On June 27, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio will ordain four men to the priesthood at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph, less than one month after arriving at his 50th anniversary of ordination. Bishop DiMarzio has been a tireless and effective promoter of priestly vocation during his 17 years as bishop of Brooklyn. In 2014, for example, Brooklyn had the largest ordination class in the country with 13 new priests.
This year, he will ordain four men to the priesthood. Due to COVID-19 regulations, the ordination will not have the massive attendance that we usually see with these events.
These ordinations are taking place after the diocese lost two extraordinary priests and several permanent deacons to the pandemic. It takes place during a very difficult moment in the life of our diocese and our nation: A wave of protests has shaken the country after the killing of George Floyd.
Tensions are high at the moment the country needs unity. The church herself has gone through
a painful period over the past two years, reliving the worst years of the sexual abuse crisis. People might want to ask these four men, “Do you really want to become a priest now?”
Well, this year’s ordinands are not as numerous as they were in 2014, but they certainly are an extraordinary group.
Three of them are in their 50s, and the fourth is 35 years old. The four of them have been through a lot in their lives. They arrive at their ordination as mature men after facing all kinds of challenges and detours.
Father Dragan Pusic is from Bosnia and grew up under communism in Yugoslavia. He and his family paid the price of being Catholics at a time when being so meant you were considered a second-class citizen in his country.
After the end of communism and the disintegration of Yugoslavia, he lived through horrible civil wars that killed more than 140,000 people.
Father Peter Okajima was born in Manhattan and raised in Queens, in a family where religion was not discussed. His father, born and raised in Japan, was a Buddhist and served as a Japanese translator for General Douglas MacArthur. His mother was a Shintoist. As a young man, Father Okajima got married, had two kids, and had a great job in the financial sector. Later in life, he divorced, had his marriage annulled, and discovered his vocation. He attended two different seminaries before coming to Brooklyn.
Father Gabriel Agudelo grew up in Colombia in a profoundly Catholic family. He felt the call to the priesthood as a very young man, but his journey to the priesthood took 40 years. Along the way, he and his family had to leave their city under death threats from Marxist guerrillas. He studied international finances in Bogota and later decided to join the Jesuits. Later, he became a monk for seven years and, finally, he decided to become a priest.
The fourth one, Father Nestor Martínez, is also from Colombia. He grew up on a farm as one of 10 siblings in a devout family. They prayed the Rosary every night and worked the land every day. College was not an option — his family didn’t have the necessary resources — but he felt called to the priesthood since he was 13 and finally was able to enter the seminary in Colombia. Later,
he decided to come to the United States and enrolled in two different seminaries before coming to Brooklyn.
The path to the priesthood has been atypical for these four men. They have extraordinary stories, as you will read in their biographies, which we have included in this issue. Maybe their whole lives have
been a preparation to become priests at such a difficult and extraordinary moment for our church and our country.
We have asked the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field. After a long journey, these four men have come to serve His people in Brooklyn and Queens. Let us thank the Lord and pray
for our four new priests.