Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald staff

After almost 25 years as a permanent deacon, Joseph Frank Stefancin was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Superior on Sunday, July 19.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic changed not only the date of the celebration, but also the number of persons in attendance, the post-ordination reception and various other details. However atypical the circumstances were, the adjustments provided for a solemn and intimate gathering.

Welcoming those present, Bishop James P. Powers acknowledged it was a “wonderful day for the diocese.”

After preaching of the Gospel, Dcn. Joe was called forward to present himself to the bishop as a candidate for ordination to the priesthood. According to the rite, Bishop Powers proclaimed, “Relying on the help of the Lord God and our Savior Jesus Christ, we choose Joseph, our brother, for the Order of the Priesthood.”

Applause erupted from the congregation as Dcn. Joe returned to his seat, smiling.

Bishop Powers began his homily by thanking the deacon’s family members who helped instill his faith from childhood – his mother and godmother present and his siblings who helped ground him as, the bishop quipped, “only siblings can do.”

Then addressing Dcn. Joe’s children, the bishop added, “Joey and Amanda, thank you for your willingness to share your dad so that he might become Fr. Joe,” although he noted he will always be their father first.

The bishop continued by welcoming those representing Saint Francis de Sales Seminary, others assisting the celebration, all guests present and those accompanying via the social media livestream.

He acknowledged, “None of us could have dreamed up this scenario … Today truly is a day of joy, a day of blessing, a day of celebration for the entire church and the Diocese of Superior.”

Bishop Powers recalled meeting Dcn. Joe approximately 30 years prior, before the bishop himself was ordained. He spoke of conversations the two had shared in recent years leading up to the day of ordination.

With special mention of the deacon’s deceased wife, Audrey, Bishop Powers recognized her presence in spirit “every day, and what a blessing that is.”

“When you were ordained a deacon, you began to share in a very special call of service to the people of God. Over these last 25 years as a deacon, you’ve been that presence of Christ the servant to the world … and that doesn’t end with your ordination to the priesthood.

“Priestly ordination isn’t a graduation from the service and ministry of the diaconate,” he added, “but rather it’s the assuming of the additional roles and responsibilities of the priesthood.”

Referencing words of both Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, the bishop affirmed every priest also continues to be a deacon and must always be aware of Christ’s actions as servant, as exemplified in his washing of his disciples’ feet.

He continued describing these roles – to share in the duty of teaching, to participate in the sanctifying mission of the church, to offer the gifts of bread and wine to be transformed into the Eucharist. Going one by one through the sacraments, the bishop defined the ministry of a priest.

He implored the candidate to pay particular attention in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, to always be merciful. He called on him not to neglect touching the flesh of Christ in the suffering sick, allowing himself in that way to be brought closer to Christ.

The bishop said to “Remember you are chosen from among the people of God and appointed to act for them in relation to God … Keep your gaze fixed on the example of the Good Shepherd who did not come to be served, but to serve.”

Bishop Powers harkened back to the words of Dcn. Stefancin’s diaconate ordination, “Veni Sancti Spiritus. Come, Holy Spirit. Come into our hearts, come into our church, come into our homes, come and renew the face of the earth.

“Come Holy Spirit. Come into our brother, soon-to-be Fr. Joseph, that he may be a good and holy priest of the one true high priest, preparing the way of the Lord to enter into the hearts and minds of all he ministers to.”

The bishop took a moment to address his brother priests, those present belonging to and serving in the Diocese of Superior. He noted the cancellation of the annual Chrism Mass and invited them to renew their priestly vows silently as they witnessed the ordination of Dcn. Joe.

As the rite continued, the deacon acknowledged his resolved awareness and willingness to undertake the responsibilities he will have as an ordained minister and pledged his obedience to the bishop and his successors.

After the litany of supplication, during which the candidate lies prostrate before the altar, he received the laying on of hands – first by the bishop, to confer to strength of the Holy Spirit, and then by all the concelebrating priests present as a sign of of the unity they share in the priesthood.

The investiture of vestments to the newly ordained was performed by Fr. Frederick Brost, retired priest residing in Medford, assisted by current pastor Fr. Patrick McConnell. Fr. Brost, who turned 90 in early July, celebrated 64 years of ordination in May.

The new priest was then with the gifts of bread and wine by his children, Amanda and Joey, accepted as an invitation to conform his life to the mystery of the cross.

He was then welcomed with a fraternal embrace by the bishop and the other priests present.
For communion, newly ordained Fr. Joseph distributed the Eucharist to all in the congregation who came forward. In lieu of the traditional performance by the Diocesan Chorale, two cantors provided the music for the Mass, and “Salve Regina” was chanted as a communion reflection.

Fr. Joe offered personal comments before the end of Mass. He thanked God and St. Joseph, “who I always follow,” and expressed thanks for those watching online, for those who came, to his brother priests and specifically to those eight classmates also ordained this summer.

“All I can say is, thank you,” he concluded.