Priestly ordinations, seminarian education dinner rescheduled

Bishop J. Mark Spalding ordained Juan Carlos Garcia-Mendoza, right, and Javier Suarez as transitional deacons at Our Lady of the Lake Church in Hendersonville in 2019. Their ordination as priests has been rescheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 15, the Feast of the Assumption, at the Cathedral of the Incarnation. Tennessee Register photo by Rick Musacchio

The spring is usually filled with events important in the life of the Church in Middle Tennessee; Confirmations, First Communions, the annual Seminarian Education Dinner and Auction, and the ordination of new priests.

But the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions on gatherings to prevent the spread of the virus have interrupted the Church calendar as they have nearly every other facet of life.

Because of the pandemic, the ordinations of Deacon Juan Carlos Garcia and Deacon Javier Suarez, originally scheduled for May 23, has been moved to 9 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 15, the Feast of the Assumption, at the Cathedral of the Incarnation.

And the Seminarian Education Dinner will be pushed back to late July, although plans have yet to be finalized.

“Aug. 15 is a stable feast day,” Father Austin Gilstrap, director of vocations for the Diocese of Nashville, said. “For these two men they are always going to have the anniversary of their ordination on the Assumption Feast Day, which is pretty cool.”

“They were happy” that a new date had been set for their ordination, Father Gilstrap said of Deacon Garcia and Deacon Suarez. “Obviously, they’ve both been working extremely hard to get to this moment. They’re disappointed that because of the pandemic it wouldn’t be like they thought it would be, but they’re relieved that their families and other priests and the laypeople will be there.”

One of the reasons for pushing the ordinations back from May to August was the hope that more people will be able to attend if it is held in late summer, Father Gilstrap said.

Deacon Suarez’s family, who live in Colombia, would not have been able to attend a May ordination because of restrictions on international travel, Father Gilstrap said. “We’re hoping they’re go-ing to be able to come in August.”

“I don’t think we can put it off any farther,” Father Gilstrap said.

“We’re hoping to have some sort of reception” following the ordination Mass, he said. “Again, we’re not sure what phase (of reopening) we’ll be in then. It’s hard to predict these things.”

The Seminarian Education Dinner and Auction was scheduled for May 19 at Our Lady of the Lake Church in Hendersonville.

“We had everything planned for the live event,” said Ashley Linville, diocesan stewardship director. “Then COVID hit and we decided we couldn’t go forward as we planned.”

Event organizers are still working to select a new date, Linville said. “We’ve kind of narrowed in on a time frame. We’re probably looking at late July to have the event. We haven’t made a firm decision about what the event will look like yet.”

Some of the fundraiser will be moved online, Linville said, but organizers are still weighing whether to also have a live event as well.

“We want to make sure it can be done safely,” Linville said. “We don’t want to put anyone at risk.”

The final details should fall into place in the next couple of weeks, Linville said. “There’s still so much changing day by day,” he said. “In two weeks, we’ll have a better understanding of whether things will continue to open or not.”

The money raised at the Seminarian Education Dinner and Auction each year helps pay the cost of educating the diocese’s seminarians. And whether the event becomes an online fundraiser this year or a combination of an online and live event, it is important for the seminarians and the diocese as a whole, Father Gilstrap said.

“The vocations program is a program that certainly needs to be funded,” Father Gilstrap said. “The dinner is an extremely important part of our budget.

“It’s also important because we find it’s one of those events that the men and all the wonderful people who support the men can get together,” he added. “The men get to know them and they get to know the men better. There’s a real community building aspect that we don’t want to lose if we can avoid it.”

“There’s still a great need for seminarian education, now more than ever,” Linville said. “We see the importance and the need for priests with everything we see going on with COVID. The need to support the education of our priests is not changing.”

Other events in the life of the diocese are also being rescheduled. The confirmations that were scheduled for April and May will be moved to the fall. 

Most First Communions were scheduled for May. Pastors will reschedule them for the summer as the local conditions allow.