Through the power of the Holy Spirit and the laying on of hands, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will receive six new priests as Archbishop Charles Chaput ordains transitional deacons Daniel J. Dwyer, Anthony R. Hangholt, Robert A. Ianelli, John Paul Masson, Timothy J. McGuire and Thomas P. Whittingham on Saturday, May 19 at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.

Deacon Dwyer is from St. Gabriel Parish in Philadelphia and graduated from St. Gabriel School and the former St. John Neumann High School in Philadelphia. Deacon Hangholt is from Holy Saviour Parish in Linwood and graduated from Holy Saviour-St. John Fisher School in Linwood and Cardinal O’Hara High School in Springfield. Deacon Ianelli is from St. Timothy Parish in Philadelphia, and graduated from St. Timothy School and Father Judge High School in Philadelphia. Deacon Masson is from St. Agnes Parish in West Chester, and graduated from St. Agnes School and Bishop Shanahan High School in Downingtown. Deacon McGuire is from St. Philomena Parish in Lansdowne and graduated from St. Philomena School and Cardinal O’Hara High School in Springfield. Deacon Whittingham graduated from St. Mary School, Jefferson Junior High School and Oak Ridge High School, all in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

All six earned their bachelor of arts degrees in philosophy and their master of divinity degrees at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood.

Recently, the deacons sat down for an interview with The Catholic Standard and Times, discussing their thoughts on such topics as who influenced their vocations, the greatest challenges they face after ordination, showing the importance of relationship with God in modern living and how to address the shortage of religious vocations.

Personal vocation influences

All six deacons said their vocations were nurtured through the example of parish priests, as well as family members and teachers.

Deacon Masson has an uncle who is a Maryknoll priest, and he was also inspired by examples in the parish and at school. “Parish priests at St. Agnes and at Bishop Shanahan were very positive influences on my vocation,” he said.

“Parish priests including Father Michael Gerlach, as well as my high school chaplain, Father Joseph Maloney, showed me what a difference good priests make,” said Deacon Hangholt, who has been working under Father Maloney’s guidance at St. Aloysius Parish in Pottstown this past year.

Deacon McGuire credits his mother as the strongest influence on his vocation. “My mom’s faith was such a presence in our house,” he said. He was also inspired by Father Robert Chapman, who was assigned at St. Philomena Parish when he was growing up.

“My biggest influence was the late Father Charles Pfeffer, former chaplain at the Penn Newman Center in Philly, whose welcoming presence meant a lot to me when I was so far from home,” Deacon Whittingham said.

Deacon Ianelli explained that his parents’ practice of their faith was “such a powerful witness.” He added, “Sister Sally Daly, S.S.J., (now deceased) was the first to suggest that I consider entering the seminary when I was in high school.”

“The greatest influence for me to enter the seminary was no one particular priest, but rather the many wonderful qualities I observed in many different priests,” said Deacon Dwyer, who earned his master of divinity degree in 1994, and left to teach theology at the former St. John Neumann High School and Neumann-Goretti High School before returning to seminary formation in 2010.

Prepared to answer people’s questions

The ordinandi reflected on their seminary experience and how it helped prepare them for ordination.

Deacon Whittingham, while admitting that nobody is ever actually “prepared” for ordination, said, “In seminary formation we have received a broad basis of experience, and while we don’t ‘think our way to God,’ our academics do help prepare us to answer questions.”

“I agree about the academics,” Deacon Hangholt said, “and our apostolate work has given us many experiences interacting with parishioners.”

Deacons Masson and McGuire both take comfort in the knowledge that they are not going into priestly ministry alone, but with the fraternity of their classmates and the mentoring of seasoned pastors, who will continue to mold them and give them a deeper understanding of the priesthood.

“We all have individual strengths and weaknesses, and it’s good to know that we can call on each other when the need arises,” Deacon McGuire said.

Ready to face many challenges

As they prepare to leave the seminary, many challenges await them, including negativity surrounding the priest sexual abuse crisis; merging and closure of schools and parishes, etc. How will they address these issues?

“Our greatest challenge,” Deacon Dwyer said, “is to restore the damaged image of the priesthood, which will become stronger through suffering and will call the entire Church to renewal.” He explained that in the end “the Church will call the world to something greater through teaching it how to suffer gracefully.”

Deacon Whittingham added, “To the faithful, priests are a reflection of how God is, and some of their shepherds have let them down.” He emphasized that trust and confidence have to be re-established.

“It’s important that we not take any anger we may encounter personally,” said Deacon Masson, but to “listen and acknowledge with compassion.”

Promoting religious vocations

A primary reason for the merging of parishes is a lack of priests to serve them. The six men soon to be ordained priests reflect on how to promote vocations.

Deacon Hangholt pointed out that in a Gospel account, only one person who was invited to follow Jesus went away downhearted because it was too difficult to leave all behind. “Don’t be afraid to ask and invite someone to consider being a priest,” he said.

“People must come back to the Church,” Deacon Whittingham said. “If the liturgy provides them with an encounter with Christ, which it always should, they will return, and vocations will follow,” he added.

Deacon Ianelli stated that “living a joy-filled priestly life, reflecting the ideals of Jesus, will attract discernment and interest.”

Relationship with God in modern living

The ordinandi shared the importance of God’s love in a world full of technology.

“First and foremost, we must reclaim the family as the domestic church by teaching children how to pray and speak to God,” Deacon Masson said.

Deacon McGuire added, “We must be willing to turn all devices off and be open to where God leads.”

Deacon Ianelli noted that “the desire for technology and social media reflects the desire for relationship, and advances in technology can be used to forge a stronger relationship with God.”

But despite those advances, Deacon Dwyer stressed that “prayer and relationship with God is unchanging, because God is unchanging.” He added that “technology exists to serve our needs, and the human need for God has never been more important than it is in today’s world.”

George Gregory is a parishioner of St. Cecilia Parish in Coatesville.