by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Other than the men themselves, no one was looking forward more to the priestly ordinations of Deacon Travis Mecum and Deacon Anthony Mersmann on May 23 than the ordination class of 2019.
In a normal year, these six men — ordained almost a year to the day — would be among the first to crowd the front steps of the Cathedral of St. Peter to offer their fraternal congratulations to the newly ordained.
But not this year.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas to take many precautions, among those, limiting the number of persons at the liturgy.
“I definitely was very saddened,” said Father Kenn Clem, associate pastor of Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe, ordained last year. “These are my brothers. I was so excited for them to share with us this beautiful joy and gift that is the priesthood, and to be there.
“I was looking forward to when all the priests go through and lay their hands on their brothers. I was so very excited to be a part of it.”
Father Dan Weger, associate pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood, is also sorry to be missing it.
“Considering everything else that has happened, it made complete sense and I have no issue with it,” said Father Weger, also ordained in 2019.
“Of course, I’m saddened by the fact [I can’t attend], but I didn’t get my hopes up that we’d still have all the priests there,” he added. “It was never really an option once the COVID-19 pandemic started.”
For this and other things disrupted, he went through a grieving process and then into a mode of acceptance.
“My mindset was less heartbroken and more, ‘All right, I’ll just have to host a watch party and livestream it,’ so that’s what we’re going to do,” said Father Weger.
“It’s sad,” he continued, “but they’ll be my brothers for the rest of our lives, so I’m not super-concerned I’m missing anything. This is an important day, but a day nevertheless . . . this too shall pass.”
The new priests will find rewards and surprises in their first year, just as the class of 2019 did.
“I didn’t think I’d enjoy hearing confessions as much as I do,” admitted Father Weger. “Getting down to brass tacks, forgiveness is amazing for both the confessor as well as the penitent. Being able to be a part of that has been a greater joy than expected.”
Father Clem has also found it rewarding to be a confessor.
“I found that I really do have a great heart for the sacrament of confession,” he said. “It’s always life-giving. Even on a day when there are a million other things to do, it’s one of the most life-giving things I can do as a priest, particularly with those who have struggles.”
Father Weger learned God can use him to speak to others.
“When I step out of the situation and pray that God speak through me, I find that he does,” he said. “People hear God speaking to them in the words that I say. Half the time I don’t even know what I’m saying, but God speaks to them in those moments.
“[I feel God] encouraging me to stop trying to assert what I think what’s best and let God minister to his people through me. It has been extremely good and fruitful.”
One of the biggest lessons learned by Father Clem and Father Weger is how to minister to different kinds of people.
“In a parish as large as Prince of Peace, there are going to be [people] with different opinions and points of view,” said Father Clem. “There will be different personalities.
“In all those differences, we still have to be united — we are still members of the body of Christ, especially during a pandemic that works to keep us apart. We can’t allow our personal differences to disrupt the unity in the body of Christ.”
“[Pastor] Father Brian Schieber has taught me a lot about how to minister to people coming from all different angles, and that there are people on all sides of every issue, and you have to be a priest to all of them,” said Father Weger.
Drawing from their own first year, Father Clem and Father Weger offer this advice to the two newly ordained men as they begin their first year of priestly ministry.
“You’ve been formed well,” said Father Weger. “Rely on your formation and don’t feel like you have to reinvent the wheel. You’re not in this alone. Not only do you have other priests who are in this with you, but you also have priests for the past 2000 years who are with you.”
“Remember what you are ordained to be and what it is that you do,” said Father Clem. “You are ordained to be the minister of Christ, not the minister of you.
“You are called to bring Christ to his people, not bring you to his people.
“Christ ministers to his people and our job is to step out of the way and let him do that.”