Jesuits Reflect on First Assignments After Ordination

Oct. 18, 2016 - On June 11, 2016, Jesuits Christopher Ryan and Kevin Spinale were ordained priests at the Fordham University Church. While in many ways ordination was a milestone in their years of formation, it was also a beginning of their lives in service as Jesuit priests. Recently, Frs. Ryan and Spinale shared reflections about their post-ordination assignments. Through these first assignments as priests, they have been able to use the pastoral skills cultivated over years of formation and apply them to serving the respective parishioners.

Fr. Ryan’s first assignment was to serve at St. Raphael the Archangel Catholic Church in Raleigh, N.C., and Fr. Spinale’s first assignment was working at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Manhattan. 

Fr. Chris Ryan, SJ

I am deeply grateful that I was afforded the opportunity to spend my first few months as a priest at the Jesuit parish St. Raphael in Raleigh, N.C. My 12 years of formation for priesthood in the Society of Jesus – Ignatian prayer and spirituality, community life, novitiate experiments, philosophy and theology studies, middle school teaching and higher education administration, and a wealth of pastoral work – gave me the skills, experience, and adaptability to join a vibrant and diverse parish in a dynamic city with a rapidly growing Catholic population.

Having become fluent in Spanish and conversant in the cultural and social environment of Hispanic Catholics in both the United States and Latin America - in a parish whose population is nearly 40% Hispanic - was a natural fit for me, and fertile ground for drawing upon this thread of my vocation. Having studied geography at Dartmouth and lived in many regions of the United States and several Latin American countries, I relished the experience of serving a community whose members hailed from more than 50 countries. Having deeply enjoyed my ministry as a deacon– particularly preaching– at a parish in Boston, I was humbly grateful for the blessing of serving the people of St. Raphael Parish as a priest.

My nine-week assignment passed far too quickly; as it concluded, I remarked to the congregation at the 7 a.m. daily Mass that their devotion to our shared experience of beginning the day with communal worship and prayer was a consistent highlight and inspiration throughout the summer. Taking the time to prayerfully prepare and reverently celebrate the Eucharist, to greet and listen to people as they departed for the remainder of their day– these were moments that grounded me in our common Catholic faith and devotion to making our relationship with God central in our lives.

Now that I have returned to Boston for a final year of studies, I find I miss that rhythm, yet still treasure the grace it instilled in me– a desire to ground my life each day in Christ’s call, my relationships of servant ministry and community with those around me, with a global outlook and a local attentiveness. 

Fr. Ryan is in the final year of the STL degree at Boston College's School of Theology and Ministry. He is writing a thesis that explores the connections between migration and ecclesiology.

Fr. Kevin Spinale, SJ

Throughout my life as a priest, I will always remember my time at Xavier parish as a delightful time – my first gig, my first weeks on the job. After ten years in the Society, I suddenly found myself leading prayer for a vibrant parish community – a community that was quite generous and patient with me as I struggled to shed my training wheels. The men and women at Xavier who were part of the daily Masses, were always encouraging. The ordinary prayer of daily Mass in ordinary time among daily communicants heartened my own faith. Each day, they demonstrated constancy and faithful prayer. Using the prayers for the progress of peoples toward the back of the Roman Missal, we explicitly prayed for peace all summer. We prayed that the peace we felt in the presence of Jesus Christ during daily Mass might extend to our communities and our world. Our prayers for peace became even more urgent in the wake of an attack on a daily Mass community outside Rouen in France on July 25, in which the presider, Fr. Jacques Hamel, was killed. 

St. Francis Xavier Parish is a special place. It has been blessed with wonderful leadership in recent years, and it had a strong leader in Fr. Sean Toole, SJ, over the summer – a novitiate mate who taught me a great deal about priesting in the short time I was with him. I am grateful to Fr. Joe Marina, SJ, Sean, and the staff in the Xavier office. In addition to the staff, I was deeply impressed by the parish outreach to the homeless each Sunday and the volunteers who served hundreds of hot meals to men and women who had no place to go to eat or rest from the heat. I relished spending some time with them each Sunday. Xavier Parish’s leadership, its volunteers, and its weekly feeding of the hundreds also demonstrates fidelity, constancy, and prayerful work for peace. 

One of the great moments each week at the parish this summer entailed walking out toward the street after a weekend Mass with the recessional hymn crescendo-ing behind me and seeing people on 16th Street looking up at me in all my liturgical gear, hearing the grand music, and wondering what in the world is going on. My hope is that their curiosity will bring them back to worship our merciful God at Xavier Parish. They will find a warm welcome and a community that will enrich their lives – a community that enriched my first months of priesthood.

Fr. Spinale is now working at Holy Cross while completing his master’s degree in English at Boston College. 

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