As the summer begins, two seminarians for the Diocese of Charleston are in the home stretch of their long journeys to the priesthood.
Deacons Will Frei and Michael Cellars will be ordained to the priesthood for the diocese July 10 at 5 p.m. at Holy Spirit Church on Johns Island.
They are spending the last weeks before ordination combining parish work with prayer, study and rare free time, while also handling the unique challenges of serving people during a pandemic.
For both men, their last semester of study was completely different than they had originally imagined it would be. Because of the novel coronavirus, they had to leave their respective seminaries, return to the U.S. and complete their work online. Deacon Cellars studied at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston, while Deacon Frei was at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.
They lived for eight weeks with their brother seminarians at the Our Lady of Joyful Hope House of Formation, getting to know each other and helping out people in the neighborhood while also serving at Mass and Holy Hours that were livestreamed for people around the state.
They left Charleston in late May for a month of work at the parish level. Deacon Frei is serving at St. Joseph Church in Columbia, while Deacon Cellars is at Blessed Trinity Church in Greer.
In addition, Deacon Frei is still attending online school and has been spending much of his time writing term papers and studying for exams as the spring term in Rome does not end until June 24. In his free time, he is visiting family and friends in Aiken.
The Rev. Mr. Frei is the son of Dr. Wayne and Mary Frei, and he grew up attending St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken. Before going to Rome, he studied at the University of Dallas and at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
“It feels a bit surreal that ordination to the priesthood is only a month away,” Deacon Frei said. “How my nine years of study have flown by! Looking back at all the experiences I have had throughout my formation, I can confidently say that God never ceases laboring to love us, and that He is nearer to us than we can ever understand or feel in this life.”
Spiritual development has always been central to Deacon Frei’s vocation. He said the biggest challenge he is currently facing is preparing himself spiritually for the huge step he is about to take, which is why he plans to make a short retreat before July 10.
A Charleston native, Deacon Cellars is the son of Mike and Karen Cellars and grew up attending St. Mary of the Annunciation Church. His vocation journey has been a long one. He initially started seminary in 2004 but left after 18 months and worked in sales. Years of prayer and discernment eventually led him back to his call to the priesthood and his studies in Houston.
He has been helping Father Jaime González, parochial administrator at Blessed Trinity, by assisting at Mass, funerals and benediction. He speaks Spanish and that skill has served the parish well.
He said it has been a challenge to complete his last weeks before ordination against the backdrop of the pandemic and the recent turmoil that has affected the country in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
“With the outrage and unrest that has swept across our state and nation, I have asked how can I, and how can we, help at building bridges within our local communities,” he said. “I have been thinking about ways I can help in bringing about healing and mending the hearts and minds of those who are searching for the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.”
Deacon Cellars has also been meeting with Hispanic families to help him work on his Spanish and they recently asked him how it felt to be close to ordination.
“My response was simply ‘tranquilo’ (Spanish for calm),” he said. “I feel calm and at peace because I know this is what our Lord has called me to do. Every person has a mission in life that is unique to themselves, and my mission is to serve the people of God as a servant and priest of our Lord Jesus Christ.”