Well this was more like it.
A year after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic nearly scrubbed the ordination of a class of four priests to the Diocese of Orange, Christ Cathedral officially fully reopened on Saturday, June 12, by admitting three new fathers into the fold.
With Ethan Chow, cathedral organ scholar, at the keys of the Walker organ, parishioners flowed through the doors, filling more than half of the 2,700-seat cathedral.
Churchgoers were on hand to welcome newly ordained fathers Cheeyoon Chun, Michael Fitzpatrick and Brandon Lopez into the priesthood.
A main event on the annual calendar, this year’s ordination drew throngs to the 10 a.m. service. By 9 a.m., a line snaked around the cathedral in a multi-cultural mélange of knights and nuns, priest and parishioners
This was in stark contrast to a year earlier. With California in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Bishop Kevin Vann proceeded with the ordination of priests and deacons it was a stripped-down, sanitized and socially distanced version of the ancient and sacred ceremonies. Only a few invited guests were allowed into the cathedral confines, with the service streamed on video. Others, such as the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, suspended ordinations.
“The bishop was very strong that they need to be ordained,” said Father Brandon Dang, director of vocations at the Pastoral Center.
At the inaugural ordination of priests at Christ Cathedral in 2019, the church was stuffed with an overflow crowd, including most of the diocesan clergy. On the plaza, thousands greeted the newly robed clerics.
This year, although slightly slimmed down from 2019, the scene was every bit as joyous, and included the Korean Martyrs Catholic Center drummers on hand.
However, until a few weeks ago, this year’s ceremony was in flux.
“There have been different layers of planning,” said Father Dang, due to the uncertainty around COVID.
As the virus waned, restrictions were loosened.
Front and center was the latest class of priests, all of whom were grateful to share the experience, after going through last year’s subdued deacon ordination.
The trio were given several sustained ovations during the Mass: when they accepted election to the priesthood; when they were vested in their new robes; when they received their first assignments; and when they stood at the front of the altar prior to the recessional.
There were also touching moments, such as when, for the first time as priests, the three gave blessings to family members. Father Michael Fitzpatrick embraced his family before individual blessings and Father Brandon’s mother, Theresa Lopez, buried her face in her son’s hands.
For Cathy Fitzpatrick, the ordination of her son was the fulfillment of a promise made more than 31 years ago.
Cathy recalled she was in a prayer over the crib of her infant son, whom she and her husband, Mike, had adopted from Seoul, South Korea. That’s when, she says, God spoke to her.
“‘This one will be my priest,’” the Lord told me,” she said.
On Fr. Michael’s 32nd birthday, the proclamation came true.
He will return to Rome, Italy, for a license in spiritual theology and then receive his parish assignment.
“I hope I can teach parishioners how to pray,” he said.
Eventually he would like to teach in a Catholic school or seminary.
Father Cheeyoon, 35, had a slightly longer path to the priesthood, after earning a master’s degree and starting a career as an architectural designer.
“I have the usual story; I got a whisper in my ear,” he says of his calling. “I was content, but the idea of being a priest seemed so right.”
Added inspiration came from his younger sister, Yeeyoon Chun, when she became a nun with Our Lady of Perpetual Health in South Korea.
“She’s been a huge influence on me. She’s my first spiritual influencer,” he said. “She’s always been smarter than me.”
He was grateful that the ordination ceremony would be open to the public.
“How appropriate to reopen the cathedral with an ordination,” he said.
In particular, before the Mass Fr. Cheeyoon said he was looking forward to the litany of saints, when the new priests lie prostrate before the altar.
“It symbolizes the dying of the self, giving your life to God and calling on the saints.”
Fr. Cheeyoon is assigned to Holy Family Church in Orange.
Fr. Brandon had been chomping on the bit through his diaconate year. During his final year at St. John Seminary, Fr. Brandon said he would return to St. Pius V in Buena Park to participate in baptisms, funerals and whatever else he could do.
“I’m looking forward to doing first blessings and confessions,” Fr. Brandon said. “To be able to execute the sacraments and bring our people back, that’s what I look forward to most.”
Fr. Brandon will start at St. Pius V.
As he awaited his ordination, the then-deacon said, “It’s surreal. To see the name Father Brandon and see it on the church schedule. It’s really surreal.”
Cathy Fitzpatrick succinctly summed up what many family members and parishioners felt while welcoming new priests and emerging from the pandemic when she said, “My heart is overflowing.”