May 22, 2017
The liturgy was ancient with touches of modernity, formal with great personal intimacy, and deeply reverent yet full of joy.
Bishop Gerald Kicanas of the Diocese of Tucson, AZ, ordained Paulist Fr. Matt Berrios, Paulist Fr. Steve Petroff, and Paulist Fr. Stuart Wilson-Smith to the priesthood on Saturday, May 20, during this historic 10 a.m. Mass at the Paulist Fathers’ mother church, the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, in New York City.
“Called. Immersed in a society. Sent on mission,” the bishop began his homily. Then he pointed in a humorously exaggerated way at each of the three men, saying directly to them, “You, yeah you, right here.”
Bishop Kicanas explained his reference — Caravaggio’s famous painting of “The Calling of St. Matthew” — in which Jesus points to the then-tax collector.
“In the painting,” he said, “Matthew’s finger is pointing directly at himself as if to say, ‘Who me?’ But that’s exactly the point of Caravaggio’s painting. Matthew, the tax collector, undeserving as he was, was the one picked, called, chosen by the Lord. You men, like Jeremiah, like Isaac Hecker, must ask yourself, ‘Who, me?'”
Then with extraordinary detail, without notes, the 75-year-old bishop recounted the questionings and wanderings of each man before him to be ordained. He began with Fr. Steve.
” … he entered a religious a community, and soon after, left,” Bishop Kicanas said. “He felt disillusioned, disappointed. Kind of like a failure. Not unlike the struggle of Hecker himself to figure out who he was and where he was going.”
Bishop Kicanas described how Fr. Steve considered other religious orders before pursuing life with the Paulists.
“It was inspirational,” Fr. Steve said of the homily. “He spoke not only to us very personally but also to our family and the whole Paulist community.”
Paulist Fr. Eric Andrews, president of the Paulist Fathers, said that Bishop Kicanas annually visits the Paulists in New York City, and the Paulists once served with the bishop in Tucson.
“To make the liturgy so personal, I think, just warmed up the whole room,” Fr. Eric said. “It started with (the bishop) and it just continued throughout the whole liturgy.”
At one point, the bishop invited Fr. Eric to stand by his side and to join him during the ordinands’ pledges of obedience.
“That generally doesn’t happen in an ordination ritual,” Fr. Eric says. “The bishop, you know, does what the bishop does and the religious superior stands, or is off in his chair to the side. He made it just so personal and intimate … The partnership of the bishop and the religious community was something that was really remarkable.”
The intimacy continued as the dozens of Paulist Fathers proceeded one-by-one to lay their hands on the head of each of the kneeling ordinands.
Fr. Matt said he was moved by this.
“Just the sign of fraternal love and solidarity that all the priests both in the order and outside showed us through that action,” Fr. Matt said. “To be honest, I teared up a bit.”
In a show of loving commitment to lifelong community, Paulist Fr. Steve Bell supported Paulist Fr. Michael Martin (who has difficulty walking) with his arms across the elder priest’s chest so that Fr. Michael could participate in laying hands on the newest priests. Immediately after, Fr. Steve slung Fr. Michael’s arm over his shoulder and the two men walked together.
This was made even more dramatic as “Gabriel’s Oboe” from the 1986 film “The Mission” played. Throughout the Mass, contemporary music such as “You Gather in the Outcast” paired with older works such as Mozart’s “Ave Verum.” St. Paul’s Director of Music Valerie Shondel led the choir and instrumentalists.
Often the most visually striking moment in an ordination is when the ordinands lie face down, prostrate, before the altar on the church floor. The Litany of Saints is sung during what’s called the Litany of Supplication.
Fr. Stuart, who by happenstance laid on the stone and marble center aisle while the two others flanked him on wood, described the experience.
“I could feel the cold and everything just sort of disappeared and my whole life just suddenly, just swoosh, it was all present all of the sudden,” Fr. Stuart said. “Just remembering being young and feeling this feeling like, ‘What am I doing?’ And I knew there was something there — but what is it? And this sense of growing into this moment. So, it was just, my whole life was there and surrounded by family and friends and the saints, the Communion of Saints.”
Fr. Stuart now will be associate director of St. Thomas More Newman Center at The Ohio State University in Columbus, OH. Fr. Steve will now become associate pastor of Old St. Mary’s Church in Chicago. Fr. Matt will become associate pastor of the church where he was ordained, the Church of St. Paul the Apostle.
One of the attendees at the Mass was Phil Catalanotto, a Long Islander who is slated to enter the Paulist novitiate in August. He said he enjoyed witnessing what he described as ‘that sense of joy the guys have. They’re just beaming from ear to ear.”