June 9, 2023

Joy overflows in cathedral during ordination of two priests

Archdiocesan priests ritually lay hands on transitional Deacons José Neri, left, and Jack Wright while Archbishop Charles C. Thompson, center, looks on during a June 3 priesthood ordination Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Archdiocesan priests ritually lay hands on transitional Deacons José Neri, left, and Jack Wright while Archbishop Charles C. Thompson, center, looks on during a June 3 priesthood ordination Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

Transitional Deacons José Neri and Jack Wright felt butterflies as they processed into SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral on June 3 at the start of the Mass during which they would be ordained priests.

This was the day that they had prepared for and prayed about for many years. It had finally come.

All those nerves disappeared for Deacon Wright, though, as soon as Archbishop Charles C. Thompson laid hands on his head—the central ordination ritual that goes back to the earliest days of the Church. (See a photo gallery from the Mass)

“I knew in that moment that it was Jesus’ hands being laid on my head,” said newly ordained Father Wright moments after the ordination Mass. “From that moment, I’ve just felt really good.”

Newly ordained Father Neri likewise felt “excited and happy” after the liturgy.

A turning point for him during the ordination was when Archbishop Thompson used chrism oil to anoint his hands—hands he would use to celebrate the Mass and other sacraments to help the faithful grow in holiness.

“I got really emotional,” Father Neri said. “My hands were being consecrated to serve the people of God. I’ll be doing this for the rest of my life.”

The excitement and joy of these two new priests overflowed also from the hearts of their friends and family, dozens of priests, deacons and religious who serve in the archdiocese and Catholics from across central and southern Indiana who filled the cathedral for the ordination Mass. And Archbishop Thompson, too.

As the last ritual of ordination began—an exchange of the sign of peace of the archbishop and the priests at the Mass with the new priests, now wearing priestly vestments—Archbishop Thompson turned to the congregation and said, “Don’t they look good? I get to be the first to welcome them.”

The congregation responded with spontaneous loud applause that lasted for more than 20 seconds.

The challenge and joy of the priesthood

In a liturgy that celebrated the priesthood, Archbishop Thompson reflected in his homily on both the glory and the challenge of priestly life and ministry, frequently reminding the transitional deacons seated before him of how the priesthood is rooted in Christ.

The ordination promises of prayer, celibacy and obedience the transitional deacons were about to make, Archbishop Thompson said, “lack any quality of integrity apart from keeping one’s focus on Jesus Christ, the great high priest, good shepherd and healer of souls.”

“Remember, you belong to something greater than yourselves,” Archbishop Thompson said. “Not just this presbyterate. Not just this archdiocese. Not just the universal Church. But always to Christ, always being a priest in his image.”

In being a priest conformed to Christ, Archbishop Thompson called those he was soon to ordain to be “particularly attentive to the vulnerable and those on the margins of society.”

A priest, he said, “must be an instrument of mercy, a bridge-builder and reconciler both within and outside the confessional. He must never forget that he is merely an instrument in leading others to encounter the person of Jesus Christ and one another as the body of Christ.”

Looking up at the transitional deacons, Archbishop Thompson added, “We can never get in the way of that relationship, but always be the one that facilitates that intimacy.”

Later, Archbishop Thompson listed qualities a priest needs to have to meet the challenges of evangelization in the 21st century.

“The priest must be capable of collaboration, dialogue, listening, walking with others, teaching truth with charity, responding rather than reacting and, most importantly, being Christ-centered rather than ego-centered or ideology-driven.

“If this sounds a bit overwhelming, that’s because it is—apart from the grace of holy orders, prayer, humility, ongoing formation, continual conversion and fidelity to the magisterium of the Church.”

After placing such a challenge before the transitional deacons, Archbishop Thompson concluded his homily with gratitude and a prayer.

“We give thanks and praise to God for those before us who courageously and generously respond to the call to the sacred order of ordained priesthood,” he said. “We pray that those men prove to be holy and faithful priests who remain faithful to Jesus Christ, head and body, drawing continued grace from word and sacrament to carry out his mission in service to the people of God.

“In fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church, may our brothers exude the joy of the priesthood.”

‘A wonderful apostle for Jesus’

John and Dotty Wright were filled with joy at their son’s ordination.

“We looked at each other this morning over breakfast and said, ‘You know, when you really think about it, this is the very, very best day of our life,’ ” recalled John Wright after the ordination Mass. “Barring none. It isn’t even close.”

Dotty Wright spoke of her high hopes for her son.

“He’s a wonderful apostle for Jesus,” she said. “He’ll bring so many souls to Jesus. It doesn’t get any better than that. I think he’s going to make a wonderful priest.”

Jack Wright, Father Wright’s grandfather, did much to guide his grandson back to the faith when he was a young adult and to nurture in his heart a love of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

At the start of the ordination Mass, he offered a prayer to Mary for his grandson.

“I asked her to pray for Jack, to guide him and help him be a good priest for Jesus,” Jack Wright said. “I know she will.”

Rita Wright, his grandmother, called the ordination “a dream come true.”

“I think he’ll be a wonderful priest,” she said. “He’s just so humble and such a good boy. When they called him Father Jack today, the tears flowed. It was awesome.”

The June 3 ordination was a special one for Father John McCaslin, pastor of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis. It’s the home parish of Father Neri and where Father Wright will serve as parochial vicar starting in July.

“It’s very exciting,” said Father McCaslin. “I’ve known Father José for years as a seminarian. I’m excited and happy for him and for our community to get to celebrate with him.

“I’m looking forward to having Father Jack join us and work in the field together to serve the community at St. Monica.”

Father Todd Goodson was Father Neri’s pastor at St. Monica when the new priest was a high school student. In July, Father Neri will join him in ministry at Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood.

“I’ve watched him over the years,” said Father Goodson of Father Neri. “He’s got a great family who has nurtured him in his faith. It’s been great to watch him go from your average high school kid to a priest who’s ready for ministry and excited to do it.”

Maria Lopez, Father Neri’s mother, was filled with emotion as she spoke about her son after the ordination Mass.

She recalled how when her son was a little boy growing up in Mexico, he would sneak away from home to attend prayer services at their town’s church on Sundays with her mother, Father Neri’s maternal grandmother.

“I didn’t understand [why he did this],” Lopez recalled. “He would do that with my mother from a very young age. … Now I realize, he was called to the priesthood.”

Her mother watched a livestream of the ordination Mass from her home in Mexico.

“She is praying a lot for him now, that he will be a good priest for our Lord,” Lopez said.

Lopez is adding her prayers for her son.

“We pray that he will be a good priest, that he keep God at the center of his life,” she said, “and that he takes the responsibility that God has given him to save many souls, that many souls are saved through his words and by his example, more than anything.”

Father Neri’s father, Apolinar Neri, said he is praying that his son will be “a good priest, and that God guides him where he has put him. He has been with him since he was young. [I pray that] he moves forward as a good priest with a good parish community.”

Father Neri is looking forward to beginning ministry at Our Lady of the Greenwood.

“I’m excited,” he said. “I’m super happy for my assignment to Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish with Father Todd Goodson. He was the first priest that I approached to talk to about the priesthood. He’s been very supportive.”

For Father Wright and Father Neri, their ordination was the culmination of years of formation, and the doorway to an exciting future.

“It’s exciting,” Father Wright said. “There are so many things in front of us that we haven’t done before.”

(Editor Mike Krokos contributed to this article. For more information about a vocation the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, visit HearGodsCall.com.)

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