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Archbishop ordains four priests

The Catholic Voice

New priests, from left, Bernard Starman, Christopher Onuoha, An Duy Phan and Francis Valerio, stand with Archbishop Elden Francis Curtiss, center, following their ordination June 3 at St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha. Photos by Lisa Schulte
The new priests, from left, Fathers Valerio, Starman, Phan and Onuoha give their first blessing as priests at the end of the ordination of Mass.
Archbishop Elden Francis Curtiss lays his hands on Francis Valerio. This ancient gesture and the prayer that follows are central to the rite of ordination to the priesthood.
Priests of the archdiocese welcome their new brother priests in song immediately following the ordination ceremony.
Father Onuoha is surrounded by family and friends who came to support him on this special day.
Father Starman receives a blessing from Father James McCluskey, pastor at St. Mary Parish in Laurel and St. Anne Parish in Dixon. Father Starman said Father McCluskey played a large role in influencing his decision to become a priest.

Priests of the Archdiocese of Omaha welcomed in song their new brother priests who emerged from the applause-filled St. Cecilia Cathedral following their ordination June 3.

Greeted were Father Christopher Onuoha, Father An Duy Phan, Father Bernard Starman and Father Francis Valerio, who will join the archdiocese's 195 active and retired priests in serving the people of Northeast Nebraska.

As of June 22, Father Onuoha will be part-time assistant pastor of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Omaha with part-time duties with the Intercessors of the Lamb; Father Phan will serve as assistant pastor at Mary Our Queen Parish in Omaha; Father Starman will be part-time assistant pastor at St. Margaret Mary Parish in Omaha and part-time chaplain at Roncalli Catholic High School in Omaha; and Father Valerio will serve as part-time assistant pastor at St. Wenceslaus Parish in Omaha with part-time duties with the Intercessors of the Lamb.

In his homily (see full text on page 2), Archbishop Elden Francis Curtiss told the men that the people of the archdiocese expect only one thing from them "“ to help them encounter the living God.

'They do not expect you to be experts in economics and finance although it will be helpful if you know the essentials of good fiscal management before you become pastors. Our people do not expect you to be charismatic leaders and spell-bounding preachers although you will have to work at giving good homilies if you are going to keep their attention over time. Our people do not expect you to be civic leaders or media notables although they will be pleased if you are involved in the communities where you will serve and take an interest in public affairs," he said.

'What our people will expect from the four of you, as they do the rest of the priests, is that you will become experts in the spiritual life."

Archbishop Curtiss also encouraged the new priests to become contemplative men who make prayer a priority.

'In this world of ours where there is so much noise, so much bewilderment, there is need for silence, need for silent adoration of Jesus concealed in his Eucharist, need for quiet time for yourself so that you can help your people learn to take time for quiet and prayer," he said.

Quoting Pope Benedict XVI, the archbishop offered this advice: 'If you become holy men, you will become great priests."

Following his homily, Archbishop Curtiss completed the ordination ritual. He asked each candidate if he was willing to celebrate the Mysteries of Christ, exercise the ministry of the Word and consecrate his life to the salvation of God's people. Then the archbishop laid his hands on their heads and anointed their hands with Chrism Oil.

Proud families celebrate

After the Ordination Mass, family members of the new priests gathered at the altar to congratulate their loved one and to take pictures together.

'Oh, Lord, I just praise God," said Rosaleen Onuoha, Father Onuoha's mother, who traveled from Virginia to celebrate with her son. 'I'm very much happy."

Meanwhile, Roseanne Williby and Barb Godek stood anxiously in line at the Cathedral Cultural Center, awaiting the blessing of Father Phan, who spent one summer as a seminarian at St. Thomas More Parish.

'An Duy (Phan) is just a hoot and we love him," said Godek, who served as his housekeeper that summer. 'He is so God-spirited. God bless him."

Williby, the principal at St. Thomas More School, said she was happy Father Phan's day had finally come, recalling how that summer at St. Thomas More, he wore a shirt that said, 'Just Ordain Me."

'He was so anxious to be a priest," she said.

Cam Pham, Father Phan's oldest sister, said her brother had been marked for the priesthood ever since he was a child. The youngest of eight, Father Phan loved to go to church and always had a great love for God, she said.

In Vietnamese, his first name means 'keeping the blessings of God forever," said Pham, who lives in Bellevue. 'Today, my mom is able to share that blessing with others."

For Father Valerio's parents, the fact that their son was now a priest had not quite sunk in for them. Jo Valerio, his mother, said she became emotional during the ceremony when her son received the priestly vestments.

'First he was Brother Francis, then he was Deacon Francis and now he is Father Francis," she said. 'But I don't care what they call him. He's always going to be my honey boy."

'We're very proud of him," his father added. 'He'll do a good job. He's got a lot of compassion."

Wearing red carnation corsages, Father Starman's father, Norbert, and his step-mother, Jeanette, of rural Elgin stood and watched as their son give his blessing to friends and family members.

'I think he'll make a very good priest," his father said, smiling.

A new priest reflects

Two days after his ordination and one day after he celebrated his first Mass, Father Valerio was still trying to adjust to his new position as a priest of the archdiocese.

'It's going to take some getting used to, like yesterday when people called me "˜Father' and I was giving a lot of blessings. That's just going to take some getting used to," he told The Catholic Voice.

For Father Valerio, giving his blessing for the first time at the end of the ordination Mass was special, he said, but the most powerful moments of the ceremony were the Litany of Saints, when he laid prostrate on the altar, and the archbishop's homily.

'I think the beauty of the homily was that he was just really confirming in a way what was already in my heart and that is that you can be a lot of things as a priest, but the bottom line is people want to know and experience God," he said. 'If you're constantly fostering your own desire for the Lord, it's going to feed people. If you foster your intimacy with the Lord, that's going to overflow and you're going to be able to share that with others."

Father Valerio said he wants to focus on becoming a holy priest through sacrifice, love and the sharing of himself with others.

'I don't know about the other guys, but for me, the hope and the desire is that the Lord can live within me and through me how he wants to," he said. 'My main prayer is to help me be faithful."

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