Nearly eight years ago, on the last Sunday of October 2007, my pastor and friend, Father Damian, asked me after assisting him at Mass: "Are you done for today?" "Yes," I replied, and he then asked me, "Come, follow me." Fateful words, especially when pronounced with a brogue!
In the rectory he presented me with a chalice and paten, on behalf of the parish of Our Lady of Good Counsel, in memory and thanksgiving for all that my wife, Ellie, had done as a volunteer over so many years; he wanted to present it to me that day, because as a deacon I would be filling it with wine and water the next week for our parish Mass of Remembrance. This morning, the eighth anniversary of Ellie's death, I used that same chalice and paten to celebrate Mass in her memory. It seemed all the more curious that the Gospel today, on this feast of Saint Gregory the Great, included the call of Peter to be a fisher of men. A decade ago I would not have imagined my present life and new vocation, but God, who is merciful and loving at all times, gently laid out a new path before me.
With firm belief in the Communion of Saints, I am sure the prayers of all those who have gone before us marked by the sign of faith have helped intercede for this vocation to be a success. For those intercessory prayers, and for the prayers of so many friends who have walked beside me on this journey, I could not be more grateful.
God in his wisdom has sent many, many people to be "Christ to one another" in my life, particularly on my vocation journey these past few years. My profound and lasting thanks to Father Damian, my pastor and the one who anointed Ellie just hours before her death, who is now my pastor as a new priest; to Monsignor Gregory Vaughan, who encouraged me along this path as our Diocesan Vocation Director when I first visited the Chancery offices; to Bishop David O'Connell, whose kind words and guidance as I entered the seminary will always echo a truth of my priesthood when he said, "Just be yourself." To my parents, siblings and their spouses, my nieces and nephews, and wonderful sisters-in-law, who stood beside me those eight years ago in Pennsylvania Hospital, and who have continued to stand close through my journey, thank you.
In a special way, I also remembered in Mass this morning my sons, whose paths into young adulthood I continue to admire; may they always remember and continue to do their best in responding to their Mom's final admonition as they left the house each morning: "Make good choices."
As I contemplate this, her first anniversary where I am a priest of God, I cannot help but also express my gratitude to the thousands of people I have met because of my journey who never knew her in life. The wonderful faculty, administrators, and formators of Immaculate Conception Seminary were completely unknown to me in 2007, and are now men and women who are friends, and who have surely helped to shape me as a priest. To the parishioners and clergy at St. Agnes, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and St. Robert Bellarmine parishes who welcomed me in my formation time with you, thank you for helping to teach me what it means to be a parish priest.
Most of all, I am grateful that God is not done with me yet; each day He invites me to live my life as a priest, as a father, and as a friend. May He continue to bless me and all those I love through His goodness, and may He send a few younger men along this same path, just as He called Peter in the Gospel today: Come, follow Me.