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PROVIDENCE — With the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul aglow in the warm sunlight streaming through its stained glass windows and its interior awash in the music of triumphant celebration by the Gregorian Concert Choir and Orchestra, priesthood candidates Rev. Mr. Scott Carpentier and Rev. Mr. Thomas Woodhouse processed up the main aisle Saturday to begin a new phase in their lives.
On one side, ordinee Carpentier, 31, sat on a stool in front of the first pew on the left, with his parents and his teenage and adolescent brothers looking on admiringly for much of the ceremony.
On the other side, ordinee Woodhouse, at 55, the senior of the two candidates, felt the love and support of his widowed mother, who often smiled proudly at him during the ceremony, as well as from brothers and a sister, some of who traveled hours to attend their brother’s special day.
Presiding over the ordination, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin described the priesthood as a wonderful gift, one that involves not just living by a different set of principles, but taking on a brand new identity.
“God has led you here. He has carefully selected you. One of you is young, the other, even younger,” the bishop smiled, drawing a chuckle from the crowd, which filled much of the center rows of the cathedral.
With the candidates about to adopt new lives and purpose as they enter the priesthood, the bishop also cautioned them to remember where they came from.
“A priest who thinks he is above his people is unfit for service,” Bishop Tobin said, noting that their public commitment to prayer, obedience and celibacy must serve as a motive for self-sacrifice.
The timing of the ordination, on the solemnity of Corpus Christi — the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ — ties in very much with what they in their new lives with God will do: follow in the footsteps of Melchizedek, ordained to his order to transform bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.
“The celebration of the Eucharist must be at the center of your lives and the center of your ecclesiastical mission. In other words, in the Eucharist, you will find the font of spiritual growth,” the bishop said, speaking directly to the candidates. “In the Eucharist, you will find a brother in Jesus.”
Following the homily, during the Rite of Election, Bishop Tobin questioned the ordinees about their willingness to offer their lives in service to the church and to God’s people. The candidates then pledged their obedience to the bishop and his successors.
The bishop and the concelebrants then conferred the Holy Spirit upon each candidate, which, along with the Prayer of Consecration that is said, constitute the central act of ordination.
After the ceremony, which lasted nearly two hours, the newly ordained gathered with family and friends for photos in front of the altar, before heading downstairs to offer blessings to the more than 300 gathered there for the occasion.
“I’m just so proud, I wish my husband was here to see this,” said Emma Jane Woodhouse, the mother of Father Thomas Woodhouse, as she watched her son make his way down the aisle following the ceremony. She said her late husband,
Edward Woodhouse, would have been overjoyed to witness his son’s ordination to the priesthood.
When the family was living in their native Elmira, N.Y., Emma Jane converted from her Southern Baptist faith to Catholicism.
Inspired by the positive influence their local priest, Father Thomas Toole, of St. Mary’s Church in Elmira, had on the couple, she and her husband decided to name their second oldest son after their pastor.
Father Tom’s older brother, Edward Woodhouse Jr., said his brother’s choice of a vocation, albeit a delayed one, did not surprise him.
“I saw it developing in him about 10 years ago,” said Woodhouse, who traveled with his wife Laurie from Wake Forest, N.C. to be there for his brother’s ordination.
Christopher Woodhouse, the youngest of the five Woodhouse siblings said his brother had worked very hard in pursuit of his vocation.
“He’s at peace. I’m very proud of him,” said Woodhouse.
Father Willard Palardy, the rector of Blessed John XXII National Seminary, attended the ordination of Father Woodhouse, who had been one of his students. The seminary, located in Weston, Mass., specializes in the formation of men pursuing delayed vocations.
In an interview with Rhode Island Catholic, Father Palardy said that individuals pursing a delayed vocation, like Father Woodhouse, who had served in the U.S. Marine Corps and as a test pilot for an aerospace defense contractor, bring a wealth of life experiences to their vocation.
“People feel that they can connect with them. They know some of the struggles that people face,” he said. “These guys have to make such a sacrifice just to come through the door,” [in joining the seminary].
He described Father Woodhouse as a quiet man who brings much substance to whatever he sets out to do.
“He’s a very serious, humble man, but with a self-effacing sense of humor,” Father Palardy said.
Father Woodhouse has been assigned to serve as assistant pastor at SS. John and Paul Parish, Coventry, where the pastor, Father Paul R. Grenon, said that Father Woodhouse would fit right in at his parish.
“We’re blessed to be able to have someone with his wide experience of life. It’s going to be a real plus for us,” he said.
Father Woodhouse said that he wished that such a glorious day would last even longer.
“I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “I’m just so grateful seeing my family and friends here today. This is so beautiful.”
Across the aisle, Father Scott Carpentier gathered with his family and friends, including about a group of his household brothers, who like him served as a Knight of the Holy Queen when they all attended Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.
George and Laureen Kwasnik, whose son was one of Father Scott’s classmates at Franciscan, made the trip from Long Island to be there for the ordination.
“He is awesome, just a beautiful young man,” Laureen said of Father Scott.
“It’s a blessing,” she added of his strong dedication to the Holy Mother.
Joseph Bryce, a seminarian from the Diocese of Providence about to enter major seminary this fall, said that Father Scott serves as an inspiration to him for the sense of calm and peace that is always upon him.
“He is so joyful that I have to live my life the way he leads his life. He is joy incarnate,” said Bryce, a native of Haiti now living in Rhode Island.
“He has always been an example for me by the way he has lived his life.”
Donna Carpentier, Father Scott’s mother, wiped away tears of joy as she watched her son hug members of her extended family and pose for photos in front of the altar.
“I can’t wait to see how God is going to use him. He’s got great things planned for him,” she promised. “Its such an honor when a son goes into the priesthood. There’s nothing greater.”
Her son Jacob, 12, is proud of his older brother’s decision.
“I’m very happy for him,” he said.
Father Robert F. Hawkins, pastor of St. Luke Parish, Barrington, where Father Carpentier has been assigned to serve as assistant pastor, said that his new assistant would find plenty to do at the very active parish.
“He’s going to do a lot of good work,” he said, noting how the parish has an active summer school and young adult ministry, in which students often take part in mission trips. As a teenager, Father Carpentier was very involved in youth ministry growing up in Woonsocket. “He’ll hit the road running,” Father Hawkins said.
Father Carpentier said he was grateful for the opportunity to carry out God’s work in his life.
“This is the culmination of all that God has done in the church,” he said of his ordination. “This is a very great gift to receive.”