Continuing our week of exclusive coverage (a la the Royal Wedding Coverage) of this week’s Priestly Ordinations in Holy Cross, we hear today from Fr. Gerry Olinger, C.S.C., the Executive Assistant to the President at the University of Portland. Ordained last year on April 10th, Fr. Gerry reflects with us on his first year of priesthood.
I was fortunate to have my ordination classmate (and very good friend) Fr. Kevin Grove, C.S.C., in town for our first anniversary as priests. I took him to a popular restaurant in Portland for dinner and, after enjoying french onion soup and hamburgers for dinner as well as a maple bacon donut for desert (very Portland), we shared stories about our first year as priests.
One of my favorite memories as a priest is from one of the first Masses I celebrated after being ordained. I presided at the 11:30 am weekday Mass at Holy Cross House, our residence for our priests and brothers who are in need of assisted care. I was joined by 30 Holy Cross priests concelebrating at their seats. At the moment that I said the words of institution, all I could hear in the chapel was the 30 concelebrants saying, quite loudly, “Take this all of you and eat it: This is my body which will be given up for you.” It was amazing to hear these men who had prayed these words for the last 50 or 60 years continuing to pray so boldly and with such conviction. I remember thinking, “I want my life as a priest to be as long and as fruitful as theirs.”
Another powerful experience for me has been the opportunity to minister to my family. My grandmother suffers from Parkinson’s disease and lives with my aunt and uncle in Philadelphia. She was the first person I anointed after being ordained. It was a moment that I will never forget, laying hands on her head in silence and then anointing her forehead and shaking hands. Since it is difficult for her to leave the house, I also say Mass for her when I am at home. Getting to minister to my grandmother and family has been a really powerful experience in my early priesthood.
Living in a residence hall at the University of Portland has been another important source of grace in my first year as a priest. I love the casual interactions with students—playing Rockband or cooking stromboli for the different wings in my hall. But I have also come to realize that so many students walk around carrying very heavy spiritual and emotional loads in their lives. It has been a great grace to be able to assist them through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and through pastoral conversations. It is remarkable to see the ways that God works through me, and my brother priests, in these instances.
As I shared with Fr. Kevin after our dinner, this past year as a priest has been a year of great joy and peace. I could not imagine doing anything else with my life and I thank God for the courage to say “yes” to my vocation.