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Five new priests ‘on fire’ for the Lord

An Ordination Mass is special in its own right, particularly when five men are ordained as priests for the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

But as newly ordained Fathers Colin Braud, Travis Clark, Gary Copping, Daniel Green and Jonathan Hemelt joined Archbishop Gregory Aymond around the altar at St. Louis Cathedral June 1 for the eucharistic prayer, the cathedral’s smoke alarm, triggered by the thick cloud of celebratory incense from the archbishop’s thurifer, provided a blaring sound not many have heard inside the cathedral.

Undaunted, Archbishop Aymond continued with the preface, and the emergency announcement stopped after about 30 seconds and a few hastily opened doors. But before the final blessing, Archbishop Aymond told the standing-room-only congregation that the smoke alarm was a teachable moment.

“I think this was the first time we’ve ever had a fire drill during an ordination,” Archbishop Aymond said, eliciting laughter from the congregation. “Some of you may think it was because of the incense, but I think it’s because the newly ordained are just on fire for the Lord. In fact, I think we should have a fire drill at every ordination.”

Glorious day for local church
Calling it “a joyful and glorious day in the life of the church,” Archbishop Aymond said the five new priests each had come to the awareness of his priestly vocation in a different way, but each had discerned over the previous year of service as a deacon that God was calling him in a profound way.

“From the depths of their hearts, they have heard God’s call, ‘Come, follow me,’” Archbishop Aymond said. “What is common is that Jesus whispered into their hearts long ago that he was calling them to priestly ministry to serve the church. It was through diaconate ministry that God made the call clear.”

The vocational call, in many ways, is “a mystery,” Archbishop Aymond said, adding that it took the love and support of family and friends to nurture that call.

The rite of ordination configures the newly ordained to “Christ the priest,” Archbishop Aymond said.

“You will become Christ the priest,” he said. “You will act and you will speak in the name of Christ. You will preside over the Eucharist, and through prayer the bread and wine will become Christ, and you will say, ‘This is my body; this is my blood.’”

A new priest also will be a teacher and preacher, he said.

“You will proclaim every day the Scriptures and break open the Word of God so that people can grow,” Archbishop Aymond said. “I beg you today, never water down the Gospel message. Never preach without prayer and without preparation because the people of God hunger for fresh food for their spirits.”

‘Pastors, not functionaries’
As an ordained priest, the newly ordained also will become Christ the shepherd, the archbishop said. He cited Pope Francis’ recent words to priests that he had ordained, saying priests should be “pastors, not functionaries.”

“A priest is not a priest for himself,” Archbishop Aymond said. “He is a priest for the people, to serve them, encourage them, shepherd them and defend them.

The archbishop also used the image of the empty chalice as an example of God’s call to the new priests to “empty yourself in every way and give your life to God in a radical way.”

Five priests ‘awestruck’
The five new priests said they were awestruck by their ordination.

“It was unbelievable,” Father Braud said. “It’s hard to describe what exactly happened – the graces and everything – but it’s amazing. It’s awesome – the ministry of the priesthood. I’m going to be performing as one of Jesus Christ’s priests now, so it’s unbelievable. I hope to serve God’s people and do his will and bring others to Christ. That’s what I want to do.”

“It’s really indescribable,” Father Clark said. “It’s just an amazing feeling. It’s wonderful to have so much love and support. It’s been amazing to feel the Lord’s presence all the more now. To be a shepherd of his people and to be configured to Christ is an amazing feeling. I hope to serve God and lead his people and comfort them in their times of trouble. I want to be there for the sacraments, to give the Eucharist, Jesus, to others, to absolve sins and be there for the sacraments.”

“It felt like the past 25 years – when I first entered the seminary – have been one complete thing,” said Father Copping. “It’s just kind of flown by. I have to pinch myself and remind myself that I’m a priest of Jesus Christ. It’s amazing. I hope to bring God’s love to all the people, bring them back to the sacraments and evangelize. I just want to bring people back to the church so that we can evangelize the world and do what Jesus commanded us to do – to make disciples of all nations.”

“At our diaconate ordination, we were pretty much doing what the emcee told us, so I didn’t really remember a whole lot of what had gone on,” Father Green said. “This time I was much more present to what was going on and aware of the archbishop’s words to us. There was just a real sense of being surprisingly calm and ready. I hope to let others know the love of God so that they might come to know him and be followers of his in a deeper and more intimate way.”

“It’s really just an amazing experience,” Father Hemelt said. “I’m so thankful for all of the people who have been there and supported us over these years. It’s just really indescribable. I’m so happy to have been called by the Lord and so humbled by that call, and I look forward to getting to work, as the archbishop said. I want to save souls. That’s it. If I can do that, a couple of times, I’ll be happy.”

During the Mass, each newly ordained priest was vested in a chasuble by a mentor priest. Father Patrick Wattigny vested both Father Clark and Father Braud; Father Joseph Man Tran vested Father Copping; Father Tony Ricard vested Father Green; and Jesuit Father Thomas Madden vested Father Hemelt.

The newly ordained priests will report to their new parishes as parochial vicars on July 1.

Father Braud will be assigned to St. Margaret Mary, Slidell; Father Clark to St. Ann, Metairie; Father Copping to St. Anselm, Madisonville; Father Green to The Visitation of Our Lady, Marrero; and Father Hemelt to St. Pius X, New Orleans.

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at pfinney@clarion

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