Fr. Kurt Perera knows his hands were made to do the Lord’s work. That’s how the moment he put his hands in the bishop’s became a key part of his priestly ordination.
“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.
He had just spent two hours blessing hundreds of well-wishers alongside Fr. Chris Axline at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral June 1. Two hours prior to that, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted conferred the sacrament of holy orders upon the two young men. It was one of nearly 500 ordinations to the diocesan and religious priesthood scheduled across the United States this year.
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted reminded a cathedral packed with family, deacons, men and women religious and laity that all holy people are called to the royal priesthood, but priests are established co-workers of the order of bishops. After mature deliberation over the last six years, Fr. Axline and Fr. Perera answered the call to serve as Christ the teacher, priest and shepherd.
“Now dear sons,” the bishop said in one of several direct addresses to the ordinands, “for your part, you will exercise the sacred duty of teaching. Believe what you read. Teach what you believe and practice what you teach.”
The clear instructions didn’t mean their new life’s work would be easy. The bishop drew upon the recent words Pope Francis said concerning the challenge of evangelization.
“I will say just three words,” the pope responded.
Both the Church’s supreme leader and the bishop went on to explain the importance of Jesus, prayer and witness. People cannot effectively move forward with planning and other beautiful things without Jesus, the bishop said. The faith could only be communicated in witness and through love, he added.
“Remember that you are taken from among men and appointed on their behalf for those things that belong to God,” the bishop said.
’I’m giving my son’
That’s a message Fr. Chris Axline, who grew up at St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Chandler, has already embraced. His LinkedIn profile summary simply says, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”
At 28, both of Phoenix’s new priests are among the nation’s largest age group of new priests. Most, 34 percent, are in their 20s. Another 30 percent are in their early 30s at time of ordination.
“He’s going to make such an amazing priest. He’s been on fire for years,” Diane Axline told The Catholic Sun after her son’s ordination.
She remembers a moment during the ordination when Bishop Olmsted talked about Jesus coming down and God giving the world His son. She realized, “Oh, my gosh, I’m giving my son.”
She sees it as a worthwhile sacrifice. Diane described her eldest son — the middle child — as very engaging and welcoming and open to helping anyone who comes to him.
Tom Axline vividly remembers his son telling him on a hike several years ago his plans to enter the seminary. Axline was happy to see everything come full circle now. He was especially moved by the procession of priests — more than 60 of them — who came first to pray for and then to welcome his son to the priesthood.
Each priest took turns laying their hands on Fr. Axline and Fr. Perera as they knelt in front of the altar. Lines poured across the altar steps from both sides of the cathedral.
Axline described the son he can now call “father” as “spiritually sound.” Both of Phoenix’s new priests had supportive parents and family throughout their discernment.
That isn’t always the case.
Almost half of this year’s ordinands nationwide who responded to a survey by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University in Washington indicated that they were discouraged from considering the priesthood by one or more persons. In most cases, it was not a parent, but another family member, friend or classmate.
Fr. Perera beat those odds as well.
“They were very blessed and very happy that God had chosen someone in our family to be a priest,” Fr. Perera said.
Pamela Biggs-Chapman, his godmother who flew in from Brisbane, Australia for the ordination, saw priestly qualities in Fr. Perera a long time ago. She noted his gentleness, compassion and patience. She also remembers her godson being the one to remind others to recite the Angelus at noontime and pray during other parts of the day.
It’s regular devotion that helps foster religious vocations in men and women. Nearly seven in 10 ordinands reported regularly praying the rosary and participating in eucharistic adoration before entering the seminary.
Fr. Paul Sullivan, director of vocations for the diocese, said a number of young people have discovered their vocation in the perpetual adoration chapel at Corpus Christi Parish in particular. That’s where Fr. Perera grew up.
“It’s really, truly a gift to be ordained,” Fr. Perera said.
He was looking forward to seeing the faces of the people of the diocese who supported him through prayer and who he said have been the face of Christ.
The new priests will each be assigned as parochial vicars at two of the diocese’s larger parishes. Fr. Perera will be at Ss. Simon and Jude which has some 4,500 registered families while Fr. Axline will be serving St. Mary Magdalene’s nearly 2,900 families in Gilbert.
The diocese’s newest priests will also be a regular face on local high school campuses. Fr. Axline will be chaplain at Seton Catholic Preparatory High School in Chandler with Fr. Perera taking the same role at Bourgade Catholic High School in Phoenix.