Catholics from around the Diocese of Phoenix packed into Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral June 28 to witness Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted ordain Kevin Grimditch, Keith Kenney and Scott Sperry to the order of priests.
The faithful from parishes where the men have served or will serve this coming year joined family, friends and others who have been praying for them throughout their formation for the nearly two-hour liturgy. So many showed up to rejoice in the men’s priestly ordination that some lined the side and back walls, testing the church’s capacity.
Bishop Olmsted said it was God’s love and providence that worked in the lives of families, parishes, Serra Clubs and the seminary, in particular, that prepared them for ordination. Fr. Paul Sullivan, director of vocations for the Diocese of Phoenix, presented the seminarians — who spent their final year of formation as transitional deacons — to the bishop. He testified, that after careful inquiry among many voices, he found them worthy of the call to the priesthood.
“Consider carefully the rank in the Church to which they are about to be ordained,” the bishop said in his homily, delivered as he sat in front of the altar. Jesus chose certain Apostles so that, through them and the bishops, He might continue to exercise His office as priest, the bishop said.
“In being configured to Christ, the eternal high priest… they will be consecrated as eternal priests of the new covenant, to preach the Gospel and celebrate the liturgy,” Bishop Olmsted said.
In the Spanish portion of his homily, he spoke of the many challenges the men would face, such as the culture of death and the violence and threats to religious liberties.
“We need faithful men who tenderly love the Virgin Mary and the Church,” the bishop said, later identifying the providence of being ordained on the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. “We need priests who live and preach the word of God, who celebrate the Mass with joy and deep love. We pray to God that He will send his grace and blessings on them. Let them always be faithful and generous servants of Christ the Good Shepherd.”
During the ordination rite, the bishop reminded the priests-to-be of their role as Christ the teacher. He encouraged them to believe what they read, teach what they believe and practice what they teach.
“Let what you teach be nourishment for the people of God so that by word and example, you can build up the house of God, which is His Church,” the bishop said.
The men, standing at the foot of the altar, resolved to celebrate faithfully the Eucharist and sacrament of reconciliation. They also vowed to pray without ceasing and be united more closely every day to Christ.
One by one, Grimditch, Kenney and Sperry spent their final moments before priesthood kneeling before the bishop, promising him their respect and obedience. They prostrated themselves in a single file line flowing out from the altar and tabernacle while the faithful chanted a litany of saints.
When they arose, the bishop laid his hands on the head of each ordinand, and then dozens of fellow priests from throughout the diocese followed suit. The bishop then anointed the hands of the diocese’s newest priests.
Each of those moments was pivotal for newly ordained Fr. Kenney. He called them the most profound moment of his life.
“It’s that sense of you belong to a brotherhood that’s something supernatural,” he explained after Mass and bestowing two hour’s worth of blessings upon the faithful who stood in line to take turns kneeling before him in the cathedral’s Smith Hall.
“It’s not my priesthood. It’s Jesus’ priesthood and He shared it with the Apostles. That makes us brothers by grace,” Fr. Kenney said.
Fr. Sperry found those moments when he encountered the bishop profound.
“Just watching the bishop’s face — he is our pastor and our father and to know that my priesthood shared in his priesthood gives me great joy,” Fr. Sperry said.
The three new priests concelebrated the liturgy of the Eucharist with the bishop. That moment was key for Fr. Grimditch, especially during the elevation as he held the body of Christ in his hands.
“To be so intimately involved in the sacrifice, there was really what stood out,” Fr. Grimditch said.
He said it was a blessing to see the many faces of those who had been praying for him throughout his formation attend the reception after the Mass of ordination. The new priest welcomed the chance to pray with them for particular needs in their lives.
“Going to the altar, the whole consecration, is really consecrating all they’ve done for me,” Fr. Grimditch said.
He was one of 52 seminarians from the Pontifical North American College in Rome scheduled for ordination this year. Fr. Kenney and Fr. Sperry were among 11 from St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver.
Phoenix’s trio contributed to the estimated 477 prospective ordinands in dioceses and religious orders throughout the United States this year.
— Joyce Coronel contributed to this story.