Bishop Conley ordains four priests
By Jean Torkelson
Photo by James Baca/DCR
An economics graduate from Poland, and an aspiring computer engineer from Ecuador. A onetime broadcast major from the University of Colorado-Boulder, and from Loveland, a young man with a desire to teach.
Four men, each with his own talents and treasure, joined the ranks of the Church’s newest priests when they were ordained May 12 at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.
“Ordinations are always a time of great joy and gratitude to God and great hope for the future,” Bishop James Conley, apostolic administrator of Denver, told the packed cathedral audience.
The standing-room only crowd Saturday morning included more than 100 priests and deacons from the archdiocese, as well as a large international sampling of family and friends of the four men. Each will begin serving a parish in the Archdiocese of Denver starting June 13. They are: Father Wojciech Mariusz Gierasimczyk, 31, of Gorzow, Poland, appointed parochial vicar at St. Anthony Parish, Sterling; Father Juan Manuel Bonilla, 29, of Ambato, Ecuador, appointed parochial vicar at St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Denver; Father Samuel Alan Morehead, 28, of Berthoud, Colo., appointed parochial vicar at St. John the Evangelist Parish, Loveland; and Father Ryan Cullin O’Neill, 28, of Fort Collins and Loveland, Colo., appointed parochial vicar, St. Anne Parish, Grand Lake, and surrounding parishes in Granby, Winter Park, Kremmling and Walden.
In his opening remarks, Bishop Conley recounted his recent ad limina visit to Rome, at which he told Pope Benedict XVI about the upcoming ordinations.
“It brought a big smile to his face,” Bishop Conley reported. “He said, ‘Good positive news from Denver!’”
The news is especially good for Denver, which expects more than 80 seminarians to be enrolled next fall at its two seminaries, St. John Vianney Theological Seminary and Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary. Bishop Conley said Denver has the third highest number of seminarians in the nation.
Photos by James Baca/DCR
The ordination rites
Over the course of two hours, the four men participated in a ceremony both ancient and new.
In a dramatically symbolic moment at the start of the ritual, the four men lay face down on the marble floor, symbolizing the laying down of their lives, only to rise up again to be ordained priests of God.
Each man knelt before the bishop, pledging their respect and obedience.
The rite’s pivotal moment occurred when Bishop Conley conferred the priestly office through the laying on of hands as he silently recited the prayer of ordination over each man.
In a symbol of continuity and priestly unity, the concelebrating priests, more than 80 in all, walked forward in a solemn procession to personally lay hands on each ordinand.
The men then donned priestly vestments and presented their palms to Bishop Conley to be anointed with sacred chrism, indicating their distinctive participation in Christ’s ministerial priesthood.
Photos by James Baca/DCR
In recent interviews, the men reflected on their vocations.
For Father Gierasimczyk, Denver was not even on his radar screen, growing up.
“My vocation came from the Neocatechumenal Way, and I was sent by lottery to Denver. I just obeyed God’s choice.”
A graduate of Redemptoris Mater Seminary, he grew up in a Catholic family thinking, “The priest appeared mysterious to me and I wanted to know what this mystery was about.”
Father Bonilla had never left his home in Ecuador for more than a weekend until he entered Denver’s Redemptoris Mater. Fascinated by computer engineering, he was led to the priesthood through the Neocatechumenal Way. He overcame his own early “life without meaning” and now wants to help others do the same.
Father Morehead was following broadcast studies at CU when he sensed an emptiness in the modern technological world. “Perhaps it is precisely due to the hostility of the culture that I found the call to be a priest the more attractive.” When he entered St. John Vianney Seminary, he came to see the priesthood as “the source of authentic freedom.”
Father O’Neill, an aspiring high school teacher while in college, eventually enrolled at St. John Vianney Seminary. “I decided to become a priest partly because the world hates the priesthood and I have always had a desire to go against the grain ... the priesthood is totally countercultural.”
Family and friends
To trumpet fanfare, families brought the eucharistic gifts to the altar. At the recessional, spontaneous applause and cheers broke out as new priests walked down the aisle with their fellow priests. In the outdoor grotto, they were overwhelmed in a crush of well-wishers who begged for their first blessing. In the crowd was Father Gierasimczyk’s parents, Halina and Czeslaw Gierasimczyk.
“This is a blessing of God for me,” his mother said.
“It’s such a thrill to see these wonderful boys,” said Frances Le Clere, a member, with husband Ralph, at St. John the Evangelist Parish, where Father Morehead will soon serve. “Sam is a very holy person.”
Father O’Neill was reunited with Sister Carolyn, his grade school principal from Loveland, who came all the way from Ohio to see him.
“He was a leader, even then,” she recalled. “A spiritual person, even when he was little.”
Edgar Sanchez, a family friend from Ecuador, knelt on the ground to ask Father Bonilla for his blessing. Afterwards, Sanchez said a few words which a bystander translated: “He sees in Father Juan the power of God.”
Jean Torkelson: 303-715-3215; www.twitter.com/DCRegister