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BOSTON -- When Father Robert LeBlanc, Jr. first came to St. John's Seminary, he felt "so much peace and joy" about his vocation.
"That peace and joy is just one hundredfold today," he said on May 22 after being ordained a priest during a Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.
Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley ordained Father LeBlanc and five other priests for Boston, including a Franciscan of the Primitive Observance, as well as two priests for the Diocese of Kumbakonam in India.
Although smaller in size and shorter in time than past ordinations at the cathedral, this one had more people present and took more time than the previous year's ceremony, which was postponed by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and limited by restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus. For this Mass, attendees wore masks, and every other pew was taped off, but a greater number of people were allowed in the building. Although the procession did not include all the priests present, dozens came to support their new brothers.
The priests ordained were Father Fernando Ayala, Father David Campo, Father Francis Godkin, FPO, Father Robert LeBlanc, Jr., Father Leonardo Moreira, and Father Kevin Pleitez for the Archdiocese of Boston; and Father Alwin Chinnappan and Father Valanarasu Williamraj for the Diocese of Kumbakonam in India.
After the Liturgy of the Word, the Rite of Ordination began as each candidate was called by name and responded "Present," indicating his readiness to enter the priesthood. The cardinal then elected them for ordination, with the consent of the people, signified by their applause.
In his homily, Cardinal O'Malley reflected on what priests can learn from the history of the Cenacle, the "upper room" that was the location of the Last Supper, which the cardinal described as the "first ordination." It was also where Mary and the Apostles prayed for the nine days between the Ascension and Pentecost, considered the first novena.
Cardinal O'Malley likened the history of the Cenacle to a book about the theology of priesthood.
"It is the place of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the reason that we ordain Catholic priests, and without priests we would have no Eucharist," Cardinal O'Malley said.
He spoke about St. John's account of the Last Supper, which depicts Jesus washing the Apostles' feet, "teaching us that the Eucharist is closely connected to our call to service and the command to love one another as he loves us."
"Our hope is that you men will celebrate Mass each day as the most important event in your daily life and in your service of God's people. And may your celebration be beautiful, but not just with an external beauty, but an internal beauty born of a life lived in fraternity and unity," Cardinal O'Malley said.
While the first "chapter" of the Cenacle's history teaches about the Eucharist, he went on, the second is about conversion.
"We cannot preach conversion unless we are converted," Cardinal O'Malley said.
When the risen Christ appeared to the Apostles in the Cenacle, rather than rebuke them for running away and hiding while he suffered, he gave them the power to forgive sins. The Cenacle continued to be a venue for sacramental ministry on Pentecost, when the Apostles received the Holy Spirit and baptized 3,000 people.
"The Pentecost event underscores the importance of prayer and community as the context for our ministry," Cardinal O'Malley said.
He exhorted the candidates to "Preach eloquently with your lives. People will believe you only if you live what you preach. People will believe you only if they are convinced that you care about them."
The cardinal then shared the words and story of St. Maximilian Kolbe. When he was forced to shut down his monastery after the Nazi invasion of Poland, his parting advice to the friars was, "Do not forget love." Kolbe eventually was sent to Auschwitz, where he offered to take the place of a prisoner condemned to die. When the Nazi officer asked who he was, Kolbe answered, "I am a Catholic priest."
"Never, never forget love. It's the reason and the essence of your vocation. And never forget that you are a Catholic priest, born in the upper room," Cardinal O'Malley said.
After the homily, each of the elect approached the cardinal and promised respect and obedience to him or, in the case of the two ordinands from India, to their ordinary. All eight of the men then lay prostrate before the altar while the assembly prayed the Litany of Supplication.
Cardinal O'Malley then laid his hands on each of their heads, after which all the priests present made the same gesture. Next, the newly ordained were vested with the stole and chasuble, signs of the office of priesthood, and their hands were anointed with sacred chrism.
All the clergy greeted their new brothers with the sign of peace. Then, the newly ordained participated in the Liturgy of the Eucharist as priests for the first time.
At the end of the Mass, the cardinal knelt to receive a blessing from each of the new priests.
Father Campo's family was present for the Mass, along with many young people he knew from his work in campus ministry at Bridgewater State University.
His mother, Joanne Campo, said it has been "quite gratifying to see him grow and mature over the past six years."
"It's really been wonderful to see," she said.
His father, John Campo, said they felt "blessed."
"I know he's going to be busy, as priests are because there are so few now, but he's up for it. So we're very happy for him," he said.