Catholic bashers never seem to let the facts get in the way of their Catholic bashing. For example, no matter which Cardinal was chosen as the new Pope, detractors were sure to claim that the new Pope “lives like a king while the people starve” and “harbors pedophile priests”. The fact that the actual person who got the job (then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires) is the exact opposite of their stereotype did nothing to persuade them otherwise.
Likewise, the Archdiocese of Chicago faces its own no win scenario when it ordains new priests. No matter what kind of people enter the priesthood, Catholic bashers will claim that Catholicism only appeals to “old white men” and needs to “get with the times”. In other words, the Catholic Church needs to abandon everything that makes it Catholic and embrace social liberalism by having woman priests and bishops, marrying gay couples, supporting abortion and euthanasia, and every other liberal cause that the mainstream media thinks is hip and cool. That would make the Catholic Church more popular and mainstream! Why it worked wonders for Anglicanism, didn’t it?
In reality, the latest group of “Ordinandi” in Chicago show a pretty bright future for Catholicism. The class of May 2013 includes 10 new priests and they include whites, blacks, and Hispanics, range in age from 26 to 53, have both cradle Catholics and protestant converts, and come from both the new world and the old world: one from Chicago itself, several more from the surrounding suburbs and nearby states, and one each from Haiti, Mexico, Poland and Uganda. Catholic bashers might actually be envious that those “strict, old-fashioned Catholics” have their own “rainbow coalition” of newly ordained priests. If you’re looking for a group of “aging, out of touch, older white people”, perhaps you might indeed see it at all those Anglican congregations that have “gotten with the times”, and then lost members in droves.
These ten new priests formally entered the priesthood on May 18. They celebrated their first masses this week, and will take up their new assignments July 1. Chicago Catholics, you might be seeing them soon on Sunday, so keep your eyes peeled. The newly ordained priests are Fr. Roberto Mercado Jr., Fr. Matthew Bozovsky, Fr. Brendan Guilfoil, Fr. Julio Jimenez, Fr. Mark Augustine, Fr. Geofrey Andama, Fr. Thomas Byrne, Fr. Kevin McCray, Fr. Rodlin Rodriguez, and Fr. Rafal Stecz. You can learn more information about them at www.catholicnewworld.com. Going in alphabetical order, here’s a brief introduction to these new kids on the block:
Fr. Geofrey Andama
From: Ombaci, Uganda
Education: elementary and secondary school in Uganda, Seminary: Mundelein Seminary/University of St. Mary of the Lake
First Mass: May 18, 5:30 p.m. at St. Christopher, Midlothian, IL
First Assignment: To be determined
Geofrey Andama is an African born and raised priest who was only three months old when both his parents were killed in a tragic car accident. He survived, and was raised by his grandmother, a devout Catholic who took him to morning prayer and Mass every day before school. “She tells me that I am here because of God’s blessing, and that maybe God has a plan for me,” Andama said. “I reflected on that and thought that maybe God wanted me to be a priest.” After applying for seminary in Uganda, he received a scholarship to study at Mundelein Seminary if he would be willing to serve as a priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Fr. Andama is very grateful for the opportunity. After six years in Chicago, he notes: “I like it here very much — except for the winters.”
Fr. Mark Augustine
From: Evergreen Park, Illinois, USA
Education: Bartlett Elementary School and Eastview Middle School, Bartlett; Streamwood High School; Loyola University Chicago; Mundelein Seminary/University of St. Mary of the Lake
First Mass: May 19, 11:15 a.m., St. Clement Church, 642 W Deming Pl., Chicago, IL 60614
First Assignment: Our Lady of Ransom, 8624 W. Normal Ave., Niles, IL 60714
Mark Augustine was completing his history degree from Loyola University Chicago when he began to feel a calling to the priesthood while studying for a semester in Rome. An Evergreen Park native, he hails from the southwest suburbs and has an impressive set of volunteer work and hobbies: He has run the Chicago Marathon three times, is an Eagle Scout, Vigil Honor member, Ad Altari Dei recipient, and he has worked at Camp Freeland Leslie in Oxford, Wis., for 10 consecutive summers from 2000-2009. Before becoming a priest, Mark Augustine served as an intern at Saint Clement Church. He was honored to celebrate his first mass there on May 19th.
