Anne-Marie Welsh

Left to right: Father Christopher Wheeler, Father Nicholas Fratus, Bishop Lawrence Persico
and Father Benjamin Daghir immediately following ordination at St. Patrick Church, Erie,
on May 27.   Photo/Anne-Marie Welsh

ERIE — Beautiful. Wonderful. Faith is alive.

          These comments from the family and friends of the men ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Erie on Friday, May 27, capture some of the joy and hope felt at St. Patrick Church, Erie, that evening.

          After each of the three men to be ordained: Deacon Benjamin Daghir, Deacon Nicholas Fratus and Deacon Christopher Wheeler, was called to the altar, he was presented to Erie Bishop Lawrence Persico for ordination by Father Scott Jabo, vice rector of St. Mark Seminary.

          “Do you know them to be worthy?” the bishop asked.

          “After inquiry among the Christian people, and upon the recommendation of those concerned with their formation, I testify that they have been found worthy,” Father Jabo said.

          “Relying on the help of the Lord God,” Bishop Persico replied, “and of our Savior, Jesus Christ, we choose these, our brethren, for the order of the priesthood.” Those assembled responded with warm applause for the first of what would be three times during the evening.

          As he began his homily, Bishop Persico offered two asides.

          First, he noted the unusual location of St. Patrick Church in Erie, chosen because of ongoing renovations at St. Peter Cathedral.

          “St. Patrick served as the pro-cathedral of the Diocese of Erie prior to the opening of St. Peter Cathedral in 1893,” the bishop said, telling the deacons they were making history. “It’s been a long time since priesthood ordinations took place here at St. Patrick.”

          Secondly, showing his trademark dry sense of humor, Bishop Persico told the deacons they were learning a very important lesson.

Deacon Ben Daghir expresses his intention to be faithful
to his calling.      Photo/Welsh

          “After ordination, when you are in your parishes and you have to preach, and you base your homily on the Gospel, then find out the wrong Gospel is read…” he said, pausing for effect as everyone realized the predicament he was in. “This is a valuable lesson for you!”

          The reading offered was from the Gospel of John, Chapter 15. Bishop Persico had expected John 21. Showing the grace he hoped the men about to be ordained might rely on one day, he first referred to the Gospel that had been read, then deftly pivoted to his planned homily, based on the story in which Jesus asks Peter repeatedly, “Do you love me?”

          “I would hope that you’re familiar with that Gospel,” he said, eliciting laughs.

          The rest of the evening went without a hitch as Deacon Daghir of St. Mary Parish in St. Marys, Deacon Fratus of Blessed Sacrament Parish, Erie, and Deacon Wheeler of St. Lawrence Parish in Albion went through the ordination rite. The rite contains numerous steps including:

  • The promise of the elect, during which the candidates express their intention to be faithful to the bishop, the people of God, the worship life of the church, the Gospel and Jesus Christ.
  • The promise of obedience, during which each candidate individually promises respect and obedience to the bishop and his successors.
  • The Litany of Saints, during which the candidates lay prostrate on the ground before the altar as the assembly responds to a series of sung invocations, asking for the mercy of Christ and various saints and angels to join them in prayer. The Blessed Mother, St. Michael the Archangel, Saints Peter and Paul, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Stephen, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Lawrence, Saints Perpetua and Felicity, and St. Benjamin, St. Christopher, St. Nicholas, as well as St. John Vianney, patron saint of priests, were among the saints invoked.
  • Each candidate then knelt before Bishop Persico for a moment as he layed his hands on them in silence. This was followed by each priest who was present — more than 65 — forming a line and laying their hands on each candidate, again in silence.
    Bishop Lawrence Persico anoints the hands of Father
    Christopher Wheeler.       Photo/Welsh
  • Bishop Persico then extended his hands over the three men kneeling before him and prayed the Prayer of Ordination. “Draw near, Lord, Holy Father, Almighty and eternal God, author of human dignity and the bestower of all graces,” he began. “…Who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in order to form a priestly people, established among them ministers of Christ, Your Son, in various orders…”
  • The newly ordained priests were then given their stoles and chasubles, each vested by a priest of his choosing. Msgr. Richard Siefer, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena and St. Michael the Archangel in DuBois vested Father Daghir; Father Jerome Simmons vested Father Fratus, and retired pastor of St. Lawrence in Albion Father John Fischer vested Father Wheeler.
  • Next the bishop used sacred chrism to anoint
    Father Nicholas Fratus offers his first blessing as a
    priest to Bishop Lawrence Persico. Photo/Sheila Grove
    the hands of each new priest.
  • Holding a chalice, the bishop then asked each priest to “receive the oblation of the holy people to be offered to God, understand what you will do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross.”
  • The rite concluded as the bishop shared the fraternal kiss of peace with each new priest. A representative group of priests then followed suit, greeting their newly ordained brother priests.

          The ordination Mass continued with the Liturgy of the Eucharist, with Bishop Persico as presider and Father Daghir, Father Fratus and Father Wheeler concelebrating.  

           As the Mass came to an end, Bishop Persico knelt in front of the altar to receive the first blessing of each of the new priests, then kissed the hands he had anointed.

          The lengthy recessional as the organist and choir led the hymn, “O God, Beyond all Praising,” concluded with the three new priests near the end of the procession. Those present held off as long as they could, but as the ordinandi got about halfway down the aisle, not only applause but whistles and cheers filled the air.

          Beautiful, wondeful and alive with faith indeed.

Those interested in getting to know the new ordinandi more fully can find an extensive interview with them in the April 2022 edition of Faith magazine and as well as a video interview given prior to ordination.