PROSPECT HEIGHTS — A mechanic, a former carwash owner, an expert in sign language, and a kosher chef abandoned those professions Saturday, June 3, when they became Catholic priests for the Diocese of Brooklyn.
The Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph was nearly filled to capacity and swelled with joy during the ordinations of Ernesto Alonso, 44; Thimote Cherelus, 37; Nnamdi Eusebius Eze, 39; and Samuel Mwiwawi, 40.
The four men comprise the second group of transitional deacons to be ordained priests by Bishop Robert Brennan in the diocese.
Each was born outside the U.S. Father Alonso is from Cuba, Father Cherelus grew up in Haiti, Father Eze is Nigerian, and Father Mwiwawi came from Kenya.
“They’re all very generous men,” Bishop Brennan said prior to the Mass of Ordination. “And so we’re thrilled that with the grace of the sacrament, there’ll be serving as priests, bringing their natural gifts and abilities to serve the people of God here in Queens and Brooklyn.”
The bishop also announced the new priests’ first assignments.
Father Alonso will serve at St. Leo Parish in Corona, Queens. The pastor there is Father Carlos Agudelo.
Father Cherelus’ assignment is at St. Matthias in Ridgewood, Queens, where Auxiliary Bishop Neil Tiedemann is pastor and Father Dariusz Blicharz is the administrator.
Father Eze is assigned to St. Gregory the Great Parish in Bellerose, Queens, with Father Edward Kachurka, the pastor.
Father Mwiwawi is headed to Immaculate Conception Parish in Astoria, Queens, to serve with Msgr. Fernando Ferrarese, who is the pastor.
Modern-day priests are in short supply. But Bishop Brennan said priests are “always called upon in different directions.”
He offered advice to help the new priests to resist burnout and stay grounded.
“I would say be holy, be generous, stay close to the Lord,” Bishop Brennan said. “We find ourselves easily distracted, wanting to be of service to everybody. But really, the focus of it is Christ. We bring Christ. If we’re not bringing Christ, then we’re not really helping anyone.”
The Mass of Ordination included the laying on of hands, the Prayer of Ordination, and the Litany of Supplication in which the candidates for priesthood prostrate themselves on the altar in a sign of humility.
Observing from their seats around the altar were the diocese’s senior clergy, including Bishop Emeritus Nicholas DiMarzio and Auxiliary Bishops Octavio Cisneros (retired), James Massa, Witold Mroziewski, Paul Sanchez (retired), and Neil Tiedemann.
Dozens of priests from throughout the diocese followed the bishops in laying hands on the heads of the four new priests.
Following the Mass, friends and well-wishers lined up to receive “first blessings” from the priests.
Father Alonso, a native of Havana, was a chef who studied at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts Miami. He became a personal chef for Jewish families from New York that vacationed in Florida.
But he also had a powerful desire to become a priest. His parents have passed away, but attending the ordination was lifelong friend Isel Garcia, her husband, Dariel, and their infant twins Jacob and Isabella.
“He is like my brother,” she said, with her husband translating. “He is the most caring, the most lovely person. He just cares for everybody. It’s incredible.”
Father Alonso said he prayed during the Mass for the eternal rest of his parents.
“I look with happiness to this day because through the communion of saints, we are all together,” he said. “This joy is not only for me, but for all my family and friends and parishioners.”
Father Eze’s mother was unable to attend the ordination, but she watched it from her home in Nigeria via livestream from the co-cathedral.
But Father Eze, a former mechanic, was supported by his uncle, Father Franklin Ezeorah, the parochial vicar for St. Martin de Porres Parish in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
“I’m pretty sure she feels extremely happy and joyous,” Father Ezeorah said of his nephew’s mother. “Maybe there is a little bit of mixed feelings because she couldn’t be here. But then she must be very elated to learn that everything turned out so well.
“So we are extremely happy for the diocese. And we are happy for Nigeria.”
Father Eze also was emotional about the first blessings.
“I feel blessed to have blessed others,” he said. “And I am blessed to be chosen by God. He calls us to serve, but he also provides us with people. God loves them so much and God wants us to listen to them — to listen to the people.”
Father Mwiwawi’s family in Kenya also could not attend, but standing for him was a contingent from St. Bernard’s Parish in Bergen Beach, Brooklyn, where he served as a transitional deacon.
The new priest, having mastered American Sign Language, also was supported by dozens of hearing-impaired people from throughout the diocese and beyond.
His sign-language skills were honed during a summer-long “immersion” program at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.
“Some came from New Jersey and some traveled all the way from Washington,” he said. “I am blessed.”
Father Cherelus, who owned a carwash in Haiti, said he was joyously overwhelmed to extend the grace of God through the first blessing.
“I feel like I’m already in the field,” he said. “This is the day that the Lord has made, so rejoice and share it with people. Share the blessings.”