By Tanya Connor
WORCESTER – St. Paul Cathedral was filled Saturday for the ordination of eight priests, the highest number ordained for the Diocese in any one year in more than three decades.
The last year this happened was 1979, when eight men were ordained priests, according to Owen Murphy, former editor of The Catholic Free Press, who has researched diocesan history for years. He said seven were ordained in 1980, eight in 1978 and nine in 1977.
Saturday the eight men received a standing ovation from the congregation and clergy during the part of the ordination rite called “election by the bishop and assent of the people.”
The new priests are Father Mateus Monteiro de Souza, the first Brazilian ordained for the Diocese; Fathers Donato Infante III and Stephen E. Lundrigan, who were reared in the Diocese, and five men from Colombia: Fathers Andres A. Araque, Juan D. Escudero, Daniel E. Moreno, Juan S. Ramirez and Carlos A. Ruiz.
“I knew every one of them – eight of them,” said Theresa Burchstead, a member of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Fitchburg and a former member of the Serra Club in North County, which supports vocations along with Serra South. “They’re going to make beautiful priests. Every one of them has holiness, and isn’t that the basis of a good priest?”
“I think this was fantastic,” her husband, Richard Burchstead, said of the ordination.
Claudia Viola, who read a Scripture reading in Portuguese at the ordination, said she was happy that the Diocese had ordained it’s first Brazilian priest.
“We’re very happy and blessed,” she said. “I believe I can say that on behalf of the Brazilian community here” at St. Anna Parish in Leominster. She described their reaction as: “Wow! This is a good thing!” She expressed hope that God sends more men like Father Monteiro de Souza to be priests, maybe Brazilians who follow his example and come here from their home country.
“How do I describe it?” asked Fanny Escobar, a member of St. Paul Cathedral and liaison to Hispanic ministry for the permanent diaconate office. She and her husband, Deacon Francisco Escobar, came here from Colombia in 1965. She expressed gratitude to God that five men from her country were ordained priests at the same time – a first for the Diocese – and called it a special blessing for the whole community, especially the Colombians.
“They are so well prepared to build a community,” she said of the new priests, adding that they learned that in seminary in Colombia.
Father Ruiz’ family members who came from Colombia for his ordination shared their feelings about it simply, in their native Spanish.
“Feliz” (happy), said his mother, Maria Victoria Vasquez.
“Una allegria imensa,” elaborated his grandmother Ana Ligia Arango expressing the same basic sentiment.
“Mucha felizcidad,” said his aunt Olga Ruiz.
Family members of Father Infante came from within the Diocese and other states.
“It seemed so long ago when we were planning for it … and he’s a priest,” his mother, Jean E. Infante, of St. John, Guardian of Our Lady Parish in Clinton, said after the ordination. “You just feel so filled with love and joy and pride.”
“We’ve been waiting for this since he started,” said his cousin Angela Salvatoriello, who came in from Cedar Grove, N.J. “My mom is pretty handicapped and she pulled it together” to come.
“It was beautiful to see – only once in a lifetime,” added her mother, Grace Infante.
“Catholicism is an interesting religion,” said Father Infante’s brother-in-law Kenneth Elkins, of Rock Hill, S.C., who said he was reared Southern Baptist. “You guys really like pomp and circumstance and it’s a blast to do it once a year.” He said this was his first time at a priestly ordination, but he’d attended Father Infante’s ordination to the transitional diaconate in Rome.
Barbara Phelan, of Our Lady of the Angels in Worcester, Father Lundrigan’s home parish, lamented that his parents didn’t live to see his ordination. She told about his father asking her how long it would take for him to become a priest, longing to see that day.
“In the end, both his parents saw what happened today,” she said, thinking of them watching from heaven. “They were very, very devout people.”
Catholics here have become like family for new priests from other countries. That’s how members of St. Patrick Parish in Rutland were talking about Father Escudero after his ordination.
“Rev. Juan,” said Sandra Ackerman, stressing his new title. “This was the most touching thing I have ever been through in my whole life,” she said of the ordination. She said the most emotional part for her was seeing Father C. Michael Broderick, their pastor and Father Escudero’s mentor, embrace him.
Carol Lambert said her most touching moment was when Father Escudero blessed Father Broderick “because I realized how close they were and now the roles were reversed.”
Ellie Mohamed said Father Escudero is marvelous and she started to cry when she went up to him for Communion.
People in the parishes “welcome them in their parish,” and look forward to the ordination, John Shannon, president of Serra North and a member of St. Leo Parish in Leominster, said.
Robert DeBettencourt, of Serra North and St. Anna Parish in Leominster, said Serrans “adopt” individual seminarians. They pray for them and send them letters and money. He said he had Father Moreno and Father Monteiro de Souza.
“It’s just absolutely beautiful – for them and for us,” said Irene Russell, of Serra South and St. Louis Parish in Webster. She said she “adopted” Father Infante.
“He gave me a blessing,” she said. “That was very touching.”
Supporting the seminarians “does help them and it also helps you … because they’re still studying” to become priests, Mr. DeBettencourt said. “And then when you see them get ordained” – that’s the crowning moment. But, he said, you continue praying for them.