Bishop David Choby and the seminarians of the Diocese of Nashville were the guests of the Catholic Business League for a recent monthly breakfast meeting held in the Fleming Center at the Cathedral of the Incarnation. The nine men who will be ordained on July 26 are standing with Bishop Choby in the photo. Photo by Rick Musacchio
With the ancient rite of laying on of hands, nine men who will be ordained as priests on Saturday, July 26, will make history for the Diocese of Nashville.
Nine men will be ordained as priests of the diocese at the Cathedral of the Incarnation, which is the largest number of men to be ordained at a single Mass in the diocese’s history. Twice before, in 1942 and 1970, there have been ordination classes with as many as nine, but in both of those years, the men were ordained at different locations around the diocese, which at the time included the entire state of Tennessee rather than the middle third of the state as it does now.
The ordination of nine men on a single day is the high point in a recent boon in vocations in the diocese.
“It reflects the fact that the life of faith as we know it and live it in the Catholic church is very much appreciated and very much desired by people,” Bishop Choby said. “The commitment of the faith reflected in the lives of these nine men is a reflection of that same commitment we find in the community.”
These men, like the priests now serving in the diocese whose ranks they will join, and all the priests who have come before them, will dedicate their lives to serving God’s people. “With the kinds of challenges we face in the world, to have priests to help us face those challenges is particularly important,” Bishop Choby said.
Deacon Christiano Nunes da Silva, who is one of the nine men to be ordained to the priesthood on Saturday, July 26, attends a Mass at the Cathedral of the Incarnation. Photo by Andy Telli
The ordination will be at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 26, at the Cathedral of the Incarnation, with a reception to follow in the gymnasium of Father Ryan High School. The date is the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the Cathedral and two days before the 177th anniversary of the establishment of the diocese.
The men who will be ordained are Deacons Michael Fye, Phillip Halladay, John Hammond, Gervan Menezes, Delphinus Mutajuka, Anthony Mutuku, Paul Nguyen, Christiano Nunes da Silva and Daniel Reehil. They have come from around the country and around the world – five countries on four continents – to find a home serving the people of God in Middle Tennessee.
Among the men are cradle Catholics and a convert, men who entered the seminary right out of high school and college and those who heard the call after a career in business. Some considered life as a missionary or as a member of a religious order before finding a calling as a diocesan priest.
The variety of backgrounds and experiences the men to be ordained represent is “a very positive thing,” Bishop Choby said. “That’s very important at this point in the history of the diocese of Nashville.”
The men who will be ordained priests “reflect the changing experience of the Catholic faith in the Diocese of Nashville,” he said. Unlike many dioceses in the Northeast and Midwest, the Diocese of Nashville in its early years didn’t include people from a wide variety of ethnicities and cultural backgrounds, but that is changing, Bishop Choby said.
In recent decades, the Diocese has seen an influx of Catholics from around the world, including Central and South America, Vietnam, Korea, the Philippines, Egypt, other African countries and Haiti among others.
“Diversity is a strength, an expression of the richness of the life of the church,” Bishop Choby said. “This kind of diversity concretely reflects the catholicity of the church.”
“Going into the future, Middle Tennessee will become more and more culturally diverse,” he said. “A unique contribution that the Catholic church can make is we have the capacity to bring that cultural diversity together.”
The church’s ability to bring unity out of diversity is something Bishop Choby saw when he was a student in Rome. “I was impressed with the nature of the church that it could gather people from different countries and different cultures, all centered around the Eucharist,” Bishop Choby said. “In that sense it reflects, though imperfect, the gift of unity that Jesus prayed for.”
With so many men coming from outside the diocese to serve as priests here, Bishop Choby and the diocesan staff have made an effort to help them assimilate to life in the diocese.
“Certainly part of the way we help them assimilate is giving than an opportunity to live here in our parishes for a period of time before they can petition for Holy Orders,” Bishop Choby said. For example, Deacon Halladay served as a pastoral associate at St. Philip Church and the Cathedral for about a year after before returning to his seminary studies in Rome. Deacon Reehil has spent the last year working in the Diocesan Finance Office at the Catholic Center and at the Cathedral.
Over the years, the bishop has introduced the history of the diocese to all the seminarians by touring some of the historically significant places in the diocese’s history and hearing from priests who are most familiar with the diocese’s history.
Bishop Choby has also tried to give seminarians a range of parish assignments during their summer breaks from classes, spending time in small, rural parishes as well as larger urban and suburban parishes.
“In some cases, I have deliberately placed seminarians in parishes with priests from other countries who have been here long enough to have an appreciation for life in Middle Tennessee,” Bishop Choby said. Deacon Mutajuka, a native of Tanzania, has spent the last 18 months serving at Good Shepherd Church in Decherd, where he has been mentored by the pastor, Father Jean Baptiste Kyabuta, who also is a native of Africa.
Prior to their ordination, the men have participated in a two-week orientation program to give them an idea of some of the administrative functions of the diocese. “We’ve been very deliberate in terms of trying to prepare the men for their new role,” Bishop Choby said.
Boost in vocations
This year’s ordination is a high water mark for the increase in vocations in recent years, a trend that is expected to continue.
Since being ordained and installed as the bishop of Nashville in February 2006, Bishop Choby has ordained 11 men as priests, with at least one ordination every year. During his tenure, the most men to be ordained at once was three in 2008 when Fathers Nick Allen, Anthony Lopez and Mark Sappenfield were ordained.
Last year, two priests were ordained, Fathers Terry McGowan and Justin Raines.
After this year’s ordination of nine men, as many as six are scheduled to be ordained in 2015, Bishop Choby said.
In a period of three years the number of newly ordained priests will increase by half the current number of active diocesan priests, Bishop Choby said.
And the diocese continues to receive men interested in the priesthood. Four new seminarians will begin studies in the fall, which will give the diocese nearly 30 seminarians.
“Not too long ago it seemed, for whatever reason, vocations to the priesthood were drying up,” Bishop Choby said. “Through God’s grace and the intervention of the Holy Spirit, there seems to be a renewed interest in the priesthood, which speaks well for the future.”
The influx of new priests will allow some of the older priests to retire, Bishop Choby said, and it also will allow him to assign more priests to serve in some of the institutions in the diocese, such as high schools and hospitals.
“I think the impact with regard to the presbyterate in the diocese has a lot of dimensions to it,” Bishop Choby said of the number of new priests.
“I hope it is a welcome experience for the priests of the diocese, that they see it as a movement of the Holy Spirit that (is a witness to) the value … of the priesthood they themselves prepared for years ago,” Bishop Choby said.
There will be a time of adjustment between the current priests and the new priests, he said, as they navigate the generational differences between them. “I’m hoping in the spirit of the Lord the two groups will see each other as an affirmation of the value of spiritual things.”
Bishop Choby said the advice he would give the men preparing for ordination would be to love God and to allow that to be reflected in their spiritual and prayer life; to love the people that God puts in their lives; and to love the work they do.