See videos below of Father William Carmona's ordination and funeral Mass.
As William Carmona lay gravely ill in a San Antonio hospital bed, he repeatedly questioned his classmates from nearby Assumption Seminary: “Where is Bishop Choby?” “When will he get here?” And finally: “How many more hours until he ordains me?”
Carmona, a fourth year Theology seminarian entering his final year of preparation for ordination as a transitional deacon this fall and as a priest of the Diocese of Nashville next summer, was dying from cancer.
When Bishop David Choby of Nashville learned of his grave condition after Carmona was rushed to the Christus Santa Rosa Medical Center late last week, he made plans to travel to San Antonio to ordain the seminarian immediately in light of the emergency circumstances.
“The joy and satisfaction in administering the Sacrament of Holy Orders is a high point in the life of any bishop, but to have the opportunity to celebrate the sacrament for one who is so much looking forward to ordination but faces the certainty of death made it the more poignant,” Bishop Choby said.
“The priesthood, by its very nature, is multifaceted because it is God’s gift to respond to the needs of the human person,” Bishop Choby said. “I am fond of saying to the seminarians of the Diocese of Nashville that apart from family life, I know of no other vocation which touches so many moments in a person’s life. In a way that is singularly focused, the priesthood has as its center, the mystery of redemption, which is the dying and the rising of the Lord.”
|Father Gervan Menezes, left, and Bishop David Choby talk with seminarian, William Carmona in his intensive care room at Christus Santa Rosa Medical Center in San Antonio, TX, on Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014. Carmona is gravely ill with cancer and the bishop was preparing to ordain him as a deacon and a priest. Photos by Rick Musacchio
“The ordination of Father Carmona, which occurred in the face of the certainty of death, reflects the Paschal Mystery,” Bishop Choby said. “That is how our own lives are transformed in the death and resurrection of Jesus.”
Bishop Choby traveled to San Antonio on the evening of Sunday, June 7, to prepare for the ordinations on Monday, Sept. 8. On Wednesday, Sept. 10, Father Carmona died. Arrangements are incomplete, however there will be a funeral liturgy at Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, where Father Carmona studied.
His remains will be transported to his native country of Colombia for burial.
Joining the bishop in San Antonio for the ordination were: Deacon Jim McKenzie, a retired nurse anesthetist; Father John Sims Baker, pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Nashville and chaplain of University Catholic; Father John Hammond, associate pastor of Christ the King Church who was ordained a priest in July; Deacon Rafael Bougrat of St. Philip Church in Franklin; and Father Gervan Menezes, who was ordained a priest in July and attended Assumption Seminary with Father Carmona.
Father Carmona was the senior member of the group of eight seminarians from the Diocese of Nashville in formation at Assumption Seminary. The Nashville seminarians began an around the clock vigil to keep him company while he was being cared for in the hospital’s intensive care unit.
They were all on hand when Bishop Choby ordained him first as a transitional deacon and then as a priest.
|Bishop David Choby ordains William Cormona as a deacon and a priest during a Mass in an auditorium at Christus Santa Rosa Medical Center in San Antonio, TX as Archbishop Gustavo looks on.
The staff at Christus Santa Rosa prepared a room for the ordinations and nurses and physicians were on hand to monitor his condition throughout. Father Carmona lay silently in a hospital bed as Bishop Choby anointed his hands with holy oil and laid his hands on his head in the ancient sign of ordination.
Although Father Carmona was unable to respond verbally during his ordination, he had expressed his assent to the ordination earlier, Bishop Choby told those gathered to witness the sacrament.
Priests near Father Carmona during the Mass saw signs of recognition and joy as the ordination proceeded.
Joining Bishop Choby and the Nashville clergy were Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio and Father Jeff Pehl, the rector of Assumption Seminary, and the priests on the faculty of Assumption Seminary, who concelebrated the Mass.
About 200 people including most of the students at Assumption Seminary, the senior administration of the medical center, members of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word who sponsor the medical center, and an honor guard of Knights of Columbus Fourth Degree gathered in the large meeting room on the first floor of the hospital where the ordination Mass was celebrated.
The Mass, with a choir of seminarians, lasted about an hour-and-a-half.
Afterward, the medical center provided a reception and lunch for the seminarians and clergy who stayed with Father Carmona when he returned to the intensive care unit.
“William was one of the students with a very large pastoral heart,” said Sister Linda Gibler, a Houston Dominican Sister, and the associate academic dean at the Oblate School of Theology, which is where the seminarians take their academic courses. “He was always concerned about what his studies had to do with ministry, how he would be effective, and what affect all of his studies would have to do with his ministry. He was less concerned with academic details than he was with his pastoral heart. He would have been an excellent pastor.”
|Bishop David Choby annoints William Cormona's hands as part of the ordination rite at Christus Santa Rosa Medical Center.
