WASHINGTON (April 14, 1997) -- Lawyers, engineers, teachers, farmers, a doctor and a college basketball coach are among the almost 500 men to be ordained Catholic priests in the United States this spring.
Some of them, such as Kevin Birmingham and Andrew Santos, of the Archdiocese of Chicago, are as young as 25. Most are in their later twenties and thirties. One man, Augustinian Brother William Olivas, who will be ordained an Augustinian priest, is 76.
The Class of '97 also includes two sets of brothers, Theodore and Brian Dudzinski, in the Diocese of Lafayette (IN), and identical twins, Joseph and Thomas Trupkovich, in the Diocese of Greensburg (PA).
Five men to be ordained began their road to the Catholic priesthood in another church. Nelson Martin, of the Diocese of Beaumont (TX); William Lipscomb, of the Diocese of Gaylord (MI); and Walter Ray Williams, of the Diocese of Charlotte (NC) are converts from the Episcopalian church. George Reynolds, of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles was a Jehovah's Witness and Kyle Haden, of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, was a member of a Charismatic Evangelical Church.
Several men studied for the priesthood after establishing careers in other fields.
Michael Manning, of the Diocese of Trenton (NJ), was an emergency room physician and John Currie of the Archdiocese of Boston was a stockbroker. Timothy O'Malley, of the Chicago Archdiocese is both a certified public accountant and a lawyer. Charles Herman of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend (IN), was a teacher; John Flanagan, of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, was a basketball coach at Neuman College. Steven Wertanen of the Detroit Archdiocese was art director at an advertising firm.
David Grundman, of the St. Cloud Diocese (MN) and Dan Greving of the Sioux City (IA) Diocese, were farmers, Raymond Hager, of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, was a mechanical engineer, Jeffrey Maasen is a lawyer and was a public defender in St. Louis, and Patrick Dempsey of the Archdiocese of Washington, was a librarian at the Library of Congress. Emmett Sarsfield, of the Diocese of Yakima (WA), is a retired U.S. Navy officer and Claretian order member John Molyneaux was editor of a medical magazine, and Thomas Perrin, of the Divine Savior order, was an engineer.
Educational backgrounds vary as well. Some of the priests-to-be are graduates of Catholic Universities. Daniel Leary, of the Washington Archdiocese, for example, is a graduate of Villanova University and Stephen Nash, also of the Washington Archdiocese, is a graduate of The Catholic University of America. Others graduated from non-religiously affiliated schools. Peter Zalewski, of the Pensacola-Tallahassee (FL) Diocese, is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Kurt Nagel of the Seattle Archdiocese has a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins; and R. Gabriel Pivarnik, who will become a Dominican order priest, graduated with honors from William and Mary College.
The class of '97 includes Caucasians, Hispanics, Asians and African Americans, and reflects the racial and ethnic diversity of the Catholic Church in the United States in the Nineties. Most of the men are native-born Americans but several were born in Mexico, Vietnam, Poland, and Colombia. Others were born in Korea, Haiti, China, the Philippines, Ireland and Lebanon.
The ordination class in the Archdiocese of Atlanta includes five men, each born in a different country: Gordon Sidler, from the United States; Guyma Noel, from Haiti; Samuel Porras-Gomez, Colombia; Tuan Quoc Tran, Vietnam; and Darragh Griffith, Ireland.
In the Diocese of Brooklyn (NY), where Mass is celebrated in 18 languages each weekend, five of the men to be ordained were born in the United States, two in Korea, and one each in India and Trinidad.
"There is an immense amount of talent and ethnic diversity among the men to be ordained this spring," said Father Timothy Reker, the head of the U.S. Bishops' Office for Vocations and Priestly Formation. "There are men who entered the seminary after high school or college. There also are men who enrolled in seminary studies after professional careers in fields such as law and investments. A few have children and grandchildren."
John Wandless, 60, who owned a software computer company, for example, is a widower, father and grandfather. He will be ordained for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph (MO).
Father Reker noted the broad background of the candidates after reviewing materials provided by dioceses on the men to be ordained this spring.
Worldwide the number of ordinations is up according to statistics from the Vatican. In the United States, the number of ordinations have remained steady for five years.
To increase awareness of vocations, the U.S. Bishops last year launched A Future Full of Hope, a vocations strategy focusing on parents, parishes and priests and their role in encouraging young people to think of becoming priests, brothers and sisters.
"Parents are urged to be open to having a vocation to the priesthood or religious life in their family," said Father Reker. "This became especially important after we saw statistics that showed that many more youth said they had thought about becoming priests than had been encouraged to do so by their parents."
"The parish role also is important," said Father Reker, "so the Church is encouraging parishes to set up vocation committees and even to suggest directly to some youth that they have the qualities to make good priests, sisters and brothers."
He cited Quincy, Massachusetts, a Boston suburb, which is home to four of the 12 men being ordained for the Boston Archdiocese.
"Three of the men, Robert Kickham, James Seymour Jr., and David Barnes, come from Sacred Heart Parish in North Quincy. Brian Clary comes from St. Mary's Parish in West Quincy. The area was known for having priests who promoted vocations."
"Priests themselves also have a more important role than they realize," Father Reker said.
"As the spiritual leader of the parish, they should not be shy about personally inviting young men and women to consider becoming priests, brothers and sisters," he said.
The number of priests in the United States today is more than 49,000. About 32,400 have been ordained for dioceses and 16,600 have been ordained for religious orders such as the Jesuits, Franciscans, Dominicans and Benedictines.
Others in the church's public ministry in the United States include more than 89,000 religious sisters, 6,300 religious brothers and 11,500 deacons.
TV News Directors: A video news release on vocations will be delivered by satellite in May. Time for delivery TBA.