For those within the Catholic circle, the month of May is often associated with the Blessed Mother. There will be Marian processions, May crowning and, of course, public recitations of the rosary. I encourage you to make a visit to a Marian Shrine. We have some wonderful sites: Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Holy Hill in the archdiocese and Champion in Green Bay. In addition, there are many small local Marian shrines (i.e. 68th Street). May is also the month in which we honor our mothers. In some parishes, there will be the celebrations of First Holy Communion, a time I remember with great affection. But for many dioceses and archdioceses in the country, it is the month of ordinations to the priesthood.
My own ordination to the priesthood was May 14, 1975. I will be celebrating 47 years as a priest. My ordination was a glorious day when I and 37 of my classmates prostrated ourselves before the altar and bowed for the imposition of hands by Cardinal John Patrick Cody, the Archbishop of Chicago. It was the culmination of 12 years of study, beginning with my entrance into the minor seminary Quigley, then college seminary at Niles of Loyola University and onto the major seminary at St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois. Now, 47 years later, I give thanks for that moment that set me on a journey for the fulfilling of the call that I first received as a child.
Through the priesthood, I have been privileged to be a member of a number of families. I still have a close relationship with many in the parishes where I had been assigned or assisted. I have walked the life-journey of faith with individuals celebrating births and baptizing, officiating weddings and grieving in the loss of loved ones. I have witnessed the healing of spirit in reconciliation as those plagued by sin or doubt experienced a rebirth of God’s love in their lives. I have spent most of my years as a priest teaching in the seminary and now have the honor of encountering my former students, who are great witnesses of the faith to the communities they serve. There is a richness in the vocation of the priesthood, but not one of a monetary nature but rather of the abundance of love that is showered upon those who seek to proclaim God’s Son. I can testify to you that my life has been enriched.
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee is blessed to have a strong cultural environment for vocations. This did not happen overnight. It did not occur without the tremendous work from the current and past directors of the Vocation Office. Over the last 20 years, there has been a concerted effort in schools, organizations and elsewhere for consideration of the priesthood in the thinking of our young men as they discern what God wants from them.
We went through a period of time, in the 80s and 90s, when the priesthood was not considered and even, at times, actively discouraged by families. I can’t tell you how gratifying it was when, in my early days as archbishop, I traveled up to Sheboygan for an event and encountered a mother with her small child. She introduced herself and said proudly pointing to her young son, “Archbishop, I hope God willing that this one or his brother might be yours one day.” How refreshing to hear a positive force for a priestly vocation. My own vocation was not only reinforced by my family but by the religious sisters who supported my discernment throughout my grammar school years. Religious women were a powerful source of vocations to the priesthood. We need to support vocations to women’s religious life for the sake of the health and well-being of His Church.
Today, our seminary’s main building is filled to capacity. There is a need to rehab another building to accommodate the overflow. I believe that all of this is due to the investment made to the vocational environment, which has produced men willing to discern a commitment to Christ and His Church. It all truly starts with prayer. We all share a common vocation and that is to “holiness.” If we concentrate on our relationship with God, then we will be open to hearing his voice as he directs us in this world. I have often said that there is a deep sense of the spiritual in this archdiocese. I can see it in the religious movements and desire to integrate the spiritual into every aspect of our lives.
On Saturday, May 21, at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, I will ordain six men to the priesthood. These men are from diverse backgrounds, but what binds them together is their willingness to spend their lives for the Church serving the people of God. St. John Paul states, “there is an essential aspect of the priesthood that does not change: the priest of tomorrow, no less than the priest of today, must resemble Christ.” They will be ordained to represent Christ to the faithful. The priesthood is the great gift given by Jesus to His Church. These ordained men will continue to hold forth the sacrifice of Jesus in the sacramental actions they administer. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us: “In the ecclesial service of the ordained minister, it is Christ himself who is present to His Church as the Head of His Body, Shepherd of his flock, high priest of the redemptive sacrifice, Teacher of Truth. This is what the Church means by saying that the priest by virtue of the sacrament of Holy orders acts in persona Christi Capitis (in the person of Christ).”
The six men who will be ordained are: Matthew Ferch, Kevin Harmon, Matthew Kirk, Tonny Kizza, Ariel Orozco and Pedro Ruiz.
These men who will be ordained will grow in the sacrament of orders. They will be amazed at how God will use them to challenge, strengthen and support the faith of those whom they will be tasked to serve. I know that they will feel inadequate to the role that they are called to assume, but they will, like all priests before them, take their inadequacies and place their confidence in Christ and His Church. With my 47 years in the priesthood, I can look back and see God’s grace in so many moments of my priestly years. Now these young men will begin to discover the wonders of the priesthood embracing the cross and uniting themselves to the sacrifice of Christ so that his love may be proclaimed, and his salvation offered.
We are proud of the great work of the seminary, but we must continue to be promoters and supporters of vocations so that the great work of the Church may continue and together fulfill Christ’s mandate to “go preach, teach and baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”