On Thursday, December 18, The Society of Saint Edmund and Saint Michael's College will be celebrating the ordination to the priesthood of Lino Alejandro Oropeza, SSE, to be conferred by the Most Reverend Terry R. LaValley, Bishop of Ogdensburg, N.Y., at 11 a.m. in the Chapel of Saint Michael the Archangel on campus.
This will be the first ordination of a new priest for the Society of Saint Edmund (Saint Michael's College's founding order) since the June 1996 ordination of Rev. Brian Cummings, now director of Edmundite Campus Ministry at the college. The Edmundites originated in France, came to the U.S. and Vermont in the late 19th century and now number approximately 40 priests based mostly in Vermont or Alabama, with a scattering in Venezuela and Connecticut.
Oropeza, a native of Venezuela, grew up in a parish run by Edmundite missionary priests. His pastor from those days, Rev. Ed Dubriske, SSE '60, will be traveling from Venezuela where he still serves so he can perform the vesting during the ceremony. Oropeza's family also will make the trip.
The Edmundites have a connection to Bishop LaValley, who grew up not far from the Edmundite-run St. Anne's Shrine in Isle LaMotte. When Oropeza, as part of his diaconate to prepare for priesthood, helped Fr. Cummings run the shrine this past summer, LaValley got to know him. The Burlington diocese has no bishop at the moment, but Roman Catholic doctrine nevertheless requires a bishop for priestly ordination, so the Society invited LaValley to preside. Rev. Msgr. John J. McDermott, J.C.L.. Apostolic Administrator for the Diocese of Burlington, will concelebrate, as will most of Oropeza's brother Edmundites and many priests from the Burlington diocese.
Oropeza's path to the priesthood included a few years running a computer business in Caracas after studies in that field, followed by a year performing charitable service to test the validity of the vocation that he felt stirring during a parish retreat. For that year, he ran a church-sponsored house for kids from remote villages needing a place to stay to attend high school. He loved it, and so entered diocesan seminary in Venezuela, largely because the Edmundites -- always his first interest -- had no novitiate to accept him at the time.
But they established one soon after so he entered a year of guided discernment in his home country before joining three other Venezuelans to try out Edmundite life in Vermont. The others eventually returned home, but it felt like the right fit for Oropeza, who now is an avid snowboarder and loves Vermont. Last year he finished his theology studies at Boston College and has spent the past year as a deacon, working with Saint Michael's students through Campus Ministry on retreats, helping with liturgies, preaching at Masses and assisting at the Shrine while living in community with brother Edmundites on the Saint Michael's campus. Through classes and years of immersion, his command of English is entirely fluent and clear-spoken.
His first assignment after ordination will be to the Edmundite missions in Selma, AL, which have a great need to minister more to an under-served and growing Hispanic population in that area. He'll leave Jan. 4, once his family heads back to Venezuela from Vermont.
The Very Rev. Stephan Hornat, the Society's superior general, says the ordination will "refresh" the Edmundites in several important ways: first, by "expanding the breadth of our community life and our vision for the church and the world" with a priest from a different culture, and also by helping older Edmundites better understand and be in touch with the spiritual outlook of a younger generation who must be served.
"This is kind of an encouraging time for us," Hornat said," noting that Edmundite Brother Michael Carter'12, a Burlington native and Saint Michael's graduate who completed his novitiate, is in his second year of theology studies at Boston College now and would be on track for ordination in about two years. "Plus, we have a new vocation coming in January who's been working with us down at Enders Island in Connecticut and finishing up his college and will be coming up here starting postulancy and getting courses in philosophy and theology from our guys -- and then we have a couple others we've been in touch with, so things are kind of turning around for us right now. "
Hornat believes that for Oropeza, working in Selma (as Hornat did himself for many years) can help shape his priesthood favorably through the experience of working with the poor, which should "set the right priorities of service." Later, if Oropeza were to come back to serve at the college with its many service-oriented student programs, the Selma experience will have been invaluable, Hornat said.
"It comes at a great time, his going down there, because he'll be down there during the 50th anniversary of the famous civil rights march and bridge-crossing that the Edmundites had such close involvement with as leaders in the civil rights movement," Hornat said. "I think it's important for our young people to carry that history. Lino will be the first or our young vocations that will know our involvement down there and keep that history alive and be the story-teller down the road."
Oropeza, a modest man, says he is excited about the coming ceremony and new assignment, though also anxious in some ways to put behind him all the focused attention of his ordination, which sometimes can be awkward or overwhelming. By now, he says, it's almost more natural for him to preach in English than in "rusty" Spanish, and he's gotten over his initial nervousness in the pulpit. He made a brief visit to Selma during his diaconate and preached at a Spanish Mass there already that went well, he said.
"I've spoken with a lady in charge of Hispanic ministry in the Archdiocese of Mobile so I might get more involved in that. The bishop down there was really happy to know a Spanish-speaking priest was moving in," he said. "I'm learning to do many things for the first time so I have to trust in my brothers and in God that everything is going to go OK."
A reception will immediately follow the ordination ceremony in The Roy Room at the Dion Family Student Center. Guests are asked to park in the Ross Sports Center parking lot accessible at the Winooski side entrance to the College. Oropeza will celebrate his first Mass on Sunday, December 21 at 11 a.m. in the Chapel of Saint Michael the Archangel.