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A sacred celebration

There were so many people packed inside St. Louis Cathedral June 7 for the ordination of four new priests for the Archdiocese of New Orleans that Archbishop Gregory Aymond had to apologize for the inconvenience borne by those who had to stand in the back and along the side aisles during the two-hour liturgy.

“We are sorry that so many are standing, but as you know, our cathedral just isn’t big enough for such a celebration,” the archbishop said with a smile.

No one seemed to mind standing for the end result of a great occasion. Four new priests – Fathers Ian M. Bozant, Charles W. Dussouy, Timothy D. Hedrick and Matthew D. Johnston – are now ordained for service in the archdiocese.

“Through years of formation, they have prepared for this day,” Archbishop Aymond told the congregation during his homily. “They have grappled with the call, as any of us do when we come to realize that we are indeed called by God to serve and to lead his people as a priest.

“They have heard the call, and they come here this morning to say ‘yes,’ and we as church confirm that we believe that God is indeed calling them to the priesthood of Jesus Christ.”

The archbishop noted the individual responses each man gave in response to a question posed by the Clarion Herald: What are you most looking forward to in your priestly ministry?

Father Bozant said he looked forward to celebrating Mass and was humbled to act in the name of Christ. Father Dussouy said he wanted to show “a special care for youth.” Father Hedrick said he was inspired by the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son and wanted “to say in the name of Christ, ‘I forgive you.’” Father Johnston said he wanted to be a father to the people he served, “walking with them, preaching God’s word and showing them God’s mercy.”

The archbishop said in many ways the call to the priesthood and religious life is a “mystery” because these men know “they have done nothing to deserve this call.”

“They have not earned it, and as long as they live priestly ministry, there is a part of the call of priesthood that will always be a mystery,” he said.

Then, turning to the four men seated in folding chairs in front of the first pew, the archbishop said: “My brothers, don’t try to figure out the mystery. Embrace it, love it and live it.”

Archbishop Aymond explained for the congregation the tradition of the ordination rite, which he said stretched back more than 2,000 years. He said a special moment is the Litany of the Saints, where the ordinands lie prostrate before the altar as a symbol of total self-gift.

“While they’re lying prostrate on the floor, we, the people of God, will be calling on the saints to assist them with their prayers,” Archbishop Aymond said. “They lie prostrate not only as a sign of humility but also as a sign that they totally empty themselves and admit complete dependence upon God. By their very action and by what’s in their hearts, they will say, ‘God, I’m totally yours, without reserve.’”

The archbishop described their priestly ministry as “three-fold”: to serve as Christ the priest, as Christ the teacher and preacher, and as Christ the shepherd.

Healer of hearts

Addressing the men, Archbishop Aymond said they would need to show compassion and love to those who come to them “with broken hearts – and sometimes crying” as they receive the sacrament of reconciliation.

“You will be able to say, ‘I forgive you. I absolve you, in the name of the Trinity,’” Archbishop Aymond said. “The ‘I’ is not you. It’s Jesus. You speak and act in his name. And remember that it is never your priesthood. Sometimes, we say, ‘my priesthood.’ Those two words never belong together. It is the priesthood of Jesus Christ, which you are given a share in today.”

He also urged the priests, as shepherds, never to tire in seeking out those who have been alienated or separated from the church or who are caught up in sin.

“Never, ever give up on the lost sheep,” he said. “God doesn’t. Seek them out, find them and bring them back to Christ.”

Even though they will be known now as “father,” Archbishop Aymond asked them never to “give in to false pride” or “misuse the power that is given to you today.”

“Be humble,” he said. “Every time somebody calls you ‘Father,’ they are looking for God, and you are to be a channel of God’s love to them.”

After the Mass, the new priests said they were overjoyed by what had just happened to them.

“I have just an overwhelming sense of thanksgiving and gratitude to God for the many graces he’s bestowed upon me,” Father Bozant said. “I was overwhelmed when I walked in and saw the crowd of people who were there for support. I just hope to be a priest after the Lord’s own heart, one who loves his people and gives himself fully to them.”

“I’m feeling very, very blessed,” Father Dussouy said. “This is where the Lord has called me to, and this is where I’ve gotten. I feel blessed. Lying prostrate – when the archbishop talked about emptying yourself – it was a good emptying, waiting for the Holy Spirit to pour out his grace.”

“There was an overwhelming joy and a lot of love and support from all the family and friends and parishioners who I’ve worked with over the years,” Father Hedrick said. “I want to be Christ, to lead people to God and God to people. I hope to be an instrument of his mercy and grace.”

“It was a roller coaster of emotions,” Father Johnston said. “I wept openly for joy as Christ truly embraced me during the Litany of the Saints.  When I rose up, there was just joy. There were still tears on my face, but even the tears during the litany were of joy. I want to be a holy priest, a holy and simple priest united to the Sacred Heart through the heart of his mother.”

The new priests will begin their parish assignments as parochial vicars on July 2. Father Bozant has been assigned to Mary Queen of Peace in Mandeville; Father Dussouy to St. Edward the Confessor in Metairie; Father Hedrick to St. Catherine of Siena in Metairie; and Father Johnston to St. Clement of Rome in Metairie.

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