Diocesan News

Tradition abounds: Bishop Conley ordains Christendom grads in Leesburg

Editor’s note: This item by Maria-Pia Negro first appeared in the June 18 Catholic Herald of the Diocese of Arlington. It is reprinted with permission. The photo below is used courtesy of of Craig Spiering of Spiering Photography. More photos are available at Spieringphotography.com. Other FSSP priests were ordained May 31 in Omaha.

LEESBURG - St. John the Apostle Church in Leesburg overflowed with friends, family and diocesan parishioners who came to witness Christendom College alumni Zachary Akers and Daniel Heenan being ordained as priests of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter June 14.

Father Heenan’s mother, Lisa, could not find the words to describe her immense happiness after the ordination ceremony.

“He is a blessing in our lives,” she said. “I feel privileged that God made me responsible for him.”

She said she was grateful to Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde for letting the two local men have their ordination in the Arlington Diocese, which allowed for family, classmates and friends to come and see the beautiful traditional rite of ordination.

This Mass marked the first time a pontifical high ordination Mass in the extraordinary form took place in the diocese.

The Fraternity of St. Peter — an order dedicated to the formation of priests in the service of the traditional liturgy of the Roman rite and the pastoral deployment of the priests in the service of the church — usually celebrates its ordinations at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ in Lincoln, Neb. But the new priests wished to be ordained in the diocese where their vocations were fostered.

Lincoln Bishop James D. Conley ordained the two men. Bishop Loverde and more than 50 priests attended the four-hour ordination Mass in choro.

Fraternity of St. Peter Father Neal Nichols said that having the ordination ceremony in Virginia spreads out the beauty of these types of Masses, which are filled with solemn rites, chants and time for quiet prayers.

“It’s a way to show the world the beauty of the solemnity of the ceremony, a treasure of the church” he said.

The ordination came on the heels of tragic news that one of the order’s priests was murdered, and another critically wounded during a burglary June 11 at their church in Arizona. Bishop Conley began his homily praying for the soul of Father Kenneth Walker and for the recovery of Father Joseph Terra.

Addressing the men, Bishop Conley said that “the beauty of the priesthood is an incomprehensible reality,” and through priests “the world will know and experience God’s love, God’s generosity and God’s mercy.”

He said that St. Francis de Sales “knew the potential and power of the holy orders” of the priesthood when he said that a good priest — that is, a generous, available, virtuous priest — “could transform a community, a diocese, even the whole world.”

Bishop Conley met the new priests while teaching at Christendom College Rome Campus. “Like other Christendom students, they were filled with laughter,” he said. “And most importantly, they sought to become disciples of Jesus Christ.”

Earlier this month, the alumni said that going to the small college in Front Royal played a pivotal role in their vocations. According to a Christendom press release, Father Heenan’s time at the college, especially during his semester in Rome, instilled in him a love for the traditional liturgy, which eventually led him to Fraternity of St. Peter.

Bishop Conley added that Christendom has borne great fruit for the kingdom of God. The vocations the college has helped foster include 72 priests, 49 sisters, three deacons, three brothers and 22 men in seminary.

Bishop Conley reminded the then deacons that their priestly ministry must begin with the Eucharist.

“If you begin with the Eucharist, you will joyfully become missionary disciples of Jesus Christ,” he said. The ordination ceremony took place within the Mass. The bishop’s words in Latin reminded the candidates of the dignity and sacredness of their priestly duties.

After the candidates were prostrated on the floor and Bishop Conley imposed his hands on them, the ceremony’s solemn prayer and form of the sacrament took place.

Then, the newly ordained Fathers Heenan and Akers knelt before the bishop. Following the ceremony’s rites, the bishop arranged the stole in the form of a cross over their chests and said in Latin, “Take the yoke of the Lord, for His yoke is sweet and His burden light.” Next he invested each one with the chasuble, saying, “Take the vestment of priesthood, which signifies charity; for God is able to advance you in charity and in perfection.”

After the anointing of the hands, the new priests were presented with the host and chalice.

The new priests were ecstatic as they processed out of the church. Before going to a reception, they gave their first blessing to Bishop Conley and their families.

“It’s just a real blessing to have a priest in the family,” said Father Akers’s sister, Sarah. “Growing up, my mom and dad had a real devotion to praying for priests.”

Father Jerome W. Fasano, pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in Front Royal, who has known the Heenans and Akers for a long time, was overjoyed. “I have been so happy to see their progress,” he said. “It’s a wonderful day for the priesthood.”

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