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WASHINGTON—Gregory A. Rapisarda of the Archdiocese of Baltimore is a widowed deacon with four children, one of whom is priest. When he is ordained to the priesthood this year, he and his son will be the first father-son priests to serve in the archdiocese since its founding. Rapisarda is an oldster in a class where the median age is 33. Over half (56 percent) of the 440 men being ordained to the priesthood in U.S. dioceses and religious communities this year are between the ages 25 and 34. Eleven men being ordained are age 65 or older, and young and old alike, the priests of the class of 2010 come from an eclectic array of backgrounds, careers and life experiences.
Paul Kubista of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis worked on the Playstation 3 processor at IBM before entering the seminary. Roy Runkle of the Diocese of Birmingham, Alabama was an aerospace engineer with NASA for 38 years. Members of the Dominican Order Tap Vu and Patrick Tobin hold PhDs in mechanical engineering and chemistry, respectively.
Baltimore’s Rapisarda is not the only widowed deacon being ordained this year. Others include James Reinhart of the Archdiocese of Louisville, who’s been a deacon for 27 years and is a father and grandfather, and D. Mark Hamlet of Austin, who was ordained a permanent deacon in 1995, was married for 37 years and has six children and 11 grandchildren.
Joseph Cretella, being ordained by the Archdiocese of Hartford, entered seminary after high school, left after seven years, volunteered in the Peace Corps for two years, was married for 40 years and now has three children and seven grandchildren. His wife died three years ago. He re-entered seminary in 2008, and is now being ordained at age 71.
With the permanent diaconate in place for several decades now, the Church is seeing a growing number of priests with deacon dads. In the Archdiocese of Washington, Anthony Lickteig notes that his father has been a permanent deacon since 1976. Over a third of new priests (37 percent) have a relative who is a priest or a religious. Newly-ordained David Wells says he first considered the priesthood after the tragic death of his uncle, a priest of the Washington Archdiocese.
The class of 2010 has at least two martial artists. Edward Breshnahan of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, and Kevin Elbert of Cleveland are both black belts. Elbert even operated his own martial arts school and rides a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. In the Diocese of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, ordinand Daniel Moris worked for 20 years in a maximum security prison.
In the Diocese of Grand Island, Nebraska, Jerry Wetovick practiced dentistry for 45 years, and Joshua Brown served as a firefighter for six years before pursuing the priesthood. In the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey, Amadito Flores served as a sheriff’s officer before entering the seminary, and Benjamin Williams served as an officer in the U.S. Air Force for 20 years.
Other ordinands with military experience include Thomas Gillespie of Pittsburgh who was an Army psychiatrist before entering the seminary, Steve Thomlison of Lincoln, Nebraska, who served in the Army National Guard for 22 years, and David Hammond of Albany, New York, who attended U.S. Naval Chaplains School and hopes to minister as a chaplain in the future.
Other ordinands with unique experiences include Andrew Budzinski of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, who represented his alma mater, the University of Notre Dame, as its mascot, the leprechaun, before pursuing a career in radio. Richard Daise of the Diocese of Salina, Kansas, attended a one-room schoolhouse for eight years of elementary school.
Nearly one-third of new priests this year were born outside the United States. Lutakome Nsubuga, being ordained by the Diocese of Spokane, Washington, traces his vocation back to his native Uganda, where his family sacrificed to send him to Catholic boarding schools. Thien Nguyen, being ordained by the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, was born in Vietnam and studied economics at the post-graduate level before switching to seminary studies and then coming to the United States.
David Price of the Diocese of Colorado Springs wasn’t in another country when he heard the call. He was in another faith tradition. Price says he prayed for and received a sign that God was calling him to become a Catholic priest even though he was a Protestant at the time. Ross Miceli of Erie, Pennsylvania, says he was baptized a United Methodist, but given a very Catholic middle name, Rosario. Nixon Jean Francois of the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, is the first Catholic in his family.
Some ordinands report falling away from the Catholic Church for some time. Matthew Book of the Archdiocese of Denver dropped out of his high school confirmation program and didn’t return to the faith until he was 24. James Arwady of Detroit also labels himself a “re-vert” to the Catholic faith.
Other ordinands faced challenges and overcame obstacles to become priests. Alonzo Cox of the Brooklyn Diocese wanted to be a priest from the age of 12 but was afraid to tell anyone because of what people might think of him. Bernard Sehr of the Diocese of Rockford, Illinois, says he has a strong fear of public speaking. Christopher LeBlanc of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida, has been legally blind since birth.
Others used the challenges of their formation for self improvement. Vincent Wirtner, who is being ordained by the Cincinnati Province of the Society of the Precious Blood, taught himself to play guitar as a way to deal with the stress of his philosophy studies. Matthew Henry of the Diocese of Phoenix learned four languages while in seminary: Spanish, Latin, Greek and Hebrew.
These facts and statistics came from The Class of 2010: Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood, an annual national survey of men being ordained priests, conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), a Georgetown University-based research center. The entire report can be found at www.usccb.org/vocations/classof2010, as well as on the new www.ForYourVocation.org, which launches April 25.
Keywords: Class of 2010, ordinations, backgrounds, careers, fathers, widowers, deacons
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