Fr. Matthew Bozovsky
From: Des Plains, Illinois, USA
Education: Forest Elementary School and Maine West High School, Des Plaines; Loyola University Chicago; Mundelein Seminary/University of St. Mary of the Lake
First Mass: May 19, 11:30 a.m., St. Joseph, Wilmette, IL
First Assignment: St. Joseph Parish, 121 E. Maple Ave. Libertyville, IL 60048
Matthew Bozovsky strongly felt he had a calling when he was growing up – but to biology. He embarked on a career as a research scientist while still an undergraduate at Loyola University Chicago. At that time, he came to better know and understand his Catholic faith. Still, he did not discern a vocation to the priesthood until he was in a doctorate program at Northwestern University and working as a part-time faculty member at Loyola University Chicago. He went on to become a Catholic deacon, and his specialties include extensive knowledge in Christian anthropology, John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, harmonizing faith and science, heterochromatin, centromeres, and research into Down syndrome.
Fr. Thomas Byrne
From: Chicago, Illinois, USA
Education: St. George School and Andrew High School, Tinley Park; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Mundelein Seminary/University of St. Mary of the Lake
First Mass: May 19, 11:30 a.m., St. George, Tinley Park, IL
First Assignment: St. Michael Parish, 14327 Highland Ave., Orland Park, IL 60426
Thomas Byrne feels God called him to the priesthood while he was attending Illinois’ flagship school: the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. “Living at the Newman Center and being surrounded by many of my young, Catholic peers caused me to take a closer look at my own faith,” he wrote in an email. “For the first time, I began to pray regularly and really build a strong relationship with the Lord. I encountered Jesus in the sacraments, the Scriptures, and in the people around me. Through all of this, I began to hear the Lord calling me to serve him as a priest.” Being at the Newman Center also helped him get to know priests and the way they lived. He said it made the life of a priest become a realistic possibility for him. “[It] helped me to believe that the life of a priest was one that I really could live — and live joyfully.” he added.
Fr. Brendan Guilfoil
From: Elk Grove Village, Illinois, USA
Education: Paddock Elementary and Fremd High School, Palatine; Catholic University of America, Mundelein Seminary/University of St. Mary of the Lake
First Mass: May 18, 5 p.m., St. Theresa, Palatine
First Assignment: St. Mary, 211 E. Illinois Rd., Lake Forest, IL 60045
Unlike many of his colleagues in seminary school, Brendan Guilfoil began to discern his vocation to the priesthood while he was still in high school. As a teenager, he was an active member of the youth ministry program at St. Theresa in Palatine, as well as a lector and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. “I began to become interested in ministry as I was training other lectors and extraordinary ministers at St. Theresa,” he said. After high school, he spent two years at St. Joseph College Seminary at Loyola University, then was asked to attend Catholic University of America as a Basselin Fellow. This is a three-year fellowship program for seminarians to finish their undergraduate studies and pursue graduate studies in philosophy.
Fr. Julio Jimenez
From: Acambay, Mexico
Education: Elementary and high school in Mexico, Seminario Diocesano de Atlacomulco, University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary
First Mass: May 19, 11:30 a.m. at St. Cletus, LaGrange
First Assignment: St. Josepj Parish, 114 N. Lincoln Ave., Round Lake, IL 60073
Born and raised in Mexico, Julio Jimenez admits he briefly considered a vocation to the priesthood in his native Mexico, but he heard of the call loud and clear after he arrived in Chicago in 2008, he said.“Even though my discernment did not start there, it became clearer to me that God was calling me to serve in this particular archdiocese, its challenges as well as its opportunities,” Jimenez says of Chicago. “It has been a long journey, which started in Mexico many years ago, but today, I am happy to accept this great gift, and just like any other Christian out there, I want to live my faith to the fullest, and in that same faith, I become a priest of Christ.”
Fr. Kevin McCray
From: Marion, Indiana, USA
Education: Franklin Elementary School and Marion High School in Marion, Ind.; Valparaiso University and Ball State University; Mundelein Seminary/ University of St. Mary of the Lake
First Mass: May 26, 11:15 a.m. at St. Clement Church, 642 W Deming Pl. Chicago, IL 60614
First Assignment: Queen of Martyrs, 10233 S. Central Park, Evergreen Park, IL 60805
It’s rare to become a priest at 53. It’s rarer still for a lifelong protestant to get a calling to become a Catholic priest. Kevin McCray grew up in a Methodist family. He notes “Due to my Mother being the church organist and pianist, I was highly involved in the Methodist church through high school, though I always felt something was missing in my faith life.” For 21 years, he worked in the corporate office of Crate & Barrel. He adds: “In my late thirties, in a dating relationship with a Catholic woman, I started going back to church. Through the Mass and by instructions of Catholic friends I found what I felt was missing in my faith life. I went through RCIA and came into the Church at the Easter Vigil of 2002” He had a conversion experience in Italy, and entered the seminary five years later, at age 47. He is delighted to finally become a priest, as he has been a longtime parishioner at Saint Clement in Chicago, and will say his first Mass there on May 26.
