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New Priests Offer Hope

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A list of those being ordained priests this spring elicits hope and joy. Almost 500 men, from age 25 to 63, constitute the class of 2011 and embody what we need in the priesthood.

We need generosity, as fewer are called to do more. It's certainly found in Timothy Renz of the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin. A few years ago he gave a kidney to a fellow seminarian, now a priest. Jesus says, "Greater love has no one than he give up his life for his friend." Giving up one's kidney ranks pretty high in selfless love.

We need brains because religious issues are complex. A bad priest with brains endangers us. A good priest without brains can be ineffective. But goodness and brains together create a winning formula for one who must offer pastoral advice on everything from family relationships to life and death medical decisions. The new priests are well educated. Several practiced law, including Quan Tran of the Archdiocese of San Francisco and Daniel Hess of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Michael Perucho of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles taught chemistry. Jonathan Kelly of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis was a Wall Street investment banker.

We need holiness and a love for the Eucharist. Leading a community in worship can't become perfunctory. Timothy Holeda II of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida, was not raised Catholic but came to the faith through "a powerful experience of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist" while on a college retreat. "It changed my life," he said, and launched his journey to priesthood.

We need relevance, priests who understand today's world. Young men and women will relate to young priests as peers, and older parishioners will take as loving an attitude toward them as they do towards their own adult children with burgeoning careers and families. Daniel Serbicki of Buffalo seeks relevance as, he says, he "looks for Christ hidden in culture, from subway stations to video games." Older men, who have "been there, done that" bring experience that resonates in homilies. Robert P. Schikora of the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan, has a 35-yaar-old son, a 33-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old granddaughter. "I hope and pray that the many experiences of my life will serve Christ's Church," he says.

Stage presence helps. Often a good liturgical celebrant has theater background. The Mass is a drama that recounts Jesus' death and resurrection, so those comfortable on the stage hold an edge. That bodes well for Steven Jekielek of the Diocese of Buffalo, a founding member of a community theater group. Once he played a priest and fellow cast members told him his clerical garb "was a natural look." They didn't know he had priesthood on his mind. Bryce McProud of the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon, participated in a Metropolitan Opera tryout. I'll bet he can lead a choir. Pope John Paul II had acting experience and a remarkable sense of presence at liturgies. He was comfortable before what at times were a million or more people.

Courage and hope help. Priests can find themselves torn between warring factions of the culture, and even within the parish. Sometimes the pastor feels he stands alone. Some of the ordination class showed courage and hope early in life when they escaped in boats from Vietnam for refugee camps. Anthony Bui of the Diocese of San Bernardino, California, and Dominic Phan of the Dominican order both did.

Family support. Lucky the priest with siblings. They knew him when, and see past the role he properly assumes at ordination. Family support is love that seeks nothing in return. Siblings help him remember that taking out the trash is part of family life. Clerics with fellow priests among their brothers are especially lucky. Brothers Matt and Terrence Coonan, of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, will be ordained together June 11. They will be soul mates who understand like no other the emotions that are part of priesthood, be it the deep sadness at burying someone's child or the contagious joy evoked by the enthusiasm for God in a First Communion class.

The 2011 class of priests has grounded and talented men. They're a gift to everyone, a reason to say thanks to God and to pray for many more.