“He took to his studies,” said Father Jeff Pehl, rector of Assumption Seminary, “but what I’m most proud of is that William was such a good example in the community. He is an older fellow, but his example of arriving early for Morning Prayer, before everyone else to open the chapel, to spend time in there in the morning and in the afternoon.”
“Today is the anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood,” Father Pehl said after the ordination, “so it is even more special this year. There is something special about sharing it with him. That he made it, he wanted to make it, and he will be serving the people of God in heaven.”
Father Carmona, 51, grew up in Antioquia, Colombia, and was one of 13 children in his family.
He wrote in an autobiography that was part of his application to become a seminarian for the Diocese of Nashville that he first considered becoming a priest at the age of 12, but did not have the resources to complete his seminary formation.
Before moving to the United States, he wrote that he attended Catholic schools until his high school graduation and then earned a philosophy degree from a seminary in Columbia. He later worked in a clothing and grocery store to earn money to continue his seminary education. He also studied business administration at the University of the South in Antioquia and worked in security for the Columbian government.
|About 200 people gathered for the Mass where Bishop David Choby ordained William Cormona as a priest and deacon in an auditorium at Christus Santa Rosa Medical Center.
He moved to the United States in 2000 and hoped to enter the seminary for a diocese in California but his English language skills were not strong enough to continue.
He became a scholastic for the Society of the Divine Savior – known as the Salvatorians – and moved to the Salvatorian provincial house in Milwaukee, Wisc., for several years before coming to Cookeville, Tenn., to serve as the youth minister at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, which is staffed by Salvatorians.
“The kids really liked him,” said Sister Pat Russell, S.D.S., business manager for the parish. She described him as “very animated” in his work with the youth of the parish.
“The short time that William was here, he seemed to be able to get along well with people, both the Spanish speaking and English speaking people,” Sister Russell said.
Eventually, Father Carmona became interested in becoming a diocesan priest and was accepted as a seminarian for the Diocese of Nashville in 2008. Father Carmona maintained contact with his friends in Cookeville, Sister Russell said. “After he left here and went to the seminary, whenever he was back in the Nashville area he would come here to visit with folks,” she said.
As a seminarian he also served summers at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Springfield, St. Pius X and Assumption churches in Nashville, and St. Philip Church in Franklin.
“It was a very great gift for us at St. Philip Parish to have William with us as a seminarian this past summer,” said Deacon Rafael Bougrat of St. Philip. “He had such a warm heart and we had a wonderful summer with him in our community.”
|Seminarian Leo Trujillo touches Carmona's hand while caring for him. Bishop David Choby, Father Gervan Menezes, Deacon Jim McKenzie, and seminarians from the Diocese of Nashville and some others from Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, TX, gather around fellow seminarian William Carmona who was dying from cancer on Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014. Bishop Choby traveled to San Antonio to ordain Carmona as a priest before he died.
Deacon Bougrat, a native of Venezuela, befriended Father Carmona over this summer. “I never met somebody who is so spiritual. He was so into God that he just was able to expose it to everybody, and everybody perceived it like that.”
For years, Deacon Bougrat had seen Father Carmona’s photo on a poster of all the seminarians of the Diocese of Nashville that was printed by the Diocese and put up in every parish, he said. When he finally met Father Carmona this summer, Deacon Bougrat already felt like he knew him because he had been praying for him and the other seminarians, he said.
“It was that connection,” Deacon Bougrat said. “From the first words it was that chemistry … because we are both men of God.”
Father Carmona ate dinner with Deacon Bougrat’s family several times over the summer, and Father Carmona “was there for my first Mass, my first Baptism, the first veneration,” said Deacon Bougrat, who was ordained as a permanent deacon in June.
On Father Carmona’s last visit to Deacon Bougrat’s home, he reminded the deacon’s family that his ordination as a transitional deacon was approaching soon and told them, “I want to see all of you there. You are my family.”
When Deacon Bougrat traveled to San Antonio for Father Carmona’s ordination, “I never expected I would be helping the bishop with the Mass,” he said. “They gave me the honor to put the deacon’s stole and dalmatic on top of his fragile body. …
“When I put on his stole, I saw his eyes open a little bit,” said Deacon Bougrat. “I got the feeling that, to me, he knew where he was.”
“I was able to be there and tell him how much I love him and how much he changed my prayer life,” Deacon Bougrat said. “He was always in the church praying. He was always looking for the good of the Church, especially the Hispanic community.”
Andy Telli contributed to this report.
The Ordination of Father William Carmona
The Funeral Mass of Father William Carmona