The faithful at St. Helena’s in the Bronx witnessed parish history when two deacons were ordained priests during a morning Mass Dec. 21. At the same liturgy, a brother was ordained as a deacon.
The three clerics are members of the Order of the Pious Schools, a religious community founded in Rome in 1617 by St. Joseph Calasanz and commonly known as the Piarists.
The newly ordained are Father Manuel Sanchez, Sch.P.; Father Pedro Rivas, Sch.P.; and Deacon Orlando Rodriguez. The principal celebrant and homilist was Bishop Emeritus Felix Lazaro, Sch.P., of the Diocese of Ponce, Puerto Rico.
All Piarists profess a fourth religious vow to educate youth, especially the poor.
“This is the first priestly ordination at St. Helena in the 79-year history of the parish,” Father David Powers, Sch.P., the parish’s pastor, told Catholic New York in an interview after Mass.
“Whenever you have two young men in this day and age who are being ordained to the holy priesthood, and one to the diaconate, it is a sign of hope, it is a sign of grace.”
Bishop Lazaro, in his homily, said, “The first seminary is the family. And who are the rectors? The parents.” He said the Mass of Ordination was a moment of joy because the three candidates will be promising “to dedicate their life to the Lord. Let us give thanks to God.”
The bishop spoke of the importance of relying on Jesus and remaining disciples of Jesus. He talked about the significance of salvation, penance and forgiveness. He spoke to the ordination candidates about the meaning of being “men of the Eucharist, men of the Church.”
In remarks toward the end of the Mass, the two new priests and new deacon offered heartfelt expressions of joy, gratitude, exuberance and love. An emotional Deacon Rodriguez, after words of special thanks to family members and the Piarist community, told the faithful, “I give thanks to everyone. This is for all of you, not for me.”
Father Sanchez said, “I want to thank everyone (family and parish community), and for the gifts that God have given us…Thank you all for walking with me in my path. I am content and filled with joy. And to the youth, I ask that you not be afraid to respond to the Lord, if you believe He is calling—say yes.”
Father Rivas, who years ago assisted the parish youth ministry at St. Helena, noted he wanted to thank parish leaders and staffers who “helped me begin that wonderful process of my vocation…Thank you all for accompanying me.”
He told family members and all the faithful, “Without your prayers, we would not be here. The Good Lord, in one way or another, continued to prepare me.”
Father Sanchez, 36, is Mexican-born; Father Rivas, 38, was born in El Salvador; and Deacon Rodriguez, 29, was born in Puerto Rico. All three have served at St. Helena’s parish.
Father Sanchez and Father Rivas will now return to San Juan, Puerto Rico to finish their fourth year of studying theology at a major seminary. Deacon Rodriguez will return to St. Joseph Seminary in Dunwoodie, where he is studying for the priesthood and is in his third year of studying theology.
The two-and-a-half-hour Mass was attended by 250 people, including proud family members and friends of the three candidates, with many walking close to the altar and using their phones to capture key moments in the Rite of Ordination, such as when Bishop Lazaro placed his hands on the heads of the candidates.
The liturgy, which included a Litany of the Saints, was conducted in Spanish and some English. There were about 25 concelebrants, including Father Powers, most of them members of the Piarist Province of the United States and Puerto Rico.
In the ordination rite, Bishop Lazaro asked the candidates to declare individually their resolve to accept the duties and responsibilities of the diaconate and priesthood, respectively. The candidates took turns kneeling before the bishop and promised obedience to their superiors and diocesan bishops and their respective successors.
Bishop Lazaro declared, “Dear brethren, let us pray, that God the all-powerful Father will pour abundantly the gifts of heaven on these, His servants, whom He has chosen for the office of deacon and priests.”