By Tim Lilley
Bishop Joseph M. Siegel ordained Deacons Martin Estrada, Luke Hassler, Juan Ramirez and Andrew Thomas to the priesthood on May 25 at St. Philip Parish in Posey County. St. Philip hosted the historic ordination Mass because of the ongoing renovation of St. Benedict Cathedral.
Historic ordination Mass? Yes indeed. The Mass was only the sixth in Diocese of Evansville history during which at least four men were ordained to the priesthood — and the first in 55 years, since 1964. They also are Bishop Siegel’s first priestly ordinations since his 2017 appointment as Bishop of Evansville.
More than 840 people attended the Mass; it was standing-room-only. And more than 50 priests concelebrated. They included St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology PresidentRector Benedictine Father Denis Robinson, friends of the new priests from outside the diocese, and active and retired priests of the diocese.
The Bishop began his homily by reminding the four ordinands that it was God who first called them in baptism to be witnesses to Risen Lord and then in a special way, called them to be priests of Jesus Christ. He thanked them for generously responding “yes” to that invitation, even in the midst of the challenges currently facing the Church and the priesthood. All their discernment, prayer, encouragement from family and friends and their engagement in seminary formation, all had as their ultimate purpose: coming to know with will of God for them and to prepare them to serve the Lord and the Church with their whole heart, soul, mind and strength as priests for the rest of their lives.
He acknowledged the many plans and dreams they may have for their priestly ministry, the many good works they hope to accomplish in the years to come. However, he reminded them that the Lord won’t judge them and their ministry by their resumes or accomplishments, but rather how they have shared the love of Christ with their people through their celebration of the sacraments, their preaching and teaching and their pastoral leadership. Like Jesus the Good Shepherd, they must be those who seek not to be served, but to serve and give their lives for their people.
To serve after the heart of the Good Shepherd, priests need to strive to grow in his likeness by deepening their intimacy with Christ in lives of holiness. The reasons for celibacy, obedience and simplicity of life is that they might make a complete gift of themselves to the Lord and the Church. This self-giving is ritualized in their prostration before the altar during the Litany of Saints, in imitation of Our Lady’s fiat at the Annunciation: “I am the servant of the Lord. Be it done to me according to the Lord.”
Throughout their lives and ministry, they need to remain docile to the working of the Holy Spirit in their lives, striving to do God’s will rather than their own. They are called to be examples to God’s people of what it means to be radiantly and joyfully holy. To grow in this intimate relationship with Christ entails continuing the spiritual practices they learned in seminary: daily Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, meditation on the Scriptures, Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament, confession and spiritual direction, Marian devotion.
It is this priestly ministry of prayer and service that will produce in these new priests and in those they serve the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which render God’s people fit for the Kingdom of God. This is the worthy legacy of a faithful priesthood, lived after the heart of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
About our new priests
Father Martin Estrada, 35, is a native of San Julian, Jalisco, Mexico. He is the son of Jose Guadalupe Estrada and Maria del Socorro Vasquez, and he is the youngest of 10 children. He begins his priestly service on June 26 as Parochial Vicar of Holy Rosary Parish in Evansville.
Father Luke Hassler, 27, is an Evansville native. He is the son of Lynn and Clare Hassler, and he has two brothers. He begins his priestly service on June 26 as Parochial Vicar of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Haubstadt, St. James Parish in Haubstadt and Holy Cross Parish in Fort Branch.
Father Juan Ramirez, 38, is a Mexican native. He is the son of Luis Ramirez and Cristina Torres, and has three sisters. He begins his priestly service on June 26 as Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Washington.
Father Andrew Thomas, 25, is a native of Fishers, Indiana. He is the son of Mike and Melissa Thomas, and Steve and Jennifer Myers. He has seven brothers and sisters. He begins his priestly service on June 26 as Parochial Vicar of St. Joseph Parish in Jasper.