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June 7, 2009

Cardinal to priests: Give yourself completely

By Michelle Martin


Nine men were ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Chicago May 23 in a liturgy in the chapel of St. Rita High School, 7740 S. Western Ave.

Cardinal George ordained the nine after reminding them that a priest must give himself completely to the church, in the same way a husband gives himself to his wife.

In his homily, he told the ordinandi and their families and friends in the congregation about three priests from his order, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who were killed in the course of their ministry. The most recent was Father Lawrence Rosebaugh, 74, who was shot and killed in Guatemala on May 18, in what authorities are calling a robbery.

“You are called to the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Among those who are committed to your care and to the world, you are to preach forgiveness and work for peace. You are to govern God’s people, judge the sinners and forgive their sins. … As you step forward, know that Christ loves you with a complete love and that Christ is pleased with you. Know that the church rejoices with you and is grateful to you,” the cardinal said.

“Remember as well that Christ was crucified, as was St. Peter, and that St. Paul was beheaded. A world that resists conversion and rejects witness will push back. If you live with the poor, you may be shot by robbers.”

Two of the new priests come from Latin America. Father Benjamin Arevalos is from Mexico; Father Juan Carlos Arrieta Corea is from Colombia. One, Father Augustine Mahonga, is from Tanzania, and Father Andrzej Nowicki and Father Karol Tybor are from Poland.

Of the others, Father Matthew Nemchausky, Father Michael Owen and Father Andrew Smith are all from the Archdiocese of Chicago, while Father Paul Stemn is from the Diocese of South Bend, Ind.

Owen and Nemchausky are the youngest at 26; Smith is the oldest at 42.

Called by name

The ritual included the men being called forward by name and promising their obedience to Cardinal George and his successors. They lay prostrate on the floor while the congregation sang the litany of the saints.

More than 100 priests of the archdiocese followed Cardinal George in laying their hands on the heads of the new priests, after which the auxiliary bishops joined other representatives of the clergy in greeting and congratulating the newly ordained men.

Then the hands of the newly ordained men were anointed. After the gifts of bread and wine were brought up, they were placed in the hands of each of the new priests. All of them then joined the cardinal around the altar for the Eucharistic Prayer. At the end of the Mass, the new priests all bestowed their blessings on Cardinal George.

Showing support

Following the Mass, the new priests gave their first blessings to family and friends.

The congregation included not only family members — including those who had to travel thousands of miles from their home countries — but also newer acquaintances from parishes where the new priests had interned as seminarians or where they have been assigned to start their priestly ministries.

“I really care about the young men being ordained priests,” said Ann Jakubozak, a parishioner at St. Fabian who was invited to the ordination by Nowicki.

Barbara Cottrell and Christine Riley, both from St. Martin de Porres Parish, came to offer support to Smith, a South Sider who worked 10 years as a Chicago police officer before entering the seminary.

“I’ve been calling him all week and texting him and keeping him in prayer,” said Riley, the director of religious education at the parish. “I’m amazed at how many people are here to support these men.”

The chapel at St. Rita was pressed into service for the ordination because Holy Name Cathedral is still closed following a Feb. 4 fire. It was built as part of the original construction of the school, which was Quigley South Preparatory Seminary. That means that many of the priests who came to the ordination started their seminary studies there, said Father Dennis Lyle, the rector of Mundelein Seminary.

The pews filling the chapel’s long nave were assigned to the guests of the men being ordained, with each getting some pews close to the front and some further back.

Near the front, representatives of St. Patricia Parish in Hickory Hills filled a pew in support of Owen, who at 26 is one of the two youngest priests in the archdiocese. Owen will serve as an associate pastor at St. Patricia, and, like the other ordinandi, has spent time at his new parish over the last few months.

Melissa Keegan, the ministry of care coordinator at St. Patricia, attended with her father, Deacon Charlie Keegan, also of St. Patricia.

“Father Michael is such an inspiration to the young people,” she said, noting that a young boy in their group has already expressed interest in becoming a priest. “I wish the whole school could come.”

It’s not surprising that Owen should have that effect on young people. According to his parents, David and Mary Owen, Michael “always had the call.”

He started talking to them about being a priest when he was 9 or 10 years old, his father said.

“I tell him, you didn’t do this, God did it,” David Owen said. What’s more, his younger brother is two years behind him in the seminary.

Also giving thanks to God was Rita Nemchausky, the mother of Father Matthew Nemchausky.

“I’m excited beyond anything,” she said. “He was always so confident that it would happen. We prayed for this.”