Stephen Ries recognizes priests today aren’t always held in the same esteem or given the same automatic deference they were 50 years ago, and he’s fine with that.
“Ultimately, to me none of that stuff’s important,” he told CNY. “I think all that false pretense or false holding up the priesthood to a higher level is not necessary. Pope Francis has been a great inspiration to me, reminding seminarians, religious and priests that what’s essential is that we’re here to serve God’s people. There’s work to be done. We have to roll up our sleeves and may have to get messy. Whether someone looks highly at me or not really doesn’t matter. I feel very much called by God to minister to his people.”
When Father Ries, 30, was growing up in a small Long Island family—he has a sister, Christina—he was steeped in Catholic spirituality and tradition. He was an altar server at his home parish, SS. Philip and James in St. James, Long Island, and went to a Catholic elementary school. In high school he attended Chaminade High School in Mineola, a boys’ school staffed by Marianist Brothers and priests. In his parish he served as a lector, a Eucharistic minister and in youth ministry. During his sophomore year at Chaminade, he began to seriously consider a vocation, if not necessarily as a priest, at least in religious life.
“Looking back it was a lot of positive role models,” he said. “I knew a lot of priests in the parish growing up. I was involved in both the school and parish and as I grew older I could see myself in that role. When I got to high school there was a group of brothers and priests who ran the school. And in my sophomore and junior years I really saw myself doing that. There were about 20 of them working in the school at this time in this dynamic ministry. I was drawn to that but also to their prayer and community life. I really felt intrigued this religious community and ultimately I felt that I had to try it. So at the end of my senior year of high school I entered the (Marianist) community as a religious brother.”
He was only 18. While he acknowledged his family was initially taken aback by the decision, they never opposed it, though they did ask a lot of questions. “They wanted to make sure I was making an informed decision,” he explained.
He stayed in the community for eight years, professing first vows in 2005. He taught Scripture, the Old and New Testaments, to high school freshmen and acted as a guidance counselor. In that capacity, he began to discern a calling to the priesthood, as a diocesan priest.
“I was working with students. I was a guidance counselor. I was trying to help them but I couldn’t help them with confession and things like that. And so I felt very called to the priesthood and as I was discerning making final vows or going into the priesthood I felt God was calling me to go into the diocesan priesthood where I could use my talents to serve the wider church.”
Father Ries is looking towards his ordination with a mixture of awe and humility. “It’s very exciting. At the same time it’s a very humbling experience, he said. “It’s humbling for me at least to know that so many people, faculty, staff and even His Eminence Cardinal Dolan have put their trust and support behind us and are saying, we find you worthy of this great gift of orders and the priesthood.”
Father Ries will celebrate his first Mass Sunday, May 24 at 2 p.m. at Annunciation Church, Crestwood. Msgr. Edmund Whalen, principal of Msgr. Farrell High School on Staten Island, will be the homilist.