CHARLESTON — What was already a cause for celebration for Catholics throughout the state became more meaningful when four men were ordained to the priesthood in the Diocese of Charleston June 7.
After the last two years turned out one precious priest each, four priests will be well-received by the faithful and their brother priests alike.
Carson Bush, Thomas Kingsley, Ralph Robinson and John Zimmerman accepted the responsibility of ministering in Christ’s name to his Church at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. They were ordained by Bishop Robert J. Baker with Bishop David B. Thompson and nearly 30 priests concelebrating the liturgy.
During the ceremony, the bishop told the ordinands that they had a noble task ahead of them, one fraught with challenges and blessed by graces and opportunities.
The bishop referred to a message Pope John Paul II gave to priests studying at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in Rome to serve in the Papal Diplomatic Corps.
“He told them that to perform faithfully the duties that will be entrusted to them, it is indispensable that they seek ‘to make holiness’ their ‘prime objective,’” the bishop said. “He challenged them, and I challenge you to ‘make it your daily task to aspire to Gospel perfection by nourishing a continuous loving relationship with God in prayer, by listening to His word, and especially in devout participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice.’
“The Pope reminded them and he reminds us all that ‘this is the secret … of the effectiveness of every ministry and service in the Church.’”
The bishop also advised the men to strive for holiness of life in their priesthood and to not settle for less.
“If that is your goal, you will take others with you,” he said. “If that is not your goal, you will take others with you in a direction far removed from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“On this day of your ordination, pledge to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, your desire to be entirely his, to walk always and only in his way, to love him with all your mind, heart and soul, and your neighbor, as God has first loved you,” Bishop Baker said. “Then entrust yourself to God’s grace, follow his teachings, live in his way, and he will do the rest. He will make you a holy priest. That is my prayer for you today. And I am sure that is the prayer of the people of God for you as well.”
At the reception, the four new priests were delightedly congratulated by their families and gave their first blessings.
Father Lee Selzer, ordained in 2002, and Father Greg Wilson, ordained in 2001, both had the same advice for their brother priests: pray.
“A praying priest is a successful priest,” said Father Selzer who urged the four to not hesitate to ask for people to pray for them as well.
“Be open to learning about what God has in store for you,” urged his counterpart, Father Wilson. “Be open to the beauty of the unexpected. We don’t have all the answers. God has much more to teach us.”
Father Bush was already putting prayer to good use during the ordination liturgy.
“At the beginning of Mass I was scared,” he said. “I prayed the Hail Mary and the most amazing sense of peace came over me and stayed.”
His parents, Ashley and Dianne of Estill, shared that feeling of peace. They are Presbyterians who admirably supported their son through a conversion process and a childhood desire to be a minister.
“As long as he’s serving the Lord, it doesn’t matter,” said Dianne.
“We’re real proud,” his father said. “I just hope he does the best that he can do.”
Father Kingsley took to heart what the bishop had to say. While he looks forward to celebrating Mass he understands that he will have struggles as well as being a part of people’s lives as they go through hard times of their own.
“At least I can be a presence to remind them of God,” he said.
His mother, Anne, and his sister Lisa Bevans, both of Charleston, were thrilled to tears about his ordination.
“Whichever parish gets him will be lucky,” Bevans said. “Many priests have made a difference in my life; it’s great to know he’s going to do that for someone else.”
Their pride was matched by Father Robertson’s enthusiasm.
“Let’s get this party started,” he said when asked how he felt about being a priest. “It is such a privilege to get to this point.”
Although his motto is going to be “all things in moderation.”
“I want to allow myself time to get used to it,” he said.
His parents, Ralph and Elyce of Columbia, seemed used to it already. They are Episcopalian and selflessly watched over and prayed for their son in his journey to the Catholic priesthood.
“I think it’s the right decision for him,” his mother said.
So too does Father Zimmerman.
“I’m just glad we’ve made this sacramental stepping stone,” he said. “It’s good to put one chapter behind and prepare for the next.”
He said he is looking forward to bringing the “rejoicing part of the Gospel” back into people’s lives, particularly Catholics who no longer practice the faith and troubled youths.
His mother, Pat, was awed by her son’s advancement into the priesthood.
“I feel it’s all in God’s hands; it’s between him and God,” she said. “My dad always wanted a priest in the family. The day he died was the day John entered the seminary. I feel like they (her parents) were with us today.”
His father Claude was moved.
“This is a revelation,” he said. “We have waited a long time for it.”
He jokingly advised his son to be humble but quickly followed up with: “I think he’ll make a good priest.”