Ordination of Michael Carter a day of community joy

September 17, 2017

The unreserved smile illuminating Michael Carter’s face as he entered the Chapel of Saint Michael the Archangel Saturday morning in formal procession down the center aisle for his ordination as an Edmundite priest foreshadowed Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne’s main point during the ceremony about what it means to be a priest.

Each ordained man is called to be “a man of constant joy and genuine love” who takes up the burdens of others, the bishop said. Such joy must be anchored by faith residing deep in a priest’s “inner core” even through hard and sad times, Coyne said, since the faithful believer is able to say, “I know from whom I come, and to whom I go.”

“From whom I come” for Burlington native Michael Carter this day included at the most immediate earthly level, his parents, Richard and Kathleen, who sat in the front pew alongside his sisters, Sarah Ruth Offhaus and Rachel Hinchliffe, who brought up the gifts for consecration during the Mass; also present were extended family and Carter’s maternal grandfather Jack Rouille, who, like Carter’s father and other grandfather, is a respected veteran of Vermont’s law-enforcement community.

Michael Carter sat alongside those family members in the front row after the opening procession before kissing his mother and walking to the altar where he either sat in a special chair facing the bishop or lay prostrate in humility on the marble floor during various dramatically symbolic portions of the ordination liturgy.

“From whom I come” for Carter also meant his fellow Edmundites, with whom he has lived in community for the past several years after seminary studies at Boston College. They sat in rows flanking either side of the altar in white and gold vestments, numbering more than 20, after joining the long opening procession that included several priests and sisters of the Burlington diocese and Saint Michael’s students who took part in the liturgy. Just after the bishop’s laying on of hands that formalized Carter’s priesthood, his Edmundite brothers circled by in turn to offer brotherly embraces of good will.

The Saint Michael’s students on the altar and many more in the audience represented not only “from whom I come,” but “to whom I go” for Carter, a 2012 religious studies graduate who also now teaches and counsels students through Campus Ministry. Readers of the Word on Saturday included two such students chosen by Carter because of the close personal connections he made with them during their talks on campus over the past year: Elizabeth Lopez ’20 and Liam Cahill ’20.

Each Biblical text read spoke directly to the occasion: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,” and “Say not too you are too young,” and “See, I place my words in your mouth,” read Lopez from Jeremiah; “The love of Christ compels us,” and, Behold, new things have come,” read Cahill from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians; “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you,” read Deacon Gesualdo Schneider in the Gospel.

Beyond the steady and loving foundational influence of his brother Edmundites, including the late Fr. Mike Cronogue, SSE, who died just about a year before, Carter offered special “priestly shout-outs” to Fr. Bernard Disco, OSB of St. Anselm’s Abbey, NH: “He and I lived with each other in Boston for three years, and we were known to at times do live band karaoke with each other!” — and also Fr. Jack Crabb, SJ, who is the director of spiritual care at the UVM Medical Center. “I was under his tutelage for a program called Clinical Pastoral Education,” Carter said. “Without him and that program, my life and my perspective would be very different. He helped me to grow in many ways.”

Music for the ceremony was by Jerome Monachino ’93, and his usual top-rate ensemble of instrumentalists and singers. Monachino celebrated 25 years in his music ministry later that day at a surprise potluck. The bishop thanked Edmundite Superior General Stephen Hornat ’72 for the honor of presiding for the ordination, and Fr. Brian Cummings ’86, invited everyone to a reception that followed in the Dion Family Student Center. Fr. Lino Oropeza ’11 in 2014 and Fr. Cummings in 1996 were the two most recent Edmundite ordinations before Saturday’s ceremony.

Though now a priest and all that represents metaphysically, “I’m still the same me,” Michael Carter told interviewers outside the Chapel after the ceremony. “All I know how to do in life really is just be myself, and this is really a way that I am authentically being myself.”

He said he is perhaps most looking forward to continuing his ministry to students, who have been one of his main motivators in his priestly journey. “I don’t’ want to be forceful on people but I want to offer the invitation, and I’ve been very pleased on campus … how, while the majority of students at St. Mike’s are not Catholic, I’ve been able to have good connections with mostly everybody,” he said. “I try to be present, aware, to reach out to people and see them where they are, and just be open to whatever it is they want to tell me or what’s weighing on their minds. It’s just being open and welcoming and getting to know the people that’s the name of the game.”

“I’m not much older than the students,” said the 27-year-old newly ordained priest, “so it’s a chance to connect with them on that particular level. There have been moments in my short time here where I’ve felt I‘ve been able in some small way to make an impact and a difference, and there’s really no greater joy that you can ask for in life than to be able to have an influence on somebody.”

Carter got right to it the next day for Sunday’s fuller-than-usual 11 a.m. Mass on Alumni and Family Weekend, riffing humorously to open on the forgiveness theme of the day’s readings by saying he hoped the congregants would be forgiving to him, since, “If it seems like I’ve never done this before, well …”

His well-received homily, which drew applause, told of a time he caught himself being too self-righteous and self-important in his extended indignation over some issue, communicated in an email to a friend, who wrote back, simply: “That’s sad, what’s next?” Her response, he recounted, made him angry with wounded pride at the time, given the absence of more elaborate attention; but later, reflecting on his priesthood and the question of whether a priest might ever consider his work to be done, he reached the conclusion that such a day would not arrive until all men and women are living together in love and peace — and clearly, “we’re not there yet.”

“That’s sad — what’s next?” Carter offered in a fitting challenge to himself and his audience at the start of a new Edmundite priesthood.

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