On a jewel of a day, with Christ Cathedral glittering in the morning sun, six new priests became the first class to be ordained at the flagship cathedral for the Diocese of Orange.
A packed church enthusiastically greeted the new ordinands, whose Saturday, July 27 entrance into the priesthood was delayed so they could be properly welcomed at the new cathedral, which was dedicated just 10 days earlier.
Erialdo Ramirez Alfaro, Scott Allen, Michael Nguyen, Daniel Seo, Joseph Squillacioti and Martin Vu represent the largest incoming group in recent years.
Of the six incoming priests, three were assigned as parochial vicars to local parishes where they had already begun their assignments. Alfaro, 29, is serving at St. Cecilia Church, Tustin; Vu, 29, is with Santiago de Compostela Church, Lake Forest; and Seo, 29, is at Holy Family parish in Orange, where he celebrated a morning mass the day after his ordination.
Allen, 34, Nguyen, 28, and Squillacioti, 43, return to Rome, where they will undertake postgraduate studies. Allen is attending the Pontifical North American College, where he will concentrate on Thomistic studies, or the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas. Nguyen will continue in canon law at Casa Santa Maria, and Squillacioti will also attend Casa Santa Maria, where he is pursuing advanced classes in liturgical studies.
As a group, the six new priests represent the diversity of the diocese. Other than Alfaro, who was born and raised in Guadalajara, Mexico, all are Orange County natives and steeped in the church. They are Asian, Caucasian and Latino and well educated.
Gina Bish, Squillacioti’s sister, said her brother, who was an altar boy at Holy Family, was overjoyed to be ordained in the diocesan cathedral.
Bishop Kevin Vann celebrated the ordinations, accompanied by auxiliary bishops Timothy Freyer and Thanh Thai Nguyen, as well as Bishop Emeritus Tod Brown.
During his homily, Vann used a seafaring metaphor, describing how the cathedral structure, where its sharp angles come together, resembles the prow of a massive ship. He added that the idea of the Church as a ship is woven through the pages of scripture. And at the prow of the great vessel of faith are the priests.
“It will be your calling and responsibility in the days and years ahead to guide us all as priests to a new day, a new time and a new harbor for the body of Christ,” Vann said.
The bishop added that “the prow of this building out here now points you, and all of us, to take those first steps, as you do today,” Vann said.
He concluded the homily with a call for “anchors aweigh.”
Saturday’s event stretched over three hours of service, followed by a cheerful celebration on the plaza afterward. Parishioners began lining up hours before the 10 a.m. service was to begin. By the time the doors to the cathedral opened at 9 a.m., lines stretched out more than 100 yards in two directions from the entrances.
Soon all 2,100 seats in the cathedral were taken and congregants began lining up three deep along the walls. Ushers had to turn back parishioners who tried to enter the crowded balcony. More than 20 rows of pews saved for priests overflowed, with some of the more than 100 clerics who attended needing alternate seating. A section saved for seminarians also wasn’t large enough for the influx and a second group took up space in a balcony.
Early in the ceremony, each of the six candidates was called forth and presented to the bishop. After they were “found to be worthy,” Vann said, ‘we choose these, our brothers, to the priesthood.”
The candidates went on to take vows, including celibacy, promised obedience and prostrated themselves before the altar for the singing of the litany of saints.
After Bishop Vann and all the priests in attendance laid hands on each candidate’s head, the bishop recited the prayer of ordination and the diocese officially had its newest class of priests.
The service continued with more rites, such as the vesting of the new priests, kisses of peace from each priest in attendance and holy communion for the congregation, during which the newly minted priests took part.
In a touching moment, Bishops Vann, Freyer and Brown knelt in front of the altar to receive the laying on of hands from the new priests.
After the ordination ceremony, the celebration started.
In one area of the plaza, a drum corps from Holy Family hammered out traditional Korean drum music, while a banner advertised Seo’s upcoming inaugural celebration of Mass as a priest.
In a shaded area a group of about 15 members of the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth, who came to honor Vu, hung out.
“He used to be one of the leaders (of the organization),” one of the members said of Vu. “We’re very excited.”
Near the Cathedral Cultural Center, a band supporting Alfaro played mariachi music while congregants gathered for snacks and beverages.
And beyond them, a crush of humanity crowded around the new priests to offer congratulations and be among the first to receive the priestly-est of offerings – fresh blessings.