Deacon David Lee ordained at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome

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Diocese of Nashville seminarian Deacon David Lee was among the 18 seminarians from the Pontifical North American College who was ordained on Thursday, Sept. 28, at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Photo courtesy of the Pontifical North American College

Deacon David Lee is one step closer to becoming a priest of Jesus Christ as he and 17 others were ordained to the transitional diaconate on Thursday, Sept. 28, at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City was the main celebrant of the Mass.

Additionally, three U.S. cardinals – Cardinals Raymond L. Burke, retired patron of the Order of Malta; James Harvey, archpriest of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls; and Edwin F. O’Brien, retired grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and a former rector of the U.S. seminary in Rome – were present at the Mass. Four bishops, including Bishop J. Mark Spalding, and several other priests from the diocese concelebrated, including Father Luke Wilgenbusch, director of vocations, Father Andy Bulso, pastor of St. Edward Church, Father Dan Reehil, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Columbia, and Father Augustine Mang, who is currently finishing his graduate theological studies in Rome.

In the days leading up to the ordination, Deacon Lee said the reality of his ordination started to hit him the night before when his class was addressed by Msgr. Thomas Powers, rector of the Pontifical North American College, where he and his fellow ordinands have been completing their seminarian studies for the last several years.

“As he spoke about the ordination, he was commenting that the last thing you do before the rite itself – the laying on of hands and the ordination prayer – is to surrender your life completely and totally to the Lord by lying prostrate on the floor,” Deacon Lee recalled. “I was very moved by that symbolism, and to hear that encouragement from our spiritual father really prepared me to approach ordination with the right disposition.”

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City lays his hands on Deacon David Lee. Photo courtesy of the Pontifical North American College

“I began to feel this desire to give my life to the Lord and realize that ordination is a gift, that you lay your life down for God, and He gives everything back to you through His grace,” he added.

With that in mind, “thinking back on the prostration, even though we weren’t yet ordained, when I stood up, I felt different,” Deacon Lee continued. “I was ready to be set apart for God. In that moment, as the congregation is singing the Litany of the Saints, you just feel so wrapped in prayer and love. It was incredible.”

Then, noting the many family members and friends that were there, he continued, saying, “Seeing how much God has loved me through my family and friends is something I’ll never forget. The whole week was filled with overwhelming gratitude for all the people the Lord has put in my life and have helped prepare me for this moment.”

Deacon David Lee receives the Book of the Gospels. Photo courtesy of the Pontifical North American College

The feelings only continued the next day as he preached at his Mass of Thanksgiving at Santa Maria in Vallicella, also known as the Chiesa Nuova, a church in Rome where Deacon Lee’s confirmation saint, St. Philip Neri, is buried. For Deacon Lee, this opportunity brought to the forefront one of the pieces of advice that Archbishop Coakley gave during his homily at the ordination Mass to look to the saints as examples.

“St. Philip Neri is called the saint of joy and had this incredible ability to be a spiritual advisor to both popes and the orphans here in Rome,” Deacon Lee explained. “They call him the second apostle of Rome behind St. Peter, and he is an incredible witness for me on what it means to live your life for God.

“As an eighth grader receiving my Confirmation, I couldn’t have imagined at that time that I would one day be preaching in the church where he is buried,” he added.

For his first homily, which was witnessed by his family, Bishop Spalding, and several friends and members of the Diocese of Nashville, including nearly 40 pilgrims who traveled for the occasion with Ciao Roma Travel, Deacon Lee focused on the celebration of the Feast of the Archangels and the virtue of obedience.

Seminarians from the Pontifical North American College in Rome lie prostrate during their ordination to the diaconate in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Sept. 28, 2023. CNS photo/Lola Gomez

“Like us humans, the angels, too, are created beings. Specifically, they were created to adore and serve God,” Deacon Lee said. “Today, the Church celebrates three archangels who are found in scripture. Three angels who were sent on a mission as ambassadors of God.

“Each of these angels not only reveal to us God’s glory, but also that God created us to send us on a mission, too; a mission that entails following the example of Christ, one of great sacrifice but also eternal happiness,” he continued after explaining how the names of the three archangels – Gabriel, Rafael, and Michael – reflect an aspect of God’s divinity.

“Yet, due to our own weakness and pride, we can become stuck in our own plans for our lives rather than searching for where God calls us to serve Him,” Deacon Lee continued. “The virtue that is key to following God’s mission is obedience. By obedience, we become more in tune with God’s will for our lives.

“Obedience is not a blind submission to God, but rather is the fruit of a loving relationship,” he said. “When we can trust that God is always at work for our good, then it is possible to put ourselves in the service of God’s mission.”

Now that he is ordained, Deacon Lee will continue to complete his seminarian studies, while also serving as deacon both at the seminary and at the Aviano Air Force Base in Venice, and he said he plans to cherish every moment.

“A deacon has a particular responsibility to proclaim the word of God,” Deacon Lee said. “I’m looking forward to cherishing the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel at Mass, to educate others in the faith, and to begin to get a glimpse of what it’s like to lay down your life for others.

“The promises we took at this diaconate ordination will continue on in the priesthood, so in these next months as a deacon, I hope to use this time to become more closely conformed to Christ,” he continued, “and see this as the beginning of a lifelong mission of serving God.”

OSV News contributed to this report.

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