PROVIDENCE — In front of hundreds of worshippers gathered in celebration Saturday at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin ordained three men to the priesthood, imparting on Fathers Stephen M. Battey, Jean Joseph Brice and Brian J. Morris his deep gratitude for their openness to God’s call to grace.
“We are deeply grateful for your generosity in responding to God’s call with such open and loving hearts. Your ordination today is the result of God’s grace and your faith and it is very encouraging for all of us,” the Bishop said.
At a time when the retirement of priests reaching the end of decades of active service is outpacing the number of those pursuing priestly vocations across the land, the ordination of three new priests for the diocese, especially during the “Year with Mary Our Mother,” proclaimed by Bishop Tobin for 2017, was most gratifying.
“Their vocation began in the heart of God, but their response has been nourished by you, their families and friends, their teachers and priests. Thank you for supporting them along the way,” the Bishop said in his homily, directing his words to the supportive families, friends and professors on hand from Saint John’s Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts, who provided priestly formation to all three candidates.
He then spoke directly to the then-transitional deacons, noting that they were being ordained to the priesthood at a time of very rapid change for the Church.
To help fortify them for the long spiritual journey they have ahead in their lives, he encouraged them to seek often the guidance of the Blessed Mother, and draw inspiration from her while imitating her deep faith.
“You are to give up your lives and be conformed to the image of Christ. So simple to say, so hard to do,” Bishop Tobin said.
“So, in a very real sense today, you are signing a lifetime contract without knowing all the terms.”
On the eve of Pentecost, he told them to trust in the Lord knowing that he has chosen them for this vocation.
He asked that the Holy Spirit touch their hearts and change their lives, making them ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with burning love.
The Bishop also cautioned them to keep prayer at the center of their lives, prayer which will nourish them and keep the joy and faith they feel so strongly on this day alive.
“It can happen that a priest loses his faith, and then his vocation devolves into a mundane job, lacking any inspiration, zeal or joy, a truly sad spectacle,” he said.
“A priest without prayer is like a beautiful basilica but one built without a solid foundation. From the outside it looks holy and pious, but it is certain to crumble and fall in no time at all.”
The candidates for ordination embarked on their most special day by gathering together in prayer in a small chapel next door at the cathedral residence.
As they helped each other straighten the deacon stoles they would wear for the first half of the ceremony, until they exchanged them for the priest stoles and chausables they would vest in following the Bishop’s Laying on of Hands and his invocation of the Prayer of Ordination, they reflected on the journey ahead that day.
“I feel profound thanksgiving for all of the gifts God has given us. The gift of vocations, the gift of priesthood and the gift of all of those who support priestly vocations,” now-Father Battey said.
“God’s grace has been at work for us over these last six plus years. It’s just a great blessing.”
Father Morris expressed tremendous gratitude for the hundreds who turned out to support them, and to Almighty God for making it all possible.
“It’s just a great blessing to be ordained on this weekend, today on the Feast of St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, the martyrs of Africa, and tomorrow to celebrate our first Mass on Pentecost, it’s an amazing blessing and grace,” he said.
Father Brice expressed with deep humility that although he feels undeserving of serving God in such a capacity, the time is upon him and his brethren to take up the call to save souls.
“This is the hour where we lay down our lives for the Church and for people to come to God who will bring them to heaven,” he said. “This is the only reason why we are doing this, so we are very ecstatic to start this great undeserved ministry, we can’t wait.”
Director of Vocations Father Carl Fisette joined the candidates for a final prayer in the chapel before they processed with a large cadre of priests and deacons into the cathedral.
He said that the diocese is blessed to have three new priests who are filled with such joy and zeal.
“They each bring different gifts to their new ministry but with the same deep faith and desire to lead souls to God,” he said. “We give thanks to God for calling them and for their generous response and pray that many more men whom God is calling will respond as generously. May we all fervently pray that the hearts of those who are being called will be open and receptive to the Lord’s invitation.”
Following the ordination, which was organized by the Office of Divine Worship and featured powerful musical accompaniment by the Gregorian Concert Choir and Cathedral Organist Philip Faraone under the direction of Msgr. Anthony Mancini, the newly ordained offered blessings to hundreds downstairs in the cathedral hall.
Judy Murphy, president of the Rhode Island chapter of Serra International, which promotes vocations to the priesthood and religious life, was more than happy to stand in the long lines along with her husband Gerry for each new priest to receive their blessings.
“This day is just fantastic. They are great men, they are going to be great priests,” said Murphy, whose own son, Father Christopher J. Murphy, was ordained to the priesthood in the diocese in 2012.
Gerry Murphy said he felt the same joy on Saturday for the newly ordained and their families that he felt on his son’s special day five years ago.
“It just brings all those feelings back, it’s beautiful,” he said.