You may be surprised to know there are seven new priests of the Archdiocese of New York. No, the cause was not a rescheduled Mass of ordination.
The seven new priests actually have been serving here in the archdiocese for at least several years. They were each formally incardinated into the archdiocese by Cardinal Dolan during a ceremony at vespers in St. Patrick’s Cathedral’s Lady Chapel Oct. 26. A reception followed in the Cardinal’s residence.
The incardinated priests are Father Charles Achi, St. Martin de Porres parish, Poughkeepsie; Father Michael Eguino, St. Elizabeth, Manhattan; Father Rhey Garcia, Our Lady of Good Counsel, Staten Island; Father Shane Johnson, St. Anthony of Padua, the Bronx; Father Szymon Kurpios, St. James the Apostle, Carmel; Father Jose Felix Ortega de la Fuente, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Bronx; and Father Wenceslaus Rodrigues, Holy Child, Staten Island.
I spoke this week with Auxiliary Bishop Edmund J. Whalen, the vicar for clergy, who oversees the incardination program in the archdiocese. He said priests who apply for incardination often have served in the archdiocese temporarily and find that they enjoy serving in New York. They may be from other countries, or in some cases may be members of an American religious order or be from another part of the United States.
Priests who are interested in being incardinated as archdiocesan priests in New York must serve in different assignments here so they gain an appreciation for the diversity of the archdiocese. The assignments will also provide an opportunity for feedback by pastors, other priests and parishioners.
Psychological testing is also performed. In the case of priests from other countries, their immigration status is reviewed.
Incardination is not a quick fix, Bishop Whalen stressed. One area where the bishop is seeking continued progress is facility with the English language. He said foreign-born priests applying for incardination should have a command of conversational English and their homilies should be able to be understood by parishioners. Along those lines, he said he hopes “to do more” with ESL programs.
Conversely, many of the priests are fluent in languages for which there is a pastoral need, the bishop said.
Because of differences in the backgrounds of priests who apply for incardination, Bishop Whalen said there is no single time frame to complete the process. It’s no secret that there is a great need for more priests in the archdiocese and across the United States in general.
The priests who come through the incardination process, like the seven who just did so, “have proven themselves to be valuable additions…to serve God’s people here in New York,” Bishop Whalen said.
“Each one brings unique stories, talents and gifts and has received the support of a lot of people, which is good to see. We welcome them into the archdiocese.”
Father Rhey Garcia, who has spent the past decade serving at three Staten Island parishes, is one of the seven newly incardinated priests. The 49-year-old is originally from the Philippines where he entered the Vincentian Fathers and was ordained in 1999.
On Staten Island, he first served for eight years at St. Joseph-St. Thomas St. John Neumann parish and then served at Holy Rosary before coming to Our Lady of Good Counsel in September 2019. He is also assigned as chaplain of Moore Catholic High School in a pilot project that has him spending time in both parish and school settings. “I see it as one assignment. One is an extension of the other,” said Father Garcia, who now holds a doctorate in educational administration and supervision from St. John’s University.
He points to his time at St. Joseph-St. Thomas St. John Neumann as a great introduction to the archdiocese that whetted his appetite for serving in New York. “I’ve known families, joined them for meals. I got involved in school activities. I am drawn to the life in America. It’s so inspiring. There are so many good families, good people.”
Father Garcia said he thought “my presence as a priest could contribute something in faith formation and strengthening the faith of the archdiocese.”
Father Garcia said he found the incardination ceremony in the Lady Chapel both simple and solemn. He invited Father Robert Dillon, his former pastor at St. Joseph-St. Thomas St. John Neumann, whom he called a good friend and teacher as well as members of his Staten Island “family.” It’s important, he said, to acknowledge those who “prayed for us, who supported us and believed in us” on the road to incardination.
Father Garcia learned that he will be a member of the priestly Class of 1999 in the archdiocese and said that he was especially grateful for “the goodness and benevolence” of Cardinal Dolan, without whose support the incardination would not have been possible.
Speaking about taking his place among the priests of the archdiocese, he said, “I’m so happy. I already feel a sense of belonging.”