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Priests, deacons reflect on their vocational call

The following are reflections from priests and deacons serving in the archdiocese who are celebrating significant anniversaries of their ordination.

60 years as a priest
Father Teodoro Agudo, O.F.M. Cap.
My life as a priest has meant everything to me. Deep inside I knew that God was calling, but why me? That is the question to the mystery of vocation. Only God knows the answer. I was born in a family of nine children. A sister had joined a religious order and a brother had entered the Capuchin seminary before I was born. I didn’t know them, so there was no influence.

Why did I persevere the many years of training for the priesthood when so many of my classmates were leaving? Only God knows the answer. I know that when I was ordained to the priesthood 60 years ago, I had found my place in life, and I was happy teaching in our seminary the first few years and doing pastoral work at St. Theresa of Avila in New Orleans for the past 45 years. No doubts, just happiness.

A few weeks ago, I was in the hospital. My roommate was a young man who was a “globe-trotter,” searching for meaning, a place to settle down. When I was leaving, I told him, “My friend, I pray that God may help you find ‘your place in life’ as I found mine 60 years ago, and that you may be as happy as I have been.”

That is my wish for everyone: find your place in life and enjoy it.

Msgr. J. Anthony Luminais
Hanceville, Ala.

I give thanks to Almighty God for calling me to the priesthood. I pray I have met or exceeded the expectations of my mentor, Msgr. Jean Eyraud.

I remember my anxiety of having seven years until my ordination; now, 60 years later, I wonder where the time has gone.

My assignments varied, with my last at Holy Guardian Angels in Bridge City spanning 42 years. I was privileged to administer the sacraments to thousands of parishioners entrusted to me over the years. I not only ministered to them but loved them as a father loves his children. They in turn reciprocated that love and many still visit me in Alabama.

I would not change a single moment of my priestly life. “To God be the glory!”

Msgr. Allen Roy
I find that the mystery of time, of age and its realization is a very fluid thing. My awareness of my 60th anniversary of ordination came when, in one year, we lost three seminary classmates to death, and a fourth quite close to that.

I’ve been blessed with good health, great friends, serious illness, the example of real priestly shepherds and communities to which I’ve belonged. All have made my time and efforts so rewarding and satisfying.

And retirement has provided me with time, place and presence to read, study, teach, pray and be grateful. I have not been poor: my days are filled with much to keep me interested and involved, so that I have a good reason to get up each morning and be busy. I’ve not been alone. I still sing.

There have been times in my loneliness and impatience that I’ve gotten frayed, but the Psalms provided me with words, pleading to the Good Shepherd, “How long, O Lord?” until God provided a break.

The words of Jeremiah also have rung true for me, “I know well the plans I have for you,” says the Lord, “plans of fullness and not of harm, to give you a future, and a hope!”

And all at once, I realize that I’ve been a priest for 60 years!

When, on our front porch, in 1945 I believe it was during the final blackout drill in New Roads, I revealed to my parents, before my graduation from high school that I was considering the priesthood, I had no idea all that would involve. Leaving home, new studies, new friends, new demands, new horizons about which I could only imagine.

At my first Mass at St. Mary’s, my great-uncle sermonized: “Give back to your parents the God who first gave you to them!” It was a return for which I’ve striven. May God continue to be with me and us.

Rev. George J. Weber, C.M.
I grew up in St. Joseph Parish on Tulane Avenue, which was administered by Vincentian priests. So I entered the Vincentian seminary and was eventually ordained a priest in 1954. I taught in seminaries for 25 years and eventually went into parish ministry. I also served as provincial of the Southern Province of Vincentians for nine years.

In looking back over my years as a priest I have so much to be grateful for. First, there was my family, who loved me unreservedly. We are not born loving but must first experience love if we are to become loving ourselves. From the very beginning, my family loved me.

Then there is the church, the many people who make up the Catholic Church who have inspired me to follow the God revealed to us by his Son, Jesus. Of course, there are my Vincentian confreres with whom I have lived these many years – their commitment to the poor has been inspiring. For all these people I can only say humbly, thank you.

50 years as a priest
Msgr. Terry Becnel
As a youngster, 8-13 years old, I would watch our assistant pastor, Father James Clement, lay out vestments for our pastor. As I watched while waiting to serve Mass I thought, “I would like to do this, to serve a pastor one day.” Father Clement would invite me to accompany him as he brought the Eucharist to the sick.

Again, the thought of service would be on my mind, so after eighth grade, I entered the seminary. My dream was to serve in a country parish where you can know the people and be family with them. God has blessed me with a dream come true – Houma, Lafitte, Buras and Norco.

