Father Joseph Cazenavette, right, and other clergymen lay their hands on men during their ordination Mass at St. Dominics Church in Washington this year.
Paths to priesthood vary,
desire for ordination is constant
WASHINGTON — Despite varying paths to the priesthood, the burning desire for ordination as the culmination of their discernment over a vocation is the one constant among many in the current group of men being ordained as priests.
At just 25 years old, Father Brad Zamora, ordained May 17 for the Archdiocese of Chicago, is a bit of a throwback. In an earlier time, most new priests were his age. This year the median age is 32.
Two priests at his home parish in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood approached him when he was in eighth grade and told him they thought he would make a good priest.
"That was all it took, really, and I entered high school seminary, Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary, the following August," he told Catholic News Service in an email exchange May 21. Although he was in Washington, he could not break away from the eighth-graders from Sts. Faith, Hope and Charity School in Winnetka, Illinois, he had been chaperoning in the nation's capital.
But for Father Rusty Vincent, who was ordained a priest May 31 for the Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi, "I never thought about becoming a priest when I was growing up. It was not until college. It shows that God can call us at any moment in our lives." He made his comments to the Mississippi Catholic, Jackson's diocesan newspaper.
He was one of three priests ordained for Jackson — a rich harvest for a diocese that had not seen a priestly ordination in years. Father Zamora is part of the nation's largest diocesan priestly ordination class at 12, but even that figure doesn't replace the number of priests in Chicago who retire or die each year.
Dominican Father Peter Martyr Yungwirth — his given name is Patrick but Dominicans take on a new name as they approach priesthood — told CNS the day before his May 23 ordination that he had "gotten out of a relationship with a girlfriend" and was sensing a call to a priestly vocation, which he did not want. "I wanted to marry and have a family," he recounted.
But the priest he consulted about this dilemma advised him to discern the priestly vocation. If priesthood was for him, it would make the discernment process quicker; if it wasn't, then he could tell his future children what he understood about priesthood.
"I spent the whole fall semester fighting with the Lord," Father Yungwirth said. God won. What won him over was seeing a TV miniseries in December 2005 on the life of St. John Paul II.
Another new Dominican priest, Father Cajetan Cuddy, was born in South Korea, and adopted and raised by evangelical parents. During his first semester at an evangelical school, Grove City College in Pennsylvania, he befriended one of the sons of Scott Hahn, who had been a Presbyterian minister before joining the Catholic Church.
Father Cuddy, whose baptismal name is Christopher, met the elder Hahn, quickly became convinced that the Catholic Church was best suited for him, and transferred from the evangelical college to the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio. He joined the church and started pondering whether ordained ministry was meant for him.
His adoptive parents, Father Cuddy admitted, were "a little confused" by his switch, thinking he did so "maybe for a girl." But "as time went on, they were real happy" for him.
Deacon Binh Nguyen, who is Vietnamese-American, was also ordained May 31 for the Diocese of Jackson, and like every new priest gets to choose a priest to vest him for his first Mass. He chose not just a priest, but an archbishop: retired Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes of New Orleans.
"I choose him because he is my spiritual director during the time I have studied at Notre Dame Seminary, New Orleans. He has been my closest person to my priestly vocation since 2009," he said.
"He always gives me spiritual support and shares with me a lot of wonderful guidance and insight for my spiritual journey toward the priesthood. He has been teaching me how to become a good and holy priest by passing his great and valuable spiritual experience on (to) me."
Both Father Zamora and the Father Vincent selected Father Henri Nouwen as one of the models for their own priesthood. For the Jackson ordinand, Father Nouwen's "The Return of the Prodigal Son" is Father Vincent's favorite book.
Contributing to this story was Maureen Smith in Jackson.
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