COLUMBIA — Six seminarians began new lives of service to God on July 27 as they were ordained to the priesthood at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.
Deacons Bryan Babick, Michael Cassabon, Timothy Gahan, Jeffrey Kirby, Andrew Trapp and Jeremi Wodecki were ordained by Bishop Robert J. Baker for the Diocese of Charleston. It was the first time since 1953 that six men were ordained in South Carolina at the same time.
The Rite of Ordination was attended by more than 1,500 people, including friends and family members who came from around the country and overseas. Busloads of well-wishers traveled from the Upstate and the Grand Strand. Seminarians from the institutions attended by the newly-ordained also made the trip.
Bishop Baker kept his composure during the nearly three hour celebration, even though he was suffering from the pain of kidney stones. By the time Mass ended, however, he said the pain had subsided.
In his homily, the bishop said that the great mystery of the priesthood of Jesus Christ is unveiled in the ordination ceremony because the faithful discover the breadth and depth of God’s love for his people in those who will be ordained.
“Pope Benedict has said that the priesthood no longer is a question of lineage as it was in the former covenant, but it is a matter of discovering oneself in the mystery of Jesus Christ. ‘He is always the one who gives, who draws us to himself,’” Bishop Baker said. “The Lord lays his hands upon us, ‘and he now wants our hands so that they may become his own in the world.’ The pope says that anointed hands must be a sign of the human capacity for giving, for creativity in shaping the world with love. ‘It is,’ he says, ‘for this reason … that we are in need of the Holy Spirit.’”
The bishop went on to say that the Holy Spirit will conform the newly ordained to service in the priestly, prophetic and pastoral ministry of Jesus Christ.
“With our Holy Father I invite you future priests to become every day more fully friends of Jesus Christ, who entrusts everything to us,” Bishop Baker said. “He entrusts himself to us, so that we can speak with him and on behalf of him — ‘in persona Christi Capitis,’ in the person of Christ the Head.”
Bishop Baker continued to quote Pope Benedict XVI who said that the core of the priesthood is being friends of Jesus Christ.
“Only in that way can we truly speak in persona Christi,” the bishop said. “Being a friend with him means sharing in thought and will with him, reflecting before him and with him on his words and actions. In a special way, being a friend of Jesus ‘means being a man of prayer … We thus learn to live, suffer and act with him and for him.’ Being a friend of Jesus is also being a friend with his followers. ‘We can be friends of Jesus only in communion with the whole of Christ, with the head and with the body; in the vigorous vine of the church to which the Lord gives life.’ ”
In addition to Bishop Baker, Most Rev. David B. Thompson, retired bishop of Charleston, and Most. Rev. Octavio Cisneros, auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn, N.Y., attended the ordination.
The music was provided by a choir that included members of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston, St. Mary Church in Greenville, St. Mary Help of Christians in Aiken, St. John the Beloved Church in Summerville, and St. Peter and St. Joseph churches in Columbia.
At the end of the ceremony, Bishop Baker thanked Father Richard Harris, vicar for vocations and pastor of St. Joseph Church, who organized the important celebration with the assistance of a planning committee.
After it was over, Father Bryan P. Babick, 29, said he felt an overwhelming sense of joy.
“There was a great sense of hope for the new priests and a real sense of being welcomed into the diocese officially,” Father Babick said. “Both of those things are very important.”
The newly ordained priest, who attended the Pontifical College Josephinum and the Pontifical North American College in Rome, said that it was hard to put his feelings into one sentence.
“I’m still realizing ‘Oh my goodness, I’m a priest!’ ” Father Babick said. “For me, it’s been seven long years of study and there were times I thought I wasn’t going to make it. This is a very humbling experience.”
Father Jeremi Wodecki, 26, a native of Poland who attended the seminary of Sts. Cyril and Methodius in Michigan, said that he felt calm throughout the nearly three hour Mass.
“The best part,” he said, “was when I was vested and concelebrated with the bishop.”
He described the emotion of becoming a priest as being similar to a baptism.
“It is a renewing feeling,” he said.
Father Wodecki was surrounded by his parents, siblings and other family who traveled from his native Poland and Austria for the ordination.
“It’s a big event both for me and for my family, to be able to see this,” said Lech Wodecki, his younger brother who is a student in Vienna. “We’re just proud to be able to come here and to have a priest now in the family.” A third Wodecki brother is currently in seminary training to be a priest in the Diocese of Venice, Fla.
Like his brother priests, Father Michael Cassabon, 26, a native of Greenville, was exhilarated.
“It’s extraordinary and a little surreal to realize that I’m finally a priest,” he said. “At the same time, it also feels like the most natural thing in the world.”
Father Cassabon attended the Pontifical College Josephinum in Ohio. More than 40 members of his family came to his ordination.
“I’m very proud and honored to be here with him,” said Denise Orleman, Father Cassabon’s aunt from Rochester Hills, Mich. “It’s a thrill to be able to participate in this magnificent night in Michael’s life.”
“His mother and I are very proud of him and just very happy for him,” said his father, Michael Cassabon of Simpsonville.
The family and friends of Father Andrew Trapp, a native of Aiken, were also proud and elated. They flocked to him for blessings after the rite.
The 26-year-old priest described being ordained as “awesome!”
“After it was over I thought, ‘I’m a priest!’ Then I thought, ‘God help us,’ ” he said with characteristic humor.
Friends and family came from as far away as Rome and Hungary to celebrate Father Jeffrey Kirby, 32, of Columbia. His crowd of supporters included a large group of former classmates from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.
“It was great to see his ordination and to see all the support for him,” said his mother, Frances Kirby. “His ordination was just a long time coming. It felt sometimes like it was never going to happen.”
Father Timothy Gahan, 62, was thoughtful about his ordination.
“I’m really still processing it all — this experience is hard to describe,” he said. “I’m really just excited to get underway and to start offering the holy sacrifice of the Mass to the faithful.”
Father Gahan is a retired colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps and also a widower with two grown children. He attended Blessed John XXIII National Seminary in Massachusetts. More than 80 family members and friends came from Texas, Massachusetts and other states to see his ordination.
“It’s wonderful to have a father who’s a priest,” said his son, Terrence Gahan, 34. “My father is a man of great faith and this just follows the way he’s lived his life. He raised us right — we went to Mass all the time and he would do readings and pray with us at dinner. This is the fulfillment of a long process.”
Sheila Betasso, the oldest of Father Gahan’s seven siblings, came from Holy Hill, Wis., to see the ordination.
“It’s both awesome and very humbling to realize your brother is now a priest,” she said.
Click here for more photos from the ordination: ordination_center.pdf, ordination_backpage.pdf.
Deirdre C. Mays contributed to this story.