The nine new priests of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee along with (back row, from left) Fr. John Baumgardner, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki and Fr. Luke Strand. (Photo by Andy Gilicinski)

On Saturday, May 18, nine men — Fr. Dennis Beltre, Fr. Nicholas Dhein, Fr. Kevin Durand, Fr. Zachary Galante, Fr. Denny Jacob, Fr. Dominic Lazzaroni, Fr. Charles Luke, Fr. Craig Richter and Fr. David Sweeney — were ordained to the priesthood of Jesus Christ for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

It’s the largest ordination class this archdiocese has seen in 32 years, and brought the number of men Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki has ordained in his 14 years as archbishop in Milwaukee to 73.

“This day is the day that Holy Mother Church affirms the call that you received from God to serve him as priests,” Archbishop Listecki told the men. “In persona Christi, you’ll become ‘other Christs’ leading his people to God and God to his people. Through your actions as priests and the celebration of the sacraments, the preaching of the Word and your acts of charity, God’s grace will shape and form the communities you serve.”

Jokingly referring to the size of the group, the archbishop also said, “I expect by next week our (Catholic) population will double.”

In his homily, Archbishop Listecki reminded the newly ordained priests that “our society needs the witnesses of intentional Catholics who proclaim the transcendence in the face of a material and secular world that so quickly denies the spiritual.”

“Our Catholics need the shepherding of ordained priests to support and direct them, for you know as I do that true happiness can never be achieved apart from God, and we know who is the way, the truth and the life that has been given to us,” he said.

Reflecting on the morning’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew, Archbishop Listecki said the newly ordained priests must be ready to accept the direction that Christ gave to Peter: feeding and tending the sheep.

“You, my brothers, will demonstrate your love for the Lord by willingly fulfilling the task of feeding and tending to those entrusted to your care,” said the archbishop. “As the author of (the Book of) Hebrews states, you have been taken from among men and made their representatives before God to offer gifts and sacrifices for sin. You will help to navigate the lives of the people that you will serve as they confront the persuasive ideologies that the secular world presents. You will offer an objective truth about the intrinsic value of human life, acknowledging that the dignity of every human being reflects the Imago Dei, the very image of God. You will affirm the love of God above all things and neighbor as self. In doing so, you will witness to the faith, which offers hope to a world that has forgotten the mystery of God’s presence.”

The archbishop also reminded the priests that they will have a profound role to play in the National Eucharistic Revival that has been called for by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“The Real Presence of Jesus will be offered to those you serve,” he said. “Your reverence and attention to the mystery will draw others to a deeper understanding of the one they receive and the ability to take him into the world spreading the presence of his love.”

In closing, the archbishop offered the men seven words that he promised would assure them happiness in their priesthood: “Faithfully serve Jesus Christ in his Church.”

A band of brothers

All of the new priests have spoken of the strong fraternal bond that their class shares. Fr. Charles Luke told the Catholic Herald this spring that he credits this closeness in part to the experience the group had while isolated together during the initial COVID-19 lockdown at the beginning of their seminary experience.

“This community was shaped by an intense experience together,” Fr. Luke said. “We’re a really close class.”

Fr. Sweeney also observed that summer experiences shared by the group, serving at Camp Gray in the Diocese of Madison and visiting the archdiocese’s sister parish in the Dominican Republic, as well as hosting the annual De Sales Invitational basketball tournament at the seminary, further cemented that bond.

“Within the first semester (of seminary), my closest friends were my classmates,” said Fr. Sweeney. “We shared so much of life together.”

“I had been away from Milwaukee for nine years (before transferring back to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee my second year of seminary), and I really didn’t know many of the parishes, priests or Catholics my age in the area,” said Fr. Richter. “And now I have some of my closest friends. I feel so, so blessed and grateful for that, because you don’t pick who you enter seminary with. It just so happened that all these other guys who are now some of my closest friends were called by the Lord and responded at the same time.”

“They will be priests who have each other’s back and who are willing to hold each other accountable,” said Fr. Luke Strand, Rector of Saint Francis de Sales Seminary.

It’s a bond that Fr. Galante is now excited to see expand to include so many of the brother priests that have mentored and guided the group along the way.

“That’s one of the things I’m looking forward to most about entering the priesthood — just the fraternity amongst the Milwaukee priests,” he said. “We will really, finally be brothers with these guys who I’ve really considered my older brothers for a long, long time.”