My first assignment was at St. Frances Cabrini in New Orleans, and after serving in Houma, I had a short stint at St. Louis King of France.

To serve God’s people in all places – to baptize their children, witness weddings, bury their dead – to rejoice and mourn with them. What a life!

Father Adrian Hall

As I reflect on my 50 years as a priest, I am most grateful for the privilege of offering sacrifice and praise at the altar of the Lord. I have had the great blessing to celebrate liturgy, share the sacraments and community prayer and to work with God’s people in joy and sorrow. The grace and sorrow, the grace and mercy of God have deeply enriched my priesthood.

Father Lawrence W. Moore, S.J.

I have spent the majority of my Jesuit priestly life as a teacher. I am completing 32 years as a professor of law at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law. I enjoy the challenge of law teaching and the privilege of helping to form over 5,000 lawyers-to-be. As an associate dean, I regularly help students in various stages of crisis, both academic and personal. The biggest surprise in my priesthood has been the pleasure of preparing and performing nearly 200 weddings. I try to contact each couple on their anniversary. For most of my time at Loyola, I have regularly celebrated Sunday Mass at the Hainkel Home. As I told that congregation on Easter Sunday, I believe in the resurrected Jesus because of their faith.

Father Brendan Morgan
As I look back over 50 years as a priest, I owe so much to my mother and father and my sister Maura for their love of God and their love of me. That is where my vocation started. Although I am unworthy, I am truly grateful to Jesus for sharing his priesthood with me.

The high point of my day is to be able to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Jesus constantly wants me to strive for priestly holiness through basing my life on his humility and love. I must always remember that I am merely a servant.

My priestly vocation is to serve the people by endeavoring to lead them by my prayer and example into a deeper relation with Jesus, our Lord and Savior. The Blessed Mother also is so much part of my life. She is and always has been integrated into my priestly service.

I am beholden to so many priests for their friendship and their priestly example over 50 years. I owe such a tremendous debt of gratitude to the people of St. Matthew the Apostle Parish and to Father Bendix, the first pastor of the parish. I am also indebted to my African people, part of the Gusii tribe in East Africa, for my years as a missionary.

God bless all the wonderful people I have ministered to in other parishes and places. To all who pray for me and encourage me and have been such wonderful friends and examples of God’s love, may Jesus bless you and Mary’s love also.

Father Morgan will celebrate a golden jubilee Mass May 24 at 4 p.m. at St. Matthew the Apostle Church in River Ridge.

Father Benjamin Piovan
Editor’s note: Father Piovan has been connected to several parishes in the Archdiocese of New Orleans for many years and has touched many lives in his “retirement,” in which he is serving as a missionary in Mexico. All are invited to attend the following Masses: May 27 at 6:30 p.m. at St. Joseph Church, Gretna; May 28 at 6:30 p.m. at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, Kenner, with reception to follow; May 29 at 6 p.m. at Ascension of Our Lord Church, LaPlace. The May 29 Mass will celebrate his golden anniversary of ordination and the 35th anniversary of Ascension of Our Lord Catholic Church. A reception will follow at St. Charles Catholic High School.

40 years as a priest
Father H. Brian Highfill
My life as a priest these past 40 years has been a rewarding and challenging journey of faith. After serving in parishes throughout our Archdiocese of New Orleans for six years, I continued my journey for the next 20 years worldwide as an active-duty U.S. Air Force Catholic chaplain. For my final assignment, I was moved from Kadena AFB, Japan, to Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, Nev. It was here in Las Vegas that I completed my Air Force journey.

Since departing the military chaplaincy, these past 14 years have been busy with providing ministry to more than 750,000 Catholics residing within the Diocese of Las Vegas. All throughout my 40 years of priesthood, my heart has always been anchored and remains in the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

I thank our risen Lord for so many opportunities to share his love and presence! God bless and protect all the people and families that comprise our Archdiocese of New Orleans!

Father Royce J. Mitchell
In recalling these past 40 years of my priestly life, there were many priests, religious and laity of the archdiocese who have given me love, support and prayers. In thanksgiving to God, he has directed my life and called me to my vocation. Special gratitude to Archbishop Hannan, who accepted me as a delayed vocation and entrusted me with assignments in my ministry.

Priestly ministry covers all walks of life. I have had the opportunity to work with people of many situations in life, both good and difficult. I have ministered sacramentally to the sick at the end of life, to the HIV community, to those who were suffering from drug addiction, to prisoners and to the poor and homeless.

