by Dan Madden
ATCHISON — Joined in scholarship, brotherhood and hospitality, two young monks stood before one bishop to give themselves to Christ in ordination — one as a deacon; the other as a priest.
Brother Jeremy Heppler, a monk of St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison, hails from Wichita, a former cowtown on the windswept Kansas plains. His fellow theology student, Brother Cassiano Magalhães de Souza, is from the Abbey of Our lady of Assumption of São Bento Monastery in the mighty metropolis of São Paulo, Brazil — one of the world’s largest cities.
The two monks got to know each other while studying at St. Vincent Archabbey in latrobe, Pa. Brother Jeremy was a year ahead of Brother Casssiano. When the Brazilian merely mentioned that his abbot wished him to be ordained in the United States, Brother Jeremy, who was to be ordained a priest at his abbey, seized the initiative and called his abbot.
Abbot Barnabas Senecal at St. Benedict’s quickly gave his permission, as did Archbishop Joseph Naumann. The unique joint ordination took place on June 5.
For Brother Jeremy, sharing his ordination with Brother Cassiano didn’t detract from his celebration, but enhanced and expanded it.
“My heart leapt at the idea,” he said. “This was a natural fit. Of course, there was our natural connection with Brazil. We have a priory there. But there is also a strong international flavor at St. Vincent’s. I knew Abbot Barnabas and our community and Archbishop Naumann would welcome this opportunity to celebrate the universality of the church.”
Brother Cassiano, who came to St. Benedict’s Abbey three weeks before ordination to get to know the community he would be celebrating with, was effusive in his gratitude.
“Even though he invited me, I was worried,” he said. “I told him, ‘It is your day, your family.’ But he said, ‘I invited you. You didn’t ask.’ I don’t know how to thank him. My abbot says he is amazing for doing this.”
Archbishop Naumann blended the two ordination rituals seamlessly.
“Brother Cassiano and Brother Jeremy, you began your lives thousands of miles apart, but were united intimately many years ago through the waters of baptism, becoming brothers in Jesus Christ,” he said. “You were bound even more closely by your solemn profession as monks of the order of St. Benedict.
“Today, you become connected in another unique and beautiful way as you are ordained respectively as deacon and as priest in this same ordination liturgy.”
Though separated most of their lives, the two men have had the same “life of Christ flowing through their souls,” the archbishop said. “You have answered the lord’s call to come and follow him as monks living the ancient Rule of St. Benedict. You now offer your lives again to serve your respective abbeys — as well as the broader church — as ordained ministers, preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments.”
The ordination Mass included a Brazilian custom in which the families of the two men presented them with the vestments of their ministry.
“This beautiful tradition makes clear symbolically that you present yourselves for ordination having been clothed by the faith of your families — particularly your parents, who have been your first and most influential teachers of the faith,” the archbishop said. “Family and friends have been the human instruments that God has used to form you and clothe you in the virtues and talents that you will need to serve your communities and the people of God as ordained ministers.”
For the newly ordained Father Jeremy, the symbolism was striking. He recalled the night he was first encouraged to consider the priesthood.
“I was working as a director of religious education [when] a man who was very active in our Knights of Columbus walked into my office,” he said. “I can remember it like a photograph. It was a cold winter night. He took off his gray hat and stuck it over his heart and said, ‘I think you would be a good priest.’ I thanked him and he walked out.
“Since that moment, priesthood has seemed a natural fit to me. And God has used many more people along the way to guide me.”
Father Jeremy taught high school along with his work as a director of religious education in a parish before coming to the monastery. He will teach and serve as chaplain at Maur Hill-Mount Academy, a Catholic college preparatory school in Atchison sponsored by the abbey monks and the Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica.
Brother Cassiano will return to his theology studies at St. Vincent’s.