“Priesthood is not a job of your choice. It is a mission that God has given you,” Bishop Edward Malesic told the four men who were ordained as priests for the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland on May 15 in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.
The newly ordained priests, their parents and home parishes are:
- Alexander Vincent Clark, son of Edward and Ann Clark of Akron, of St. Francis de Sales Parish, Akron;
- Cameron David Popik, son of Robert and Jane Popik of Naples, Florida, St. Adalbert Parish, Berea;
- Alexander Charles Spenik, stepson of John and son of Kimberly Kulesa of Hudson, Mother of Sorrows Parish, Peninsula;
- James Thornton Winings, son of Robert and Jean Winings of Beachwood, St. Dominic Parish, Shaker Heights.
The bishop acknowledged the other priests and bishops in attendance, including Auxiliary Bishop emeritus Roger Gries and Bishop emeritus Anthony Pilla, who ordained his first class of priests 41 years ago. Among that class of eight, several were in attendance, including Father Mark Latcovich, president-rector of Borromeo and Saint Mary seminaries; Father Gary Yanus, diocesan judicial vicar and a seminary professor; and Father Steve Vellenga, director of the Diocesan Propagation of the Faith/Mission Office and pastor of St. Mary Parish in Painesville.
“I know our candidates for priesthood are excited today,” Bishop Malesic said, adding that he also knows they’re ready.
“We are, too. And our priests are ready to welcome you with open arms as new brothers.”
They made it through the pandemic and can see a light at the end of the tunnel the bishop said, encouraging them to use their zeal “to minister to a Church that is ready to be better than normal.”
He said he hopes the newly ordained priests will enjoy their priesthood as much as he has, but he cautioned that there would be some difficult moments, as in any vocation. Despite those challenges, he said he would do it again, adding, “Ordinations make priests a bit nostalgic.”
The bishop recalled being alone his first night at his first parish. A woman called, saying she was dying, and asking him to anoint her. “She wasn’t dying, but she was very sick and afraid,” he said. He brought her the comfort of the sacraments, “and hopefully I brought her a comforting presence too: not me, but Christ.” He continued to visit her for the next two years and to accompany her through a difficult illness until he was transferred to another parish.
Through his priesthood, the bishop said he has been humbled to know there are many people much holier than him. “In service to God’s people, they will ask you to baptize them, forgive their sins and celebrate the sacraments with them being stewards of God’s most sacred mysteries.”
When asked what he liked best about being a priest, Bishop Malesic said, “My most fulfilling moment of the day is when I am celebrating the holy sacrifice of the Mass. Only the priest can do what we do at this altar. Understand what you do and imitate what you celebrate. It is the Lord’s sacrifice that the Lord is asking you to imitate. Today, we are witnessing the offering of your lives in service to Christ’s Church.”
He cautioned the new priests not to make the celebration of Mass routine. “Celebrate every Mass as if it was your first Mass, your last Mass and your only Mass.” He also reminded them that priests do more than celebrate Mass, so “Make sure that you come with batteries included,” he quipped.
There will be things they will do that can’t be taught in the seminary or learned in a pastoral assignment. “People should always come first when you encounter them,” he said.
As priests, they will be more public figures. The bishop urged them to be a good father to the people. “Don’t accept the title ‘father’ without being willing to accept the role of a spiritual father. Always keep before your eyes the example of the Good Shepherd who came not to be served but to serve, and who came to seek out and save what was lost.”
God is leading them on an amazing journey, he told the newly ordained. “It takes a lifetime to complete … After today, you are a priest forever. Not even death will change that.” They will intercede on behalf of God’s people so he reminded them to take those needs with them when they pray. “And do everything with the joy that comes from knowing Jesus Christ. Use my motto if you want, ‘Serve the Lord with gladness.’”
But, he cautioned, “There are forces out there that want to take that joy away you … jealousy, anger, disappointment, gossip, desire for money and recognition, those people who unjustly criticize you and the constant battle you will wage against a culture that is opposed to those things you value, these are some of the things that can rob you of your joy. They come compliments of the devil. Reject anything he sends your way. Never let him rob you of your joy.”
He shared some advice Pope Francis had this year for newly ordained priests, telling them to develop a four-fold closeness in their ministry: closeness to God, to the bishop, to each other and to the people of God.
The bishop also reminded them that “as men called to proclaim the Gospel, we expect you to tells us the truth. Trends and fashions come and go but the Gospel never changes, so preach the Gospel in its completeness.” In addition, they should practice what they preach and acknowledge that they are not the savior of the Church – Jesus is – and he has a way of reminding them in case they forget.
They hold a treasure in earthen vessels, the bishop said, adding that the Gospel reading should give them some consolation. He reminded them that Jesus asked St. Peter – a human and sinful man – if he loved him. Peter answered, “Yes,” and Jesus told him to “Feed my lambs.”
Today, Jesus asks the same question of them.
“Now Jesus makes that final request of you – speaking heart to heart – he asks you: ‘Feed my sheep.’ The sheep are hungry. Do what he asked of you. Go feed his sheep. Go be a priest,” Bishop Malesic said.
Each newly ordained priest received his first assignment as a parochial vicar. Father Clark will minister at St. John Vianney Parish, Mentor; Father Popik at St. Hilary Parish, Fairlawn; Father Spenik at St. Mary Parish, Painesville; and Father Winings at St. Raphael Parish, Bay Village.