May 22, 2021 Column Father De Celles

Pentecost: Veni Sancte Spiritu! On the first Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended on the early Christians with “a noise like a strong driving wind,” and appeared like “tongues as of fire.” That same Holy Spirit descended on each of us in Baptism, and came again to strengthen (“confirm”) His gifts in us in our Confirmations. By the baptismal indwelling of the Spirit we were united to the Divine life of Jesus Christ, and in Confirmation we were given the gifts to live the fullness of the faith amidst the great challenges of world. The Holy Spirit also dwells in the Church, giving it life and grace, and guiding it throughout the centuries. Let us pray to Christ and His Father, to renew in us the powerful presence of their Holy Spirit within each of us and within the whole Church.

Fr. Daly Update. Father Daly is doing much better, but he’s also had a minor setback. After moving back to his own apartment, and walking around, he had some apparently non-critical complications and is now back in the hospital. He asks me to thank you all for your prayers and cards. But let us continue to keep praying for his accelerated recovery.

Priest Transfer News. In case you didn’t hear last week, the Bishop released his annual summer announcement of priest transfers on May 13. The good news (at least for me) is I’ll be staying at SRP for another year, but the bad news is we will NOT be getting a new parochial vicar. But we will have a new resident priest, Fr. Ed Horkan, who was a parochial vicar here about 12 years ago. He will be joining us in August when he begins his new full-time job at the Chancery as Vice-Chancellor of the Diocese as well as Defender of the Bond (of Marriage) at the Tribunal. He will also be available to help here somewhat, and I am very happy he is coming: he’s an excellent priest.

My Anniversary. I feel a little uncomfortable with all the fuss made over my 25th anniversary of ordination, which we celebrate this weekend. I don’t normally like to be the center of attention, but it seems important that we all celebrate the gift of the priesthood, so… I’d like to continue here today with some more reflections on the last 25 years.

            There were 13 of us ordained for the Diocese of Arlington that day, May 18, 1996, the largest ordination class ever for the Diocese (still) and the largest class for any U.S. Diocese that year (including the mega dioceses like New York). We represented 10% of all the priests of the diocese. I clearly remember kneeling before Bishop John Richard Keating as he placed his hands on my head, anointed my hands and handed me the chalice and paten. It was an overwhelming and humbling experience.

            My first Mass was the next day at Holy Spirit in Annandale. I was incredibly nervous, but with Jesus’ help, it all went well. My second Mass was the following day, when my family travelled with me up to Mount St. Mary’s Seminary where I offered the New Latin Mass at the High Altar in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception.

            My first assignment began a few weeks later at Blessed Sacrament in Alexandria. Before ordination I had prayed to be assigned to a good pastor, and I thought specifically of Fr. John Cregan (then pastor in Colonial Beach). I was also aware that Blessed Sacrament was in turmoil and would be needing a new vicar, so I prayed that if it were God’s will I would be happy to be assigned there. The night before ordination I met with Bishop Keating who told me, “John, I’m sending to Blessed Sacrament, and Fr. John Cregan will be your new pastor there.” It was the first of many signs that the Lord had taken a clear and active hand in my priesthood.

            For many years, the parishioners of Blessed Sacrament had been allowed to meander in the fields of unorthodox belief and worship. But the Bishop decided to change that and put 3 new priests in the parish. It was a difficult adjustment for the people, and many literally protested the change, especially my traditional approach to preaching and liturgy. But a lot of parishioners were very happy with the change, and very supportive. It was the hardest and most challenging assignment I’ve ever had, but it was also the best in so many ways. I thank God for Bishop Keating’s encouragement and insights in helping me to deal with the challenges. Sadly, Bishop Keating died a year later at the age of 63. May the Lord reward him for his great labors.

            My next assignment (June 1999) was St. Andrews, where I was heartily welcomed by the parishioners and their inimitable pastor Fr. Jerome Fasano, famous for his preaching and reverent celebration of Mass. It was a much needed change for me, and I loved the assignment, and made many longtime friends. I especially enjoyed teaching the High School CCD. I have never felt working with teenagers is my forte, but by the grace of God, somehow it worked out.

            After 3 years I was transferred (June 2002) to St. Michael’s in Annandale, where my pastor was Fr. Jerry Daly. Yes, that Fr. Daly. He was a great example of hard work and dedication, as you can imagine. Sadly, he retired after two years, so I wasn’t too disappointed to be transferred the following year.

            Two important events also happened when I was at St. Michael’s. In my first year there I was miraculously saved from a deadly illness (thank you St. Mary Magdalene!). And in my third year, I finally finished my dissertation and received my Sacred Theology Licentiate after several years of part-time studies at the John Paul II Institute for Studies in Marriage and Family in DC.

            I moved on (June 2005) to St. James in Falls Church where my pastor was Fr. Cornelius O’Brien. Fr. O’Brien was a brilliant Thomistic philosopher, formerly teaching at Catholic University and Christendom College. He was one of the most brilliant minds and greatest preachers I’ve ever encountered. Born, raised and ordained in Ireland, he spoke with an elegant British accent, often reminding me of actor Peter O’Toole. He was a great mentor, and has since gone on to what I’m sure is his heavenly reward.

            After Fr. O’Brien retired, I was soon transferred (November 2006) to St. Mary’s in Old Town Alexandria, where my old seminary friend Fr. Dennis Kleinmann was pastor. Another great pastor, and parish, and I had a very happy and busy 4 years there, and made many good friends.

And then, in July of 2010, Bishop Loverde sent me to be Parochial Administrator here at St. Raymond’s, promoting me to pastor in 2012. It’s been a great 11 years here at St. Raymond’s, and I hope to retire from here in 14 years or so… Thank you all for making my pastorate so fulfilling and rewarding. I apologize for the many times I have failed you, and I thank you for your patience, and love.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles