Catholic Free Press

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  • Jan
  • 5

The joy of ordination

Posted By January 5, 2012 | 1:32 pm | Lead Story #1

By Tanya Connor

WHITINSVILLE – Hugs, smiles and applause expressed joy and gratitude here last weekend. The celebration spanned two years, but the preparation took longer.
St. Patrick Parish’s second “Father Juan” was ordained a priest here Dec. 31, 2011 and celebrated his first Mass Jan. 1, 2012.
“Oh my goodness,” the pastor, Father Michael Broderick, exclaimed at the end of Father Juan Herrera’s ordination Mass Saturday. “At the second go-round of hugs I said, ‘Juan, you’re a priest!’ and he said, ‘Finally!’”
It was a “second” for Father Broderick and Father Herrera. The two had exuberantly hugged each other at the traditional times during an ordination Mass: after Father Broderick vested him and at the “welcoming into the order of priest,” for which all the priests embrace the newly ordained. Father Broderick was last, and as the two rejoiced together, the congregation applauded. Father Herrera then spread his arms triumphantly toward the congregation.
The cause for celebration was awhile in coming. Father Herrera’s priestly ordination was “off season” because of seminary requirements, according to Father James S. Mazzone, director of the Office for Vocations. Typically, ordinations are held in June at St. Paul Cathedral.
Father Herrera, 31, told The Catholic Free Press he entered the seminary program at Seminary Major of Medellin in his native Colombia in 2000, and studied for his bachelor of arts in philosophy at Pontifical Bolivarian University.
In April 2007 he had an interview with Father Mazzone and Father Edwin A. Gómez, who was helping  Father Mazzone seek prospective priests in Colombia. By May, Father Herrera said, he was accepted into the diocese’s program for seminarians, and came to Worcester that August.
Father Mazzone said Father Herrera, who was ordained a transitional deacon June 5, 2010, needed to earn at least 51 percent of his master’s of divinity credits from St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, despite many theology credits from Colombia. He reached the needed number of credits this past semester.
It wasn’t always easy.
“I know how many times both of us said, ‘Oh no, I’m going back to Colombia,’” Father Herrera’s best friend, Father Nelson J. Rivera, said in the homily at his first Mass Sunday. “I remember how many times I cried in your room, and you cried in mine. You are here, Juan, because of the providence of God.”
The two men met in seminary in Colombia and continued studies together at St. John’s in Brighton. Father Rivera, ordained a transitional deacon in December 2010 and a priest last June, is associate pastor of Blessed John Paul II Parish in Southbridge.
“God loves you and God is crazy,” Father Rivera continued, to laughter from the congregation. “We are the proof that God is crazy, because he’s using us.”
He told his friend not to focus on how to pronounce words during the consecration, but rather on the action.
“That moment is when you are a priest,” Father Rivera said. Like the Eucharist, he said, priests need to break their lives and give themselves to the people.
“It’s not about us; it’s about God,” he had said earlier. “You have to be the face of God for all of these people. This is about humility, Juan. He wants you to be a priest with a heart like Mary. … Always say ‘yes’ to God. Don’t be a priest of your rectory; be a priest of your people. … You are our source of holiness.” He told his friend that at his ordination the angels sang “Glory to God in the highest” because this world has a new light – “you.”
As Bishop McManus had done at the ordination, Father Rivera thanked Father Herrera’s family, here from Colombia for the occasion, in Spanish. The congregation applauded.
Father Rivera and Father Herrera turned toward each other, then spontaneously met in a warm embrace.

Father Herrera recalled how, six months ago, he was deacon for Father Juan D. Echavarría, now St. Patrick’s associate pastor, at his first Mass in the parish. Both had assignments at St. Patrick’s as seminarians.
“Now I am the priest,” Father Herrera said. Later Father Broderick teased, “I’m still the pastor.”
Father Herrera expressed thanks to God, the diocese (“because this is my home”),  and people who helped him, including Father Joseph A. Marcotte, of St. Louis Parish in Webster, where he was assigned last semester and where he said he is to serve as a priest.
Father Herrera called forward his family members who came in from Colombia, thanked them in Spanish and introduced them to the congregation: his parents, Luis Alfonso Herrera and Eufrosina Gil; his siblings, Julio Herrera Gil and Dora Herrera Gil, and his aunt Teresa Gil.
At the beginning of his first Mass he had knelt before his parents for their blessing, a Colombian tradition.
At the end of the ordination Mass Father Herrera gave Bishop McManus the traditional blessing. After Mass worshippers came forward for Father Herrera’s blessing.
“He has the best spirit of anyone I’ve ever met,” Sarah Mombourquette, of St. Patrick’s, a cantor for the ordination, told The Catholic Free Press after Father Herrera blessed her, her sister Annie, and their parents, Roger and Shelly Mombourquette. “I can’t help but smile whenever I see him.”
“He’s just incredibly happy,” said her sister. “You can tell that when he serves others, he’s serving God.”
Their father called him one of the best homilists, and said, “He touches my heart every time.” Their mother, St. Patrick’s religious education secretary, recalled the love he showed for teenagers when participating in a service program with them.
“He’s got the greatest smile,” said David Piper, also from St. Patrick’s.
“He’s like our son almost,” added his wife, Jeanne Piper.
“I was an acolyte … and he helped me tremendously,” said Michael Kittredge, who worked with Father Herrera when he served at Our Lady of Good Counsel in West Boylston.
After receiving the new priest’s blessing with her parents, Peter and Maryanne Swartz, of St. Patrick’s, and sister Angelina, little Sophia summed up the celebration this way: “Yea!”