WILMINGTON — Bright sunshine poured across the St. Elizabeth parish campus as Rev. Mr. Michael Preston entered the church in the moments before becoming the first priest in four years to be ordained in the Diocese of Wilmington.
A large group of priests of the diocese processed into the church ahead of Bishop Malooly as a COVID-limited congregation of friends and family eagerly gathered for the ordination of Father Preston, a Port Deposit, Md., native who became the first priest ordained since Father Richard Jasper in 2017.
“We gather for a very special occasion. Your journey has been very successful and you make us very proud,” said Bishop Malooly.
In the rite of ordination, Father Norman Carroll, director of the priestly and religious vocations for the diocese and pastor at St. Elizabeth, presented the candidate to the bishop, asking him to “ordain this man to the responsibility of the priesthood.”
Bishop Malooly inquired of the candidate’s worthiness and concluded: “Relying on the help of the Lord God and our savior Jesus Christ, we choose this man, our brother, for the Order of the Priesthood.”
The 90-minute celebration happened on a spring day in Wilmington when temperatures touched the low 90s, but a gentle-breeze kept the open-air church temperate through the ordination ceremony.
In the bishop’s homily, he thanked Father Preston’s mother, Cathy Bradley, and his family.
“Thank you for giving us Michael as an ordained deacon and now as an ordained priest,” the bishop said.
In a nod to Michael’s life on his family farm in Cecil County, Md., the bishop mentioned the new priest’s selection of and written reflections upon the two readings – Jeremiah 1:4-9 and I Peter 5:1-4.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen the writing of two fishermen, Peter and John, put into context by a farmer. But we had the word shepherd, we had flock, we had stubborn sheep, we had a lot of different things in your reflections and yet they’re all very appropriate to the moment that we celebrate.”
“In the first reading from Jeremiah, we talk about the power of God, the power of God that is in you, will be stronger in you and that Jeremiah found comfort in even though he was so reluctant. And as you think about, over the years of preparation, there’s a reluctance at times, there’s growth, different spurts that’s part of any of our lives, and I think Jeremiah is example for us. Started off slowly and picked up steam as he went along, much as you did.”
“It’s an ongoing test and ongoing task to do the Lord’s work,” the bishop said.
The bishop also recalled his own ordination 51 years ago in the Archdiocese of Baltimore when Bishop Malooly was ordained a priest by his uncle, Bishop Austin Murphy. He said he remembered Bishop Murphy’s words as he spoke the next day at his first Mass.
“’A priest is ordained to serve with simplicity, sincerity and dedication,’” Bishop Malooly said, quoting his uncle. “’He must cooperate in allowing the Holy Spirit to change his own inner reality into that of Christ.’ It reminded me that day of three things that I’ve never forgotten. He said to me ‘You need to be a man of faith, a man of prayer and a man of love.’
“And Michael, that’s what I’ve seen in you over these last years. A man of prayer, a man of faith and a man of love. We congratulate you. We thank God for the special gift you will be, and we encourage you to continue to grow day by day in the special graces that are part of the gift of the ordination into priesthood.”
Bishop Malooly closed the celebration by introducing Father Joseph Piekarski, pastor of St. John the Beloved, and for the first time revealing that this would be the parish of Father Preston’s first priestly assignment.
Bishop Malooly is serving the diocese as apostolic administrator, a position he will hold until July 13, when Bishop-elect William E. Koenig is ordained a bishop and installed as the 10th ordinary of the diocese at St. Elizabeth Church in Wilmington.