Fr. Roberto Mercado
From: Arlington Heights, Illinois, USA
Education: Elementary and high school in Catechizes, Mexico; St. Joseph College Seminary, Loyola University Chicago; Mundelein Seminary/University of St. Mary of the Lake
First Mass: May 19, 3 p.m. , at St. Benedict Parish 2215 W. Irving Park Road Chicago, IL
First Assignment: St. George, 6707 W. 175th St., Tinley Park, IL 60477
Roberto Mercado was born in the United States: Arlington Heights to be exact, but his family returned to Mexico and he grew up on a ranch in Zacatecas, Mexico. After high school, he returned to the northwest suburbs of Chicago, studied English, and got a two-year technical certificate from Harper College in Palatine. He was then able to get a job at St. Colette Parish in Rolling Meadows. Still, he felt there was something missing in his life. On a retreat, a priest suggested that he consider looking into a vocation to the diocesan priesthood or religious life. Mercado had briefly considered the idea years earlier in Mexico, but began to seriously entertain it for the first time in his life. After a year of discernment, he entered the Claretian community in Chicago. He then decided to pursue the priesthood at St. Joseph College Seminary, where he studied for four years before entering Mundelein Seminary.
Fr. Rodlin Rodrigue
From: Cerca Carvajal, Haiti
Education: Elementary and high school in Haiti; St. Joseph College Seminary, Loyola University Chicago; Mundelein Seminary/University of St. Mary of the Lake
First Mass: May 19, 11 a.m. at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish 1101 N. 23rd Ave. Melrose Park, IL
First Assignment: St. Benedict, 2215 W. Irving Park Rd., Chicago, IL 60618
Rodlin Rodrigue got his calling at a very, very young age: he told his mother he wanted to be a priest when he was 7 years old. “Even though I was just 7 years old, I could see and understand how the pastor, Father Marcel Marshall, had played a crucial role in the lives of the people. He was a missionary priest from Belgium, who left his homeland to go to serve the people of Haiti in a very significant way”. Marshall had told Rodrigue that when he was assigned to go to Haiti, he didn’t have any idea where was, but he ended up falling in love with the culture and the people. “I was influenced by his humility and the way in which he devoted his life to serve others, especially the poor,” Rodrigue said. He followed in his mentor’s footsteps and came to the United States in 2003 to start studies with the Divine Word Missionaries in Iowa. “I asked myself, ‘Do I have to become a Divine Word Missionary priest to consider myself as a missionary because I already left my country to come here in the United States to learn a new language and culture?’ So I am already a missionary.” It was then that he decided to pursue ordination in Chicago.
Fr. Rafal Stecz
From: Myszkow, Poland
Education: Elementary and high school in Poland; Mundelein Seminary/University of St. Mary of the Lake
First Masses: May 19, at 9 a.m. (English) and noon (Polish) at St. Pascal, 3935 N. Melvina Ave., Chicago, IL 60624
First Assignment: St. Pascal, 3935 N. Melvina Ave., Chicago, IL 60624
Rafal Stecz was born into a farming family in a small town in Poland. As a boy growing up in eastern Europe, he was both an altar server and a lector, and Mass was the culmination of the week for his whole family. “The one thing I do know is that I heard God’s call growing stronger and stronger, and even though I didn’t want to follow it at the beginning, eventually I gave up and submitted to the will of God” says Stecz. He is extremely grateful for the opportunity to study and minister in the Archdiocese of Chicago, and at his first mass, personally thanked everyone who has prayed for him. Drawing on his cultural heritage, the Archdiocese sent him to a congregation with a large Polish community, and unlike his other nine fellow newly-minted priests, Fr. Stecz got to celebrate two inaugural masses – one in English and one in Polish.
And so my fellow Catholics, that’s a brief introduction to the class of 2013. These new priests can expect a warm welcome when they take up their assignments this summer, and provide much needed help in ministering to the people of the Chicagoland area. So the next time you hear about how the Catholic Church is out of touch and all its priests are creepy old white men, consider who’s actually joining the ranks of the priesthood lately. The Catholic bashers might not like it, but there’s far more diversity in Catholicism than in all their dying liberal churches combined.