anything else you see the heart …. And you’re seeking to communicate that to others.”

Fr. Eric recounted Mike’s recent cross-cultural journeys.

“Thank you for going out on mission this summer to China, and down in Mexico,” Fr. Eric said. “To converse and to have some facility in Spanish is so key, as we know, in the future of our church in the United States.”

paolo-leads-procession-in-crypyt-church-sept-2-2017
Paulist seminarian Paolo Puccini leads the procession into the Crypt Church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Saturday, September 2, 2017.

On Saturday morning, in the Crypt Church in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Bishop Barry Knestout, auxiliary bishop of Washington, D.C., ordained Ryan and Mike as transitional deacons.

Paulist seminarian Paolo Puccini led the formal procession into the sanctuary, swinging the chain of a burning container of incense known as the thurible. He was followed by fellow seminarians, the bishop, and elder Paulist Fathers vested in cream-colored vestments.

After Bishop Knestout’s homily, Ryan and Mike committed to several promises including obedience. One of the most moving points of ordination masses is the moment when the ordinands lie prostrate in front of the altar and the congregation sings the Litany of the Saints.

It was a moment made more special because the cantor of Friday and Saturday’s services Dan Macalinao has agreed to enter the seminary himself next year and follow in the footsteps of the men he sang for at the ceremonies. Dan worships at the Paulist mother church, the Church of St. Paul the Apostle in New York City.

As part of Saturday’s liturgy, Ryan and Mike were publicly vested in new garments to indicate their new status, and they immediately took their place at the altar, and then, seated on either side of the bishop.

“These days after surgery you’re up and walking within hours,” Bishop Knestout said. “After ordination, you’re serving at the altar within minutes.”

The men have clearly already begun serving in the community as well. After the Mass on Saturday, two brothers, Alex and Pierre Fernandes, talked about how Ryan profoundly influenced their spiritual lives. Both renewed their commitments to the faith by going through The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults this year.  

One of Mike’s professors also remarked on the younger man’s leadership in matters of faith.

“He devised thorough, indeed massive lessons about Catholicism in American history, packed with not only information but insightful interpretations,” said Ken Masugi, lecturer at the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University. Mike’s Master’s thesis was “a wonderful instance of how a student teaches the teacher the ultimate, though infrequently fulfilled goal of any dedicated teacher.”

 

Bishop Barry Knestout, center, with Paulist Deacon Ryan Casey (left) and Deacon Michael Hennessy (right) shortly after he had ordained the pair transitional deacons on Saturday, September 2, during a Mass in the Crypt Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
Bishop Barry Knestout, center, with Paulist Deacon Ryan Casey (left) and Paulist Deacon Michael Hennessy (right) shortly after the bishop had ordained the pair transitional deacons on Saturday, September 2, during a Mass in the Crypt Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.


Jennifer Szweda Jordan is a freelance writer and audio producer based in Pittsburgh.

Photos by Kwana Strong.