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BOSTON -- While the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated the postponement of many events typically held in the spring, perhaps none was so significant as the Rite of Ordination to the Order of Presbyter, which was originally scheduled for May. This much-anticipated event finally took place on Aug. 1 as Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley ordained five diocesan priests and one Jesuit priest during an invitation-only Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.
The new priests ordained for the Archdiocese of Boston are Father Joseph Hubbard, Father Denis Nakkeeran, Father Matthew Norwood, Father Fernando Vivas, and Father Daniel Zinger. The priest ordained for the Northeast Province of the Society of Jesus is Father James Ferus, whose family is from New Bedford.
In keeping with the archdiocese's guidelines, modeled after state requirements, each candidate for the priesthood was allowed a limited number of guests, and fewer priests and religious attended than usual. The faithful were spaced out among the pews, some of which had been taped off to ensure social distancing. Most of those present wore face masks unless they were reading or speaking as part of the liturgy. There was no procession, no receiving line of priests to welcome their new brothers, and no reception following the Mass.
After the Liturgy of the Word, the rite of ordination began with the election of each candidate for the priesthood with the consent of the people. Each of the candidates responded to the call of their name, announcing that they were ready and willing to enter the priesthood. Cardinal O'Malley then elected them for ordination.
In his homily, Cardinal O'Malley spoke about the early history of the archdiocese and the challenges of priesthood.
The first seminarian in Boston, he said, was Dennis Ryan of Kilkenny, Ireland, who was sent by his bishop to study in Canada. When his ship was intercepted by privateers, he became a prisoner of war. Bishop Jean Cheverus, the first bishop of Boston, rescued him and brought him to live with him and Father Matignon in the rectory on Franklin Street.
"That rectory was our first seminary," Cardinal O'Malley said.
"Since the time of those pioneers when the diocese consisted of one bishop, one priest and one seminarian and 400 Catholics, we've seen how this church has grown to a church of millions of Catholics and hundreds of priests who have been ordained in this local church. Each generation of Catholics has its own challenges, opportunities and blessings," he said.
Cardinal O'Malley said that God is "always at work in our history."
"Today, we gather for the ordination of the class of 2020, and we express our thanks to Almighty God for calling these men for service in His Church. They are the ordination class of the year of the pandemic and, in Boston, the Year of the Eucharist," he said.
The cardinal expressed his gratitude for the faculty and staff of St. John's Seminary, who arranged for distance learning during the spring semester, and for pastors who allowed their rectories to become extensions of the seminary. "The pandemic turned rectories into seminaries, once again," he said.
Cardinal O'Malley spoke about the call of the apostles and the demands of that "special discipleship of ministry" as described by Jesus in the gospels.
"A call to ministry involves patterning one's life on the cross and the Master whose own vocation came to its ultimate expression in suffering," he said.
He said the priesthood "is not a human invention" but rather "God's gift and plan so that the Eucharist can be the sacrament of unity and love in the Church."
Cardinal O'Malley warned against "rust-out or burn-out," and pointed to the gospels for the remedy: "Before being sent out, the disciples are called to be with Jesus. And after their missionary activities and forays, they return to be with the Lord."
"My recommendation to our new priests is to make time to be with the Lord," he said, adding that this can be done through Eucharistic Adoration, reading and reflecting on the scriptures, and spending time with other priests.
Cardinal O'Malley finished by commending the new priests to the protection of the Blessed Mother, who he said is "an ordination gift to the young priest who stands by the cross" like the apostle John.
After the homily, the rite of ordination continued as each of the elect for the diocesan priesthood promised respect and obedience to Cardinal O'Malley and his successors. Father Ferus, S.J., promised respect and obedience to the diocesan bishop and to his legitimate superior.
They lay prostrate on the floor before the altar while the assembly offered the Litany of Supplication.
Then, Cardinal O'Malley laid his hands on each of them, a gesture that has its roots in the New Testament as a sign of ordination and invoking the Holy Spirit.
After the prayer of consecration, the new priests were vested with stoles and chasubles, signs of the office of the priesthood. Cardinal O'Malley anointed their hands with the Oil of Chrism, and each symbolically received a paten and chalice.
Following the ordination rite, the new priests joined the cardinal at the altar to concelebrate the Mass, participating in the sacrament as priests for the first time.
Among Father Norwood's guests were Martin and Kate Hipkins, who knew him in college. They said that they saw him the previous night after he received his parish assignment.
"We've never seen Matt so excited before. We're just overjoyed for him to begin his priesthood," Martin Hipkins said after the Mass.
One of the lectors during the Mass was Mother Olga Yaqob, who had long been acquainted with two of the seminarians, Father Nakkeeran and Father Zinger.
Speaking to The Pilot after the Mass, she said that she met Father Nakkeeran and his parents when he came to study at Boston University, where she worked in campus ministry.
"All of us being here today for his ordination was just really such a beautiful blessing," she said.
She also knew Father Zinger during his process of discerning his vocation.
"I know how much he persevered for his vocation, and how much he loved his diocese, and to see it coming to fruition is just beyond words," Mother Olga said.