I have been asked, “What has the priesthood meant to me?” My response: “Everything!” The important question is, “What has my ministry meant to the Church and the people of God?” I am unable to answer that.

I will always be humble and grateful to the clergy, laity, friends, extended family members and those I worked with for their love, caring, support and prayers. Without you I would not have made it in my ministry.

Father Michael Roberson
My celebration of 40 years as a priest is shocking in some ways. Where has the time gone? 1974 seems like yesterday. One particular reality that really hits me is the fact that the priesthood has given me a special entry point into the lives of many people during the years. As priest, I have been given a key that unlocks the heart of many, allowing us to relate on a very intense, spiritual level. This experience has been very fulfilling. Without the priesthood, this would most likely not have been possible.

The sacrament that has enabled me to move in this wonderful direction has been the sacrament of reconciliation. I have especially seen this reality of entering spiritually into the lives of others through the sacrament of reconciliation in the context of youth retreats and prison ministry. In both these situations I have felt the strong desire on the part of people involved to share their heart so that they might be able to encounter the healing Christ. My privileged role is to be the instrument of this encounter. What a blessed role!

In terms of vocations to the priesthood, if more young men could be made aware of the fact that the priesthood gives us unworthy priests the opportunity to spiritually and profoundly enter into the lives of our brothers and sisters, more of them would be open to considering this vocation. Let us continue to pray that more may decide to follow Jesus in this privileged way.

Father Roberson will celebrate his 40th anniversary of priestly ordination May 25 at the 11 a.m. Mass. A reception will follow in the Holy Name of Mary School cafeteria.

Father Peter Rogers, S.J.
Besides administering the sacraments and teaching the French language and its literature – this is important to me since we talk of God not only in theology courses – being a priest has meant trying to be present to others when that was possible and to be open to an exchange regarding the matter at hand. One is asked many questions regarding faith, and I certainly have not had all the answers. But if I have been able to help people to be with Jesus through the sacraments and in other ways, and to keep him in their lives with others, or to introduce him, then I have accomplished something as a Catholic priest.

25 years as a priest

Father Roderick J.D. Coates, S.S.J.

Actually where does one begin when trying to explain 25 years of service to God and his people and what that has meant to them? For me, the very first word that comes to mind is “humbling.” To realize that God himself choose me to be his servant really causes me to feel honored and humbled. One of my greatest joys is realizing that I have been a Roman Catholic priest for 25 years and a member of the Josephite Fathers and Brothers (Society of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart) for 30 years. Knowing and feeling that God is still working with and in me every single day is a blessing.

Father Paul S. Hart

God’s greatest gift of priesthood has afforded me opportunities to grow closer to him and to some of the greatest people in the world. It is hard to pick one great moment. The joy of working with the youth at Archbishop Chapelle and Brother Martin high schools could only be topped by the wonderful parishioners of the four parishes where I have been assigned, especially St. Andrew the Apostle, as pastor. Rebuilding the parish before, during and after Katrina was the greatest of all challenges. Helping 400 couples begin life together in marriage was an honor. It all has helped me to become a better person and priest. Giving retreats at the Abbey is still another gift. Thanks to all and to God.

25 years as a deacon

Deacon Robert J. “Bob” Binney

As I look back on my ordination, it was with great joy and humility that I said “yes” when the archbishop asked if I was “willing to be ordained for the church’s ministry.”

Diaconal ministry has opened the door for me to become closer to God and, in many ways, serve his people.
The ministry that I found most meaningful and satisfying was my assignment at Southeast Louisiana Hospital. For seven years, my wife Fay and I were able to serve together the spiritual needs of the patients and clients confined there.

I am thankful for the opportunity to serve. Only my love for God and my family exceeds my love for my ministry as a deacon.

Deacon Donald Bourgeois

I still remember celebrating my first baptism as a deacon and how it filled me with such joy, as has every other baptism since that day.

The greatest gift God has given me is his people of all ages. I enjoy working with the youth and experiencing the hope for our church that they give me. As I share the joy of the church, I also share equally in the pain and suffering.

The shut-ins, the funerals, the poor – they are all a blessing in my life, but they also bring me pain and sorrow as I share their journey. It’s hard to accept that I can’t take away all their suffering, but I feel honored to share this small part of their lives, and it has enriched my prayer life immeasurably.

Deacon Piero L. Caserta

It has been a great privilege and honor to serve mother church as a deacon. While it has challenged me in my attempt to juggle all the demands of family, work and diaconate, it has also brought me closer to my God, wife, five beautiful children and seven grandchildren.

