In Thanksgiving

The following is taken from the Thanksgiving that I printed at the end of the worship aid for my First Mass:

Where do I start to give thanks for everyone and everything that has led me to this particular moment in my life? So many have given so much of themselves in order to contribute to my formation and to support me in every possible way during the last five years in seminary. I’m so grateful for every experience – both the joyful ones and the difficult ones – that have made it possible for me to more fully follow God’s call in my life.

The place we always start, of course, is with Almighty God. It is God who created me and God who formed me. It is God who called me from my mother’s womb – before I ever knew God myself. It is God who tests me and God who loves me and God who is the grace by which I can do things I’m not capable of. It is God whose presence in my life makes it possible for me to get out of bed every day and eagerly anticipate whatever will be part of my life in that day. It is God who continues to call me to repentance and God who forgives and God who blesses and encourages and sends me out to do His will. It is God who makes sense of all the things that confound me and God who is the abiding presence in my life, calming my storms or, more often, just calming me. God is the reason for this day and every day. I don’t have adequate words to convey my gratitude to God for all He has done for me; my prayer is that my life will be that thanksgiving, day in and day out.

My heart is completely full of thanksgiving for my family and friends, and especially my parents. Not only have they been completely supportive of this momentous – and rather late – step in my life, but they have been the reason for it in the first place. It was from my parents and grandparents that I first learned the faith and first experienced God. God has used them to show me grace and love and teach me to look for God in every person and in every experience. That faith has given me so much in my life. I am grateful also to my wonderful sisters, Sharon and Peggy, to my brother-in-law John, to my nieces Julia and Molly, my nephew Danny, to all of my aunts and uncles and cousins, and to all of my friends. All these have been family to me, have been sources of God’s love and grace, and have been supportive in ways that have made this journey so much richer. To all of my family and friends, I say thank you for everything you have always given me in my life.

I am thankful, too, to Bishop Imesch, Bishops Kaffer and Schlarman, to Fr. John Regan, our outgoing vocation director, to the faculty and staff of Mundelein Seminary, to all of my field education supervisors, and all those I have served in those assignments, to everyone in my home parish here at St. Petronille and all who have been part of my formation in one way or another. To say that this five-year journey of formation has been rewarding is the biggest understatement I can make! Thank you all for being part of that.

To paraphrase an ancient Jewish prayer: if I had just received all of this love and support, if I had just had this magnificent journey of formation, dayenu, it would have been enough. But to have all of that and be brought to service as a priest of Jesus Christ, well, my heart overflows. Thank you all. Thank God.

+ Fr. Pat

Ordination

Quite a few people have asked me what the Ordination was like for me. Of course, it’s a little beyond words. This whole weekend was certainly the most awesome time of my life; a time where I know God was really working in me and guiding me to where I was created to be in the first place.

Walking into the Cathedral, I was really overwhelmed with emotion. The beauty of the music, the decorations, all of my relatives and friends, as well as the procession of soon-to-be brother priests just left me speechless — literally. I tried to sing the processional song — “Laudate, Laudate Dominum” — one of my favorites, but the words just wouldn’t come out! Clearly, I was meant to be taking this all in, and sometimes that’s best done in silence.

There were several very moving moments for me during the actual Rite of Ordination. When Bishop Imesch said “we choose this man, our brother, for the Order of Priesthood,” I was so filled with joy. Those are the words I had been preparing to hear for five years. Then, as I knelt for the Bishop and priests to lay hands on me, all of which took place in silence, I was really struck by how ancient a rite this is. The apostles first laid hands on Stephen and six other men to become the first deacons of the Church (Acts 6:5-6), and the practice has continued through the ages of the Church, and now to me.

Perhaps the most moving moment for me, though, was after the prayer of Ordination, when I was vested by Fr. Bill Dewan, the pastor from my internship in my second year of theology, and Fr. Jim Donovan, my spiritual director. When the diaconal stole was removed and the presbyteral stole put on, I almost literally felt the Spirit vesting me. At that point, the fact that I was now a Priest of Jesus Christ was very real, and I was once again overwhelmed. By the time my hands were anointed, I was very glad that I had the opportunity to go to the sacristy to wash my hands, because, quite frankly, I needed some time to compose myself. The joy that I then felt as my brother priests offered me the sign of peace, and when I was escorted to my new place among the concelebrating priests in the sanctuary, was better than anything I’ve ever experienced.

Then there was my First Mass of Thanksgiving yesterday at St. Petronille. My homily from that Mass is here.

I was very honored to have a number of my brother priests concelebrating, as well as two of my classmates. Fr. Greg Labus, ordained last year for the diocese of Brownsville, Texas, concelebrated the Mass, and Deacon (soon-to-be Fr.) Chris Reising, to be ordained this coming Friday in DesMoines, Iowa, was my deacon. Many of my friends and family, as well as a number of parishioners from St. Petronille, were there to help me celebrate as well. The choir was composed (no pun intended) of many of my former choir members, some of my family, and folks with whom I’ve worked in music ministry along the way. They were incredible, and the music was a welcome addition to the prayer.

I was rather nervous, as you might expect, getting ready for Mass. I took time to pray, but even then, I didn’t calm down until the Sprinkling Rite. I must admit, I probably enjoyed bestowing the fullness of the sign of water on my friends and family a bit too much! But that was what I needed to relax, and to focus on each part of the Mass rather than anticipate what came next (advice given to me by Fr. Dan Bachner). The joy of celebrating the Eucharist for the first time was absolutely incredible, and I feel so incredibly blest to be a Priest of Jesus Christ.

I am so grateful for everything so many have done to make this weekend so beautiful. From Sr. Sharon of the Office of Divine Worship, to the choirs for both Ordination and my First Mass, to my brother priests, family and friends — everything was wonderful. Thank you all!

So, you’re probably looking for pictures. Soon, I promise!

Update: Here are a couple of articles recently published by The Catholic Explorer, our diocesan newspaper, about my then-upcoming ordination: