14 priests ordained as 'ambassadors of Christ'

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, May 20, 2012

14 priests ordained as 'ambassadors of Christ'

Photos by Karen Callaway and Natalie Battaglia
A priest lays hands on newly ordained Father Michael Grisolano during the Mass.
Newly ordained Father Krzysztof Swierczynski is vested by Father Pawel Komperda.
Cardinal George annoints the hands of newly ordained Father Anthony Muraya during the ordination Mass on May 12.
Newly ordained Father Francis Bitterman and his brother Pat become emotional during an embrace after Mass. Father Bitterman was giving his first blessings to family members.
Father Robert Krueger embraces a deacon during the sign of peace.
The new priests bless the cardinal at the end of Mass.

More than 1,000 family members and friends — including more than 150 fellow priests — crowded into Holy Name Cathedral May 12 to welcome 14 new priests for the Archdiocese of Chicago.

The new priests, said Cardinal George, are to be agents of the new evangelization, ambassadors for Christ to a world that seems bent on rejecting him. In his homily, the cardinal recalled the Second Vatican Council, which he said was called to transform the world and unify it in Christ.

The world might be more unified now than it was 50 years ago, when the council opened, the cardinal said, but it is not unified by conversion to Christ.

“The world is now more closed in on itself than it was 50 years ago,” he said. “The world has deliberately forgotten God and does not want to be reminded of him by Christ’s ambassadors.”

Nevertheless, the 14 priests who received the governing authority of the apostles are called on to fulfill their mission in the world.

“Jesus does not take the apostles out of the world,” Cardinal George said. “No, Jesus sent the apostles into the world to tell it that God loves it, and that Christ died to save it. This will be the challenge of your years of priestly ministry. You will introduce the world to a loving savior that it seems to be in the process of consciously rejecting. This is the New Evangelization. It demands the zeal of Paul and the faith of Peter. It calls for unity among priests and consecration in God’s truth.”

The congregation was united in support for the new priests, as many who came to share in the day had known the men for their whole lives.

Olivia and Anthony Ponzio came for newly ordained Father Francis Bitterman. The two — now married with three children — have known Bitterman since they all met in kindergarten at St. Vincent Ferrer in River Forest. Bitterman baptized their youngest child after he was ordained a deacon last year.

“We kind of knew, because he went back and forth on it,” Anthony Ponzio said.

The couple plans to travel to St. Norbert in Northbrook for Sunday Mass, at least occasionally, and invite him to their River Forest home for dinner.

“And give him lots of chocolate chip cookies,” joked Olivia Ponzio.

Marianne Grisolano, the mother of newly ordained Father Michael Grisolano, gathered family members on the steps of the sanctuary at the cathedral after the ordination. She said that her son’s parishioners will be fortunate to have him.

“I think he’s going to be a loving priest,” she said. “He cares about people.”

She said that when he was an altar server, she would sometimes suggest that he might have a vocation to the priesthood. “He would say, ‘Oh, Mom!’” she laughed. “It was something I hoped would happen.”

Colleen Murray waited in a line of people at least 10 deep to get one of the first blessings from her godson, Matthew O’Donnell, the youngest of the new priests at 25.

“I am so very proud of him,” she said. “It’s a special moment for all of us. He is an inspiration to all of us.”

Newly ordained Father Javier Vilchez had a shorter line of people waiting for blessings; his family was unable to travel from Peru to attend his ordination. A friend, Graciela Escamilla, held flowers that another friend brought while he bestowed blessings. Escamilla said that she had known Vilchez for years, and always thought he would make a good priest.

“He’ll be one of the best,” she said.

Deacon Bob Powers and his wife, Susan, thought the same thing about newly ordained Father Paul Guzman, the oldest at age 56. They met him 14 years ago when they were in formation together for the permanent diaconate. A group of deacons from that class attended the ordination.

“It just seemed like this was where he should be,” Deacon Powers said, adding that Guzman’s “worldly experience” — previous careers as a law enforcement officer and a nurse — would serve him well in his ministry.

“He knows how to listen to people,” he said, “ and he’s always seemed to be a genuinely prayerful person.”

The experiences that all of the new priests brought to the seminary with them helped form them for priesthood, said Msgr. Dennis Lyle, rector of Mundelein Seminary. Lyle noted that having such a large ordination class — with half from the Archdiocese of Chicago and the rest from Poland, Kenya, Tanzania and Peru — speaks well of the vitality of the church here.

“In reality,” he said, “their preparation for the priesthood began in the home, in the way you — parents, family and friends — prepared them growing up. And they will continue to be formed their whole lives, by the parishes and by their fellow priests. It’s really the whole church that forms these men.”

New priests and first assignments

  1. Father Francis Bitterman, St. Norbert, Northbrook
  2. Father Thomas Boharic, St. Agnes of Bohemia
  3. Father Michael Grisolano, St. Julie Billiart, Tinley Park
  4. Father Paul Guzman, St. Damian, Oak Forest Father Robert Krueger, St. Bede the Venerable
  5. Father Mariusz Manka, St. Francis Xavier, Wilmette
  6. Father Gilbert Mashurano, St. James, Arlington Heights
  7. Father Anthony Muraya, St. Paul of the Cross, Park Ridge
  8. Father Matthew O'Donnell, St. Ailbe
  9. Father Piotr Rapcia, St. John Brebeuf, Niles
  10. Father Krzysztof Swierczynski, St. Mary, Riverside
  11. Father Javier Vilchez, Our Lady of Mercy
  12. Father James Wallace, Mary, Seat of Wisdom, Park Ridge (until he returns to school in Rome)
  13. Father Marcin Zasada, St. Ladislaus