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They are right back where they started.
But this time, they are not fourth-graders in Providence Sister Marie Grace Molloy’s class nor are they eighth-graders being dragged to monthly confession.
Father Jeremy Gries, 31, and Father John Hollowell, 29, were ordained on June 6, and celebrated their first Masses at their childhood church, Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ in Indianapolis, that same weekend.
“There is a great sense of pride in the parish,” said Father Patrick Doyle, pastor of Nativity. “There is a pride that two of their own are being called forward to serve the archdiocese and the wider Church.”
Father Gries will be the associate pastor of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis. Father Hollowell will be the chaplain of Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School in Indianapolis as well as provide sacramental assistance at St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg.
Father Gries’s connection to Nativity Parish begins close to home. His mother, Kathy Gries, was a kindergarten teacher and, later, a first-grade teacher at Nativity School for 24 years before retiring in May.
Father Hollowell, originally home-schooled, entered Nativity School in the fourth grade. His youngest sister still attends Nativity, and will be in the sixth grade in the fall.
Nativity School, Father Hollowell said, is where his interest in religious life took root.
“I received a great education at Nativity,” Father Hollowell said. “But the value of being taught by the sisters—what they represented to us, living out their vow in front of our very eyes—that is what was important.”
Eighth-grade confession and prayer time in the church also influenced him, said Father Hollowell.
“We had to bring a Bible, and prayer was sort of forced,” he said. “I don’t think I really appreciated it at the time, but I think that was a really big part of [becoming a priest] for me.”
Now, the two new priests are trying to give back to the Indianapolis South Deanery parish that gave so much to them.
“This past year,” said Father Gries, “we worked harder to stay in touch with the parish.”
The two men set up an online blog which gave the parishioners the opportunity to learn about life in the seminary and the ordination process.
“We also wrote a letter to the parish on a monthly basis,” said Father Gries, “with John [Hollowell] writing a letter one month and me writing a letter the next month. People seemed to like that.”
Both young men returned to Nativity Parish to help with Masses and speak with parishioners as often as their schedules allowed. During Vocations Week, they also spoke to the students at the school.
“The kids were curious to see that graduates of our school have chosen to be priests,” said Father Doyle. “They found that [Father Hollowell and Father Gries] were solid, balanced young men who have chosen to do something significant.”
The importance of their chosen vocation is rippling through the community.
“The parish is inspired and very proud that we have not just one, but two priests,” said Providence Sister Theresa Clare Carr, a retired teacher from Nativity, who taught both men in grade school.
“We are so enthused,” agreed Sister Marie Grace, a former fourth-grade teacher. “Everyone [in the parish] is caught up in the idea of the priesthood and its importance.”
“There is a greater awareness of how vocations really impact the Church,” said Father Doyle. “There is an increased awareness of the need for vocations, and that the work and prayer of a community does have its benefits.”
This past year, Nativity formed a vocations committee to help the parish celebrate the ordinations.
But Father Doyle said that he hopes the committee will have a long-lasting impact on the parish.
“It has a secondary goal of keeping this vocation energy alive,” he said.
But where does this vocation energy come from?
“I’m not sure what makes Nativity so special,” said Father Hollowell. “Maybe it is that we’re still on well water. Whatever it is, I’ve always experienced Nativity as a fruitful and nurturing place.”
Barbara Doerr, a longtime parishioner at Nativity, offered her own opinion.
“I think the parish as a whole is very friendly, very giving, and I think that could have influenced them,” she said.
“I think it’s a great reflection on the parish and the people who taught here, and the priests who encouraged them so well.” †