|The five new priests of the diocese receive a fraternal kiss of peace from the other priests of the diocese and visiting priests during their ordination at the Cathedral of the Incarnation on Friday, June 12. This year’s ordination of five priests follows last year’s ordination of nine priests, the largest number of men ordained at a single Mass in the diocese’s history. The new priests ordained were Fathers Eric Johansen, Austin Gilstrap, Emmanuel Dirichukwu, Ben Butler and Andy Bulso. Fathers Johansen, Gilstrap and Butler will begin their new assignments July 1. Fathers Dirichukwu and Bulso will return to school to complete their studies. Photos by Rick Musacchio
Just before the ordination Mass for Father Austin Gilstrap and four other men began on Friday, June 12, a young priest told him “that I should open myself up to the graces of God that’s about to happen.”
“That stuck with me,” said Father Gilstrap, who was ordained with Fathers Andy Bulso, Ben Butler, Emmanuel Dirichukwu and Eric Johansen. “I certainly felt the graces of our Lord.”
At the start of the Mass, celebrated at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville, Bishop David Choby noted that all five of the men to be ordained had talked of their vocation to the priesthood as a journey. “This morning, they take another step in that journey,” Bishop Choby said. “They are embracing that call to serve the church.”
|Bishop David Choby hands over the bread and wine to Father Andy Bulso during the ordination rite on Friday, June 12, at the Cathedral of the Incarnation.
In his homily, the bishop said, “That living presence among us of the Lord … in a special way is made present in the gift of the priesthood.”
Christ chose his apostles to carry out a priestly ministry in his name on behalf of mankind, Bishop Choby added. “He was sent by the Father, and he in turn sent the apostles into the world; through them and their successors, the bishops, he continues his work as teacher, priest and shepherd.”
As priests, they are called to share the word of God with all mankind, to sanctify in the power of Christ through the sacraments, and to shepherd the faithful to God the Father, the bishop explained.
The five new priests are part of a boom in vocations in the Diocese of Nashville in the last decade. During his tenure, Bishop Choby has ordained at least one new priest every year, and with the latest ordinations, the total number of priests he has ordained now stands at 26.
This year’s class of five new priests follows last year’s class of nine, the largest number of men to be ordained at a single Mass in the diocese’s history.
|Father John Hammond, associate pastor at Christ the King Church in Nashville, who was ordained last year, lays his hands on the head of new priest Father Austin Gilstrap. Awaiting Father Hammond is another of the new priests, Father Eric Johansen.
Among the new priests are three natives of Middle Tennessee – Fathers Bulso, Butler and Gilstrap – three converts to Catholicism – Fathers Butler, Gilstrap and Johansen – and a native of Nigeria – Father Dirichukwu.
Father Bulso was ordained in his home parish of the Cathedral, where he had been baptized and where he celebrated his first Mass on Saturday, June 13. Growing up he was an altar server, Eucharistic minister and lector there. At the end of the last Mass in which he was an altar server before leaving for college, Father Bulso recalled, his pastor, Father Pat Kibby, called him to the altar to announce to the congregation that he was leaving. Father Kibby said, “He’s sat in every chair but this one,” pointing to the presider’s chair, Father Bulso said. “So he sort of called it.”
“All of his friends (from Overbrook School, Pope John Paul II High School and the University of Notre Dame), when he told them he was going to the seminary, none of them were surprised,” said Kathy Bulso, Father Bulso’s mother. “No one was surprised. They saw that love of God and that willingness to serve.”
“When I was praying about it last night it struck me that this isn’t something I’m doing alone,” Father Bulso said during the reception that followed the ordination. He noted that he was being ordained with four other men and they were all entering a fraternity of priests.
|Father Philip Breen, left, and Msgr. Owen Campion lay their hands on the heads of the new priests during the ordination rite. Laying on of hands is an ancient part of the ordination rite.
The moment in the ordination rite when all the priests concelebrating the Mass with the bishop lay their hands on the heads of the ordinands, Father Bulso said, “was almost like an image of my vocation, all the priests who had a part in that.”
At the beginning of the Mass, when each of the men was called to the altar and they answered “present,” Father Bulso said, “My heart was really pumping.”
But as the ordination proceeded, “there’s a sense of peace,” he said. “I was trying to focus on what’s happening, I’m becoming a priest.”
“It was great,” Father Johansen said of his ordination. “I’ve done a lot of things but nothing like this.”