For example, my wife and I recite the Liturgy of the Hours together and prepare couples for marriage. Of all the areas of service I have been called to do, which include chaplain at Covenant House, proclaiming the Gospel, doing funerals, baptisms and preaching, I admit that I enjoy preaching most of all. That’s partly because I like to talk, but more importantly, it gives me a terrific opportunity to make the Scripture readings come alive for me and others.

Deacon Jeré L. Crago

I remember one Sunday at Mass, Msgr. Gerald Barrett announced that any man who would like to be a permanent deacon should contact him. After Mass I asked him what he thought about my doing so. He agreed, and I later was accepted into the program. On Dec. 2, 1989, my class was ordained by Archbishop Schulte. I was assigned as chaplain at New Orleans Adolescent Hospital and also at St. Catherine of Siena Parish. My work as a permanent deacon has been extremely fulfilling. Today I give thanks for the many people who have supported me over the years.

Deacon Charles E. Duke

The diaconate has been and will remain an integral commitment of my faith in and love of God. Like other aspects of our lives, it has at times brought to me both joy and disappointment. I experienced great joy when I could serve others – I have baptized over 1,000 babies.

At times, I was disappointed when as chaplain of Doctors Hospital I found myself in a situation for which I had no ready answer. In spite of the ups and downs, there is no treasure on Earth for which I would trade the past 25 years of service.

Deacon Charles Heine
Since my ordination, I feel I owe special thanks to special people. I thank my parents – they gave me good example. I thank my wife Annabelle for 57 years of love and diaconate encouragement. I thank all my children – Charles, Regina, Mary Beth and Pam. Their prayers were with me, and I could feel their love and support. I thank my grandchildren – Cameron, Daniel, Nicholas and Peyton. I thank Msgr. Henry Engelbrecht for his faith in me to fulfill the role of a deacon.

I sincerely thank all the parishioners of all the parishes I served for their prayers and support – Nativity of Our Lord, St. Anselm, St. Peter, all in Louisiana. Also, I sincerely thank the people of North Carolina, the churches of Our Lady of the Mountains, St. Jude and in Canton, N.C., St. Joan of Arc.

I thank God for allowing me to be a deacon.

Deacon Raymond J. Lewis

At our ordination, the archbishop gave us a mandate. It has been a great joy in the church, in the hospital, in the home and on the street to be able to carry out that mandate. To be under pastors who have allowed us the full range of diaconal charisms is a gift that only God can give. To be the voice of the church in RCIA, with a wonderful team, can never be expressed in words. Therefore, I praise God for my being allowed to continue after 25 years. God is good, all the time. Thank you, Jesus.

Deacon Harry Schexnayder
I have been extremely blessed as a deacon by being assigned to my home parish for my entire ministry. I was the first one from my parish to complete the local formation program, and my parish family has been completely supportive of me. Deacon Gil Schmidt told us during formation that one of our greatest thrills would be baptizing our grandchildren. He was absolutely correct. It was an absolute joy to baptize my 10 grandchildren, even though I got a little teary-eyed at times, especially for the first one, who was adopted from China. It also has been a thrill to be able to minister first Eucharist to seven of them so far. I even flew to Michigan to serve first Eucharist to one of my granddaughters.

The most exhilarating part of my ministry is to be able to bring young children (children of the kids who grew up with my children) into the church, then watch them grow in their faith and receive the other sacraments, including matrimony.

It is amazing how some of the saddest and most painful times in ministry can be so closely related to moments of joy. Ministry in nursing homes, for a long period of time, can bring about both emotions. Very few people leave nursing homes other than through death. After spending so much time comforting them physically and spiritually, it is difficult to see them deteriorate and pass away. However, they are all so very appreciative of every little thing you do for them, which brings you great joy. This is an excellent example of Jesus’ promise that we will receive more than a hundred-fold.

My ministry and life as a deacon has meant so much more to me (love and blessings) than I can explain. My parish family has definitely blessed me with so much more love and support than I deserve. I pray daily that the Lord will bless all of them for their extreme generosity.

Deacon Daniel Vincent
My feelings are that I was sent by God rather than called to ministry. My mission has been to share and serve. The many gifts given to me are for the purpose of sharing with and serving God’s people.

I will never have words to adequately express my gratitude to God for sending me to serve the (my) people of St. Paul the Apostle for 16 years (up to the time of Katrina). It was a greater blessing than I would have ever dared request of God.

The loss of my New Orleans ministry and disconnecting with our diaconate family following Katrina top the list of my pain and suffering.

I was sent to serve and share. I did with love. I pray that God is pleased that I tried my best.

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