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On ordination and the priesthood

Fr. Richard Warner | Thursday, April 27, 2006

Last Saturday, while the Church continued its vibrant celebration of “Easter Day,” dozens of priests, including the current and both former presidents of Notre Dame, joined Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, C.S.C., Bishop of Peoria, for the ancient and beautiful rite of ordination to the priesthood. The Basilica was decked out in all its Easter beauty, with flowers and plants everywhere, banners and wall hangings proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus. The Basilica was filled with many hundreds of men, women and children. Holy Cross Father Nate Will’s parents, family members and friends were there, as well. And so were many of the people, especially children, who had already benefitted from this young and charismatic man’s ministry as a deacon. As the bells of the Basilica pealed anticipating the joy of what was going to take place and the music of the Notre Dame Folk Choir filled the Basilica, the procession up the main aisle began, being led by Holy Cross seminarians in the traditional Holy Cross habit, all of whom had been close brothers of Nate during his years of formation and academic preparation.

For me, there were almost too many moving moments to even begin to enumerate them. Bishop Jenky once mentioned to a group of his friends that when he ordains fellow Holy Cross priests, he avoids spontaneous comments because of how especially moving these ordinations are for him.

There was the testimony given by a family from the parish telling the bishop that they had profited from Nate’s ministry in many ways, and recommended that he be ordained a priest. It was a humorous, serious and beautiful moment of what it means to be a Church. And as the smallest child from that family added yet another affirmation, the Church was filled with laughter and sustained applause.

When Nate laid prostrate on the floor of the main aisle during the Litany of the Saints, he held out his arms, making his body into a sign of the cross.

After a beautiful homily on the meaning of what was going to take place, Bishop Jenky laid his hands on Nate’s head, and every priest present then did the same. Holy Cross religious know each other well. We are very proud of our candidates and seminarians, and grateful to God for their willingness to join us in life and ministry. So many images, memories and so much gratitude filled our hearts as we awaited our turn to place our hands on Nate’s head. I was told that Nate used the sleeve of his alb several times to wipe away tears of awe and joy. And most of us had lumps in our throats. When the bishop gave a warm embrace to the newly ordained priest, the Basilica was once again filled with applause.

After Nate was vested as a priest for the first time by his best friend, Father Sean McGraw, C.S.C. – who is pursuing doctoral studies in comparative politics at Harvard – he joined us around the altar for the first of thousands of times that he would be privileged to celebrate the Eucharist for God’s people.

When the Mass was over, the bells of the Basilica pealed again, and numerous visitors who were on campus for the Blue-Gold Game gathered in front of the Basilica to see what was taking place. The concelebrating priests formed a semi-circle in front of the Basilica, and greeted the newest Holy Cross priest with smiles and applause.

Everyone knows what a critical moment the Church in our country is experiencing because of a shortage of vocations to religious life and the priesthood. The young men joining Holy Cross today are fewer in number than in previous generations. But they are devout, courageous, zealous, intelligent and highly motivated young men who are filled with energy in their desire to serve the Church through their ministry.

As Constitution Four of the Congregation of Holy Cross reminds us, “Our calling is to serve the Lord Jesus in mission not as independent individuals but in a brotherhood. Our community life refreshes the faith that makes our work a ministry and not just an employment; it fortifies us by the example and encouragement of our confreres … We are a sign in an alienated world: men who have, for the love of their Lord, become closest neighbors, trustworthy friends, brothers.”

I know that Nate’s heart is filled with joy because he “answered the call.” And the Church and the Congregation of Holy Cross are richer because he is one of us. He will serve God’s people very well for years to come.

Father Richard Warner, CSC, is the Director of Campus Ministry. He can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not of The Observer.