Ordination is a blessing and a joy for diocese’s newest priests

Bishop J. Mark Spalding lays hands on Father Javier Suarez during his priestly ordination Mass at the Cathedral of the Incarnation on Aug. 15. Masks and social-distancing measures, including limited seating capacity in the Cathedral, were in place amid COVID-19 restrictions as Father Suarez and Father Juan Carlos García were ordained priests for the Nashville Diocese. Photo by Rick Musacchio

Just before ordaining Juan Carlos García-Mendoza and Javier Suarez Montañez as the newest priests for the Diocese of Nashville, Bishop J. Mark Spalding asked them to turn around and look out at their family and friends gathered in the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville.

“This is your family, these are your friends, these are those, in so many ways, who have brought you to this moment. And they are so thankful,” Bishop Spalding said.

Then the bishop asked them to look at the nearly 40 priests on the altar.

“What you see up here, by what we do today, they are your brothers,” Bishop Spalding said. “Never forget that. They want to be with you in the presbyterate because all of us, working together, build up the kingdom of God that is ours in this part of the world.”

Father García and Father Suarez were ordained to the priesthood on Saturday, Aug. 15, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the Cathedral.

“It feels great. It’s a huge blessing,” said Father Suarez. “There are no words to describe it. To see the love of the people, the love of the Church is amazing.”

“I still can’t believe it. I’m still processing it,” Father García said after the ordination Mass. “It’s a huge blessing, a great joy.”

The ordination of Father García, who was born in Mexico and moved to Nashville with his family when he was 10 years old, and Father Suarez, a native of Colombia, was the first time in the diocese’s history that all the men in an ordination class were Latino.

Bishop J. Mark Spalding anoints the hands of Father Javier Suarez during his ordination along with Father Juan Carlos García on Saturday, Aug. 15, at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville. Father Suarez has been assigned to Immaculate Conception Church in Clarksville, while Father Garcia will be at Saint Rose of Lima Church in Murfreesboro.

“It shows how diverse not only the diocese is but the city of Nashville as a whole,” said Father García. “It shows the universality of the Church. … It shows the beauty of that.”

Among those attending the ordination were members of Father García’s family from Nashville and Texas as well as friends from his home parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, which was established to serve Nashville’s Spanish-speaking Catholics, and friends from Holy Rosary Church in Donelson, where he served as a pastoral associate during his time as a seminarian.

As a sign of his hope to be a bridge between the Latino and Anglo communities in the diocese, Father García asked Father Fernando Lopez, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Father Dan Steiner, pastor of Holy Rosary, to vest him during the ordination Mass.

It was an emotional moment when both pastors laid their hands on his head during the ordination rite, Father García said.

“Those two priests have been an example. They are not only friends and brothers, but they are fathers,” he said. “To have them here with me was very meaningful.”

Father Dan Stiener, pastor of Holy Rosary, left, and Father Fernando Lopez, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, assist Father Juan Carlos García vesting after he was ordained.

‘Keep Mary close’

In his homily, Bishop Spalding drew the connection between the ordination and the Feast of the Assumption.

“We keep in mind this great solemnity of the Blessed Mother. We keep in mind that she of course is the model of the Church,” Bishop Spalding said. “She gives us the great example.”

“She’s especially close to our priests,” Bishop Spalding said. “Juan Carlos, Javier, keep Mary close … she will guide you, she will lead you, she will protect you.”

The Blessed Mother is always pointing others to her son, Bishop Spalding said.

“Two men stand before us and make great promises to live and to love and to pray and to care and to challenge us to be more like that Son of Mary,” he added.

“We must live as Christ lived. We must live as Mary did,” the bishop said. “Jesus said yes to God. The Blessed Mother said yes to God. And look what great things have happened ever since.

“Every day pray for strength to be true to that yes to God, and then God will do great things in and through you,” Bishop Spalding said. 

The newly ordained Father Javier Suarez, prays during the Eucharistic Prayer at his ordination Mass held at the Cathedral of the Incarnation on Saturday, Aug. 15.

‘So much love and brotherhood’

As part of the ordination rite, the bishop anointed the new priests’ hands and laid his hands on their heads in silent prayer. The other priests on the altar then came forward to do the same, sanitizing their hands both before and after.

“When the priests were laying hands on me, you could feel so much love and brotherhood,” said Father Suarez. “And whenever I was keeling in front of the bishop, I felt the love of the diocese, the love of the father.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, attendance at the ordination was limited to maintain social distancing and everyone was wearing masks.

Father Suarez’s sister, who lives in the United States, was the only member of his family who could attend the ordination. The others were unable to travel from Colombia.

In their stead were many of Father Suarez’s friends from Our Lady of the Lake Church in Hendersonville, where he served as a pastoral associate and where he celebrated his first Mass on the evening of Aug. 15.

It was emotional not having more of his family present, he said, but the presence of his friends was a comfort. “Every time I turned … I saw friends, I saw love, I saw the Church,” he said. “It’s worth it to give your life for them.”

Bishop J. Mark Spalding kneels for a blessing from newly ordained Father Juan Carlos García as Father Javier Suarez awaits his turn to bless the bishop at the end the Mass at the Cathedral of the Incarnation where the two men were ordained. It is Bishop Spalding’s tradition to ask for a blessing from every priest he ordains.

‘Give ourselves to God’

Father Suarez will start his priestly service as the Associate Pastor at Immaculate Conception Church in Clarksville. He’s is looking forward to beginning his ministry and “being with the people,” he said.

“Our vocation is to give ourselves to God no matter what and be ready to serve,” Father Suarez said. “That is our life. It’s a life of service.”

Father García’s first assignment will be at St. Rose of Lima Church in Murfreesboro, and he too is ready to start working in the parish.

One of the things that drew him to the priesthood, Father García said, was that priests are present in the happiest moments of people’s lives and at the most challenging.

“God chose me to make himself present,” Father García said. “That in itself is the greatest gift, not only for me but for God’s people.”


View the ordination

To view a video of the ordination of Father Juan Carlos García-Mendoza and Father Javier Suarez Montañez, visit the Diocese of Nashville’s website at www.dioceseofnashville.com.

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