Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted ordained Fathers Chris Axline and Kurt Perera to the priesthood at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral on June 1, the Feast of St. Justin Martyr. The second century saint converted to the faith as a young adult and serves as an example of holiness for the new priests.
“St. Justin was filled with holy zeal like you profess today,” the bishop told them. The young men, both 28, went from majoring in religious studies in college to the seminary. They were eager to see their years of discernment come to fruition and to utterly give themselves to God and His people.
The ordinands sat with their families until the Call of the Elect. That’s when they affirmed their resolve for the priesthood and promised obedience.
The Litany of Saints moved Fr. Axline. While the people prayed for the saints’ intercession, he prayed as well.
“Lord, make me faithful. Make me be the priest you created me to be,” Fr. Axline repeated throughout the two-hour Mass.
The young men would spend another two hours offering their first blessings — their parents first, according to tradition, and then to hundreds of well-wishers. Catholics showed up in droves to pray for the newly ordained priests, overcrowding the cathedral. Some knew one or both of the ordinands from their summer assignments as seminarians the last few years.
Others — like those who chartered bus from St. Mary Magdalene in Gilbert — were eager to get to know the new priests. Fr. Axline will start serving the 11-year-old East Valley parish July 1.
An adjustment period will be normal, but Fr. Axline already knows the pastor, Fr. Will Schmid, from seminary. Fr. Axline is getting used to referring to other ordained men as his “brother priests.”
The diocese’s two newest priests were among 497 men projected to be ordained for the priesthood nationally this year. A good three-fourths of them responded to the annual survey of ordained released by the Center for applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University in Washington.
Most priests who responded are between 25 and 39 years of age. At 28, Phoenix’s newly ordained are younger than the national average age of 35.5. Fr. Perea, who was born in Malaysia, joins the 31 percent born outside the United States..
The largest number of foreign born priests came from Mexico, Vietnam, Colombia, Poland, the Philippines and Nigeria. Foreign-born priests made up 20-30 percent of those ordained to the diocesan priesthood for each of the last 10 years.
Fr. Perera moved to the U.S. with his parents and younger brother at age 5 and grew up at Corpus Christi Parish in Ahwautkee. He finds the growth of the U.S. Church amazing.
Spanish-speaking Catholics serve a vital role at the parish where Fr. Perera served while in seminary. More attended the one Spanish-language Mass than the three English-language liturgies combined, he said.
Fr. Perera is excited for his first year of priestly ministry. He doesn’t think the six years in seminary are enough to prepare him for God’s surprises. He especially anticipated his Mass of Thanksgiving, saying in would be “an intimate moment with our Lord.”
As for the ordination rite itself, Fr. Perera was overcome with emotion the moment the bishop anointed his hands.
“I was struck knowing that through the Holy Spirit, I will be using these hands to forgive and to offer other sacraments,” Fr. Perera said.
Both priests attended each other’s Mass of Thanksgiving at their home parishes June 2.
- Fr. Chris Axline will be parochial vicar of St. Mary Magdalene Parish in Gilbert and chaplain of Seton Catholic Preparatory High School, effective July 1.
- Fr. Kurt Perera will be parochial vicar of Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral and chaplain of Bourgade Catholic High School, effective July 1.