Bishop's Column

How great is a good priest

Editor’s Note: On May 23, Bishop Conley ordained four men as new priests in the Diocese of Lincoln. His column this week is an excerpt from his ordination homily. The entire homily can be found here.

St. Francis de Sales, the holy bishop of Geneva during those difficult years immediately following the Protestant reformation, dedicated his episcopal ministry to the formation of priests—to assisting them in developing lives of prayer and discipleship.  Saint Francis knew that a good priest—a generous, available, virtuous priest—could transform a community, a diocese, even the whole world.  Saint Francis knew the potential and the power of the holy orders you will receive today.  He put it simply.  “How great,” he said, “is a good priest.”

John Daxacher was ordained to the sacred priesthood in 1863; one of very the first priests ordained for the newly formed Apostolic Vicariate of Nebraska. He was already 44 years old when he was ordained. He became the first resident pastor of Plattsmouth, until he went to Europe, to raise the funds that would help build the Diocese of Lincoln, the Diocese of Grand Island, the Archdiocese of Omaha.  He sent money home to Nebraska, sorely needed, and he sent seminarians, eager to serve the pioneers of the Great Plains. From Europe, his missionary work built the Church in Nebraska—the generations that followed him are the legacy of his zeal.  We are the legacy of his zeal.  At his death, at 86, Bishop Scannell of Omaha called him a “heroic missionary” for Jesus Christ.

How great is a good priest.

Francis Kopecky was ordained in 1909 in Bohemia.  He came to Crete six years later.  He served the Bohemian families of the plains from a wagon—he’d travel everywhere a family needed a priest.  One Sunday, he got off the train in Tobias.  There was a blizzard.  But there was also a sick child, dying perhaps, who needed to be baptized.  Father Kopecky traveled by wagon for hours to baptize the child.  He prayed along the way, through the wind and the snow, that the child would be healed.  The child was healed, and baptized by a family member. When Father Kopecky finally got to the house and discovered that all was well, he traveled back to Tobias in the wagon through the blizzard.  He got to Church at one in the morning, and there in the sacristy he fell asleep, and woke up ready for early Mass.

How great is a good priest.

Henry Denis was ordained in Poland in 1936.  Three years later, he was sent to a concentration camp.  He lived there for five years, fasting, and suffering, and ministering to his fellow prisoners.  He was nearly executed there.  He came to Nebraska in 1948.  To honor the Blessed Virgin, who had saved his life in Dachau, he built Arapahoe’s Shrine to Our Lady of Fatima.  Many of you have been there.  Father Denis spent the rest of his life inviting families to say the rosary, to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary, to become her sons and daughters.

How great is a good priest.

The priests I described lived in challenging times.  They faced poverty, and war, and persecution.  They faced secularism, and nihilism, and anti-Catholicism.  We face those things too.  The world needs, and has always needed, Jesus Christ.  But the priests of our diocese—and all good priests—will not be deterred by the challenges of the day.  Good priests—and indeed, all disciples of Jesus Christ—always find a way to encounter the living Christ—in order to counter the influence of the world, and the evil one.

Saint Augustine told the faithful of his diocese, the ancient Diocese of Hippo in North Africa, that they could not be deterred by the challenges of their day. “Bad times, hard times” he said, “… this is what people keep saying; but let us live well, and times shall be good. We are the times.  Such as we are, such are the times.”

“We are the times,” says St. Augustine.  As we live, the world shall see goodness. 

How great is a good priest.

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