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James Gebhart ‘full of energy, enthusiasm, commitment to the church’ as he prepares for May 18 priestly ordination in Wilmington

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Deacon James Gebhart prepares to read the Gospel during Holy Thursday Mass at the Cathedral of St. Peter Church, March 28, 2024. Dialog photo/Don Blake

In years of formation in advance of his May 18 priestly ordination, soon-to-be Father James Gebhart has become known among parishioners in several parishes where he has family ties and others in the Diocese of Wilmington where people got to know him through contributions as a seminarian.

With connections growing up in two parishes and having been discerning his call to the priesthood a large portion of his adult life, Gebhart has also developed relationships among local priests who contributed to his formation.

In the days before his ordination, The Dialog spoke to three priests he identified as being among the many who helped him in the years of study and prayer leading to this important day in his life. They were eager to talk about a man they believe will become a holy priest who will make significant contributions wherever he is called to serve.

 

Father John Hynes, retired priest of the Diocese of Wilmington, longtime pastor of St. Catherine of Siena.

Gebhart and his family were parishioners at St. Catherine for a time while Father Hynes was pastor. He baptized James and gave him first communion. He remembers Father Hynes from his first Mass as an altar server and his impact on his vocation.

James Gebhart will be ordained a priest May 18.

“He was the first image of priesthood that I saw as a child,” he said.

Father Hynes said he’s taken great joy in being part of Gebhart’s upbringing.

“James was a student at the parish school and I remember I used to tell bible stories to grades one and two, so he must have been in one of my bible story circles,” Father Hynes said.

“After James had graduated from high school, he came to me and told me he was considering priesthood. I was deeply touched and we talked, and James entered the seminary,” said Father Hynes, whose own ordination was 59 years ago.

“I thought of James as a quiet young man, not one to stand out in a group, but I discovered that this was not exactly true because he excelled at studies at Seton Hall and I remember he was directing the singing at one of the Masses I attended up there. I realized that going to study for the priesthood had opened up talents of his that I hadn’t noticed. This was a very happy discovery for me, his spiritual leanings and his aptitude for prayer.”

“I am overjoyed that at every step he continues his discernment and his decision to enter the priesthood.

Father John M. Hynes

“(He is) very positive in all things, in my experience. Someone who people can expect to listen to them and someone who can be trusted with responsibilities.”

Father Hynes is confident Gebhart will be a fine priest and he cherishes having had a role in his development.

“I feel terrific,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve known or had a part to play in a young man’s life from so early until he got to ordination, so it seems like late in my priesthood the Lord has kind of gratified me with this kind of experience with James.”

“I’m deeply honored, I honestly feel honored beyond my capacity.”

 

Father Charles Dillingham, administrator at St. Catherine of Siena and retired pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption.

Gebhart selected Father Dillingham, his pastor when his family moved to St. Mary’s, to vest him on his ordination day. “He has been a constant support and has been a mentor and friend to me,” Gebhart said.

Father Charles C. Dillingham

“He was a college freshman when I met him,” Father Dillingham said. “I was on the vocations staff at the time. Part of my honor was to work with people who were in college and try to help them discern their future. James came and talked to me. We met monthly. I had a little booklet that we used and we went through the chapters, read the material, answered the questions and he was very, very faithful to the meetings.

“I knew from the beginning that there was a strong, strong possibility that God was calling him to the priesthood. Father (Christopher) Coffiey was involved and obviously (James) made a fine impression on all of us.”

Father Dillingham said Gebhart was known to those at the church as a regular altar server.

“James would help us out with serving Mass. He served one of the Masses on Christmas Eve. And afterward he said to me ‘I have decided I want to make an application to the seminary.’ Wow! What a great Christmas present that was to the church of Wilmington.

“I stayed very close to James and we would keep up our relationship. Every single year you could see his growing more and more and more in the image of the priesthood. He is always very conscientious. He has a great work ethic. He is on top of everything. He doesn’t say no to anybody or anything. He’s always willing to give of himself. He’s quite talented. He has a beautiful singing voice and he is able to explain church doctrines and theologies in a language that people can understand.”

Father Dillingham credits “a very good, supportive family, his mom and dad and his brother, Andrew. They raised him right, put good values in him, virtues. His grandmother was Doris Martin at St. Elizabeth. Again, a family of reaching out.

“He’s a very down-to-earth guy. He can relate to everybody.”

Like so many, Father Dillingham is optimistic that Father James Gebhart will be a strong addition to the clergy.

“We will be getting a young priest who is full of energy, full of enthusiasm, full of commitment to the church and the people of God,” he said. “A priest who will be willing to give of himself. Whatever he’s asked to do in his parish, he will do it very well, and he will even find things that maybe he’s not asked to do but need to be done.”

“He’ll need support and guidance from his brother priests, and there’ll be no lack of that.”

 

Father Christopher Coffiey, pastor at St. Benedict/St. Elizabeth parish, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Father Coffiey was associate pastor at St. Mary the Assumption in Hockessin, the first assignment after his own priestly ordination, when he first encountered young parishioner James Gebhart.

Father Christopher R. Coffiey

“I remember seeing him at Mass and at adoration,” Father Coffiey said. “Often times he would come by himself and so for a young man to be in the pew by himself these days is not a common sight. After daily Mass one day, I pulled James aside and I asked about where he’s from and what brings him to Mass and what he’s doing with his life.

“He was in college and I asked him ‘Have you ever thought about the priesthood?’ And he gave me this shocked and puzzled look. We had breakfast a few weeks later and I encouraged him to join the Knights of Columbus at the parish.”

The Diocese of Wilmington vocations office sponsored “Come and Seek,” a program for men discerning priesthood that included the assistance of young priests.

“It was over the course of several months that I started talking to him about his future and I encouraged him to come to a CAS meeting.

“It was very telling that there was something inside of him that said he was not fully satisfied with what he was doing. And I encouraged him to think about the priesthood. The rest is history. He found out he wanted to go and enter the seminary.”

Deacon James Gebhart. Dialog photo/Joseph P. Owens

He said he’ll be happy to see Gebhart ordained a priest.

“I think he will be a very giving priest. And he’s also going to stand firm for the teachings of the church. And I think he’s going to be very dynamic.”

Father Coffiey believes the church gains momentum as young people commit to vocations.

“Young men today, they want to look up to someone who is a hero and someone who is doing something they could be doing. They need to have examples. No one wants to get aboard a train that is stalled or stopped. They want to get on a train that’s moving.

“I think he’ll make an excellent priest overall.”