Father Johansen joined the church at St. Edward Church in Nashville with his late wife. After she died of cancer, he felt a call to the priesthood.
|Father Emmanuel Dirichukwu, above photo, blesses Father Eric Fowlkes, pastor of Our Lady of the Lake Church in Hendersonville, during the reception that followed the ordination of Father Dirichukwu and four other new priests on Friday, June 12. Father Dirichukwu celebrated Mass at Our Lady of the Lake, where he had served as a seminarian, on Sunday, June 14. Photo by Andy Telli
Father Steve Wolf was the diocesan vocations director at the time and met with Father Johansen. Not only was he involved in the life of the parish and was part of a faith-sharing group, he used his time on his job as a truck driver to pray, Father Wolf recalled. “I was impressed with that.”
“It was just like being in a convent,” Father Johansen said of using time as a truck driver to pray. “You turn off the radio and you have a lot of time to pray. … That’s really how I made the decision to do this.”
When Bishop Choby laid his hands on Father Johansen’s head during the ordination, “It made it real,” he said. “Some of the priests press fairly hard. I was thinking they’re letting you know the weight of what you’re about to do.”
“The entire liturgy was moving,” said Father Gilstrap, who worked in restaurants for several years before answering a call to the priesthood. After serving as a deacon at last year’s ordination, “It was wonderful to be on the receiving end of all that grace.”
“It was very emotional and I was very proud,” Father Gilstrap’s mother, Donna Gilstrap, said of the ordination. She wasn’t surprised that her son became a priest, Mrs. Gilstrap said. “It’s what came natural for him. … You could tell his faith was important to him even as a young man.”
|Bishop David Choby, photo at left, annoints the hands of Father Ben Butler during the ordination.
Father Gilstrap entered the church with the rest of his family when he was a teenager. He attended a small Presbyterian high school. “He was the only Catholic,” his mother said. And his friends would sometimes challenge Catholic teachings, she said. “He had to defend his faith. If he didn’t have the answer, he would find out. It made him stronger in his faith.”
Like Father Gilstrap, Father Butler came to the priesthood after working in the secular world for several years. He worked in the field of management information systems and also worked for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management fighting forest fires in Arizona. It was there the Franklin County native joined the church. And it was during that process of conversion that thoughts of the priesthood began.
Being ordained was “awesome,” said Father Butler, who was the only one of the new priests wearing black cowboy boots. “Especially the litany of the saints, hearing everybody ask for the intercessions of the saints, is really amazing.”
Father Butler’s first assignment will be as associate pastor at St. Joseph Church in Madison, where he also had served a five-month internship after being ordained a transitional deacon last year. A large group from the parish was on hand for his ordination.
“It was really good to see their support,” he said of his new parishioners. “I like the sense of community that’s there. … The way they’ve accepted me was a blessing really.”
Father Dirichukwu’s ordination was a reason to celebrate not only for the diocese but for the Nigerian Catholic Community in Nashville.
“It’s a big thing for the community,” said Ogo Obi, the secretary of the Nigerian Catholic Community, which celebrates Mass together at St. Edward. “This is the first time a Nigerian has been ordained a priest for the Diocese of Nashville.”
Since becoming a seminarian for the Diocese of Nashville, Father Dirichukwu has been involved with the Nigerian Catholic Community, Obi said. “He’s nice, he’s gentle, he’s loving. He’s always there.”
Not only were members of the Nigerian community of Nashville on hand for the ordination, but also Father Dirichukwu’s father Aloysius and his brother Harry, who traveled from Nigeria for the ordination, Father Michael Sunday Sasa of the Diocese of Lokoja, Nigeria, who vested the new priest, and several Nigerian religious sisters.
“I feel very good that so many Nigerians were there,” Father Dirichukwu said. “I was kind of surprised with the turnout” on a workday, he said. That so many were there to celebrate with him is “a memory I’ll have … for the rest of my life.”
It was the first time Father Dirichukwu had seen his father and brother since 2011. “I was so happy to see them, to see how much they have changed and they can see how well I’ve been taken care of by my bishop,” he said.
Seeing his son ordained made Father Dirichukwu’s father “very happy,” he said. “I thank the diocese.”
His brother’s ordination is “a dream fulfilled,” said Harry Dirichukwu. “He’s very faithful.”
During the laying on of hands, Father Dirichukwu “felt the power of the Holy Spirit, this is something significant,” he said.
At the end of the Mass, Bishop Choby congratulated the new priests. “I’m glad you’ve persevered,” he said. “I’ve got plenty of work for you to do.”
Father Butler has been assigned to St. Joseph Church as associate pastor and Father Gilstrap has been assigned to work in the chancery with the Diocesan Tribunal. Father Johansen has been appointed a chaplain at Saint Thomas Midtown Hospital. Father Dirichukwu will return to Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, Texas, to complete his final semester of studies, and Father Bulso will return to the North American College in Rome where he is working on an advanced degree in biblical theology.