(5/1) It is with great joy and gratitude that I come to serve at the appointment of Archbishop Lori as the new priest and pastor of St. Anthony Shrine and Our Lady of Mount Carmel parishes! In coming here to serve in Emmitsburg and Thurmont, I find that it is in many ways a "return home" for me – but one that I certainly never planned. The best plans
are never the ones we plan, but are God’s surprising, often astonishing ways! Thus begins my story.
Before arriving here, I served at St. Mary Catholic Church in Hagerstown, MD, where I served for eight good years as a pastor. I have served as a priest for almost 14 years now. I am truly a "native" of this local land, as I was born in Frederick, MD and then grew up in nearby Lewistown, MD just south of Thurmont. My faith journey actually began at a
United Methodist Church there, where I was baptized and in very simple fashion first learned about Jesus, the Gospel and the Christian faith.
When I was a quiet little boy of about 10 years old, my good faithful and humble Methodist pastor at the time pulled me aside after our service on Sunday morning, as people were talking and having fellowship. "Here," he said, "I want you to have this."
He handed me a small, wooden Jerusalem cross - only about the size of a quarter, but one that could be worn on a necklace. A "Jerusalem cross" is a unique cross, if you are not familiar with it, because it has one big cross in the center, with four "little" crosses around the edges of the center cross. What is interesting about it is that it is
actually a very "Catholic" type of cross: because the one large cross represents the "one" Church founded by the Lord, and the little crosses represent the "universal" nature of the Church - that the Church and the Gospel in time has spread to the four corners of the world. My pastor had made a recent trip to the Holy Land - Jerusalem and the surrounding region and places
where Jesus had lived, served and walked among us, eventually dying for us - and he particularly wanted to give this cross to me. He had picked up other more "standard", regular ones that he gave to the other youth that day: but he felt that I particularly should have this one. When he did this, it made me feel as though God had some form of a special plan for me. And: I
never, ever forgot it.
I was very touched by this at the time, but didn't think about the power of this little act of generosity: until I reflected on it later when I began to discern and contemplate becoming a priest. I now truly believe, seeing a bit through the lenses of faith and grace, that this little act of love from my pastor was God's creative way of planting a
seed: a seed that would later develop into clear call from the Lord, and an answer.
In the summer of 1993, my best friends were a young Catholic couple, one of whom I worked with in Frederick. In a joyful, humble, respectful and friendly way, they began to invite me to masses, prayer services, Bible studies, and eventually I was invited to travel to Denver, CO, where Pope John Paul II was celebrating a huge youth event called "World
Youth Day." There were over 400,000 people and pilgrims who attended this inspiring event – and I was one of them!
Amazed, inspired, and most blessed: this was something that had a life-changing impact on me. Being in the presence of so many young people who were on fire for their faith in the Lord, love of the Catholic Church and her teachings, and an admiration for the Pope, the successor of St. Peter, I was overjoyed and impressed! My favorite memory from Denver
was what the aforementioned Jerusalem Cross represents that I there discovered in lived, real-time experience: attending a Catholic mass with so many thousands of people from all around the world – Europe, Australia, Mexico, South America, Africa, Asia, as well as so many from the USA – showed the universal nature of the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church. At the mass
that the pope offered on the final day of the event, what was so beautiful was that even though we all spoke different languages and were from many different cultures and walks of life, we were all united in the same prayer at mass, the same Eucharist and memorial, as the Body of Christ on earth! I’ll always remember this.
So after this, and much prayer, and study of the Catholic faith and her teachings, I felt called to become a member of the Catholic faith. After becoming Catholic by receiving Confirmation and my First Communion at the Easter Vigil in 1994, I would eventually begin serving in a parish in Hagerstown and I came to love it. I also got to know several very
good young seminarians and great priests. They inspired me to want to do what they did! And this "love" never faded or went away!
I would eventually come to the seminary the locals know as "the Mount" – Mount St. Mary’s Seminary - in the fall of 1996! This later culminated in ordination to the priesthood at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore on May 24, 2003, and then the celebration of my first priestly mass the very next day at the outdoor altar of the Grotto of
Lourdes - on the hill just above St. Anthony’s where I now serve! And I have enjoyed a most rich, blessed priestly life ever since: as the saying goes, "time flies when you're having fun!"
So, that is a "taste" of my story, one "chapter" in the book of life. I am a firm believer that things don't happen by accident: and also, that our friends in Heaven, the saints, intercede for us with our "friends" on earth - the Church, you and me! - and sometimes have a little (or perhaps not so little!) part in our journey. It isn't an accident that
I am here with you: and Mary, "Our Lady", smiles now that I come back "home" to a parish named after her in Thurmont, to the Mount again, and that I am reunited with family and friends here! The great thing – one of many things! - about God is that He can use anything and anyone for His purposes: whether a once-simple, shy young boy from Lewistown, MD who would become a
priest - and a simple cross given to him by his pastor. All glory be to Him!