by Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — Love.
That’s the one word Father Justin Hamilton used to describe his ordination day.
“I don’t know how one heart can hold that much love,” he said.
For the new priest, the love was shown in the hundreds who participated in his ordination, including brother priests, parishioners, friends and family.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann ordained the new priest on Nov. 4 at Christ the King Church in Topeka before a crowd of approximately 900. The next day, the new priest celebrated a Mass of thanksgiving at St. Joseph Church, one of two parishes in use by Sacred Heart-St. Joseph Parish in Topeka. Father Hamilton grew up in both Christ the King and Sacred Heart-St. Joseph parishes.
In his homily, Archbishop Naumann said the archdiocese and the church owe “a debt of gratitude” to the family of Father Hamilton, especially to his parents, Dave and Linda Hamilton, who served as his first teachers in the faith and provided an example of living out a vocation with commitment and love.
“The church is grateful,” said Archbishop Naumann. But it wasn’t only the new priest’s parents that the archbishop thanked.
“You also played an important role,” the archbishop told Father Hamilton’s five siblings: Brian Hamilton, Amy Hamilton, Angela D’Souza, Joseph Hamilton and Bethany Knight.
You helped him “to grow in virtue,” the archbishop told them, “just as he probably provided you opportunities to grow in virtue.”
In the days leading up to the ordination, all five siblings found themselves excited for their brother.
While playing the organ at the Holy Hour the day before, Brian Hamilton was hit by the fact that the big moment for his brother had almost arrived.
“I was struck with the realization that my brother is going to be a priest tomorrow afternoon,” he said.
The realization filled him with joy, he said.
“I always called him ‘the saint of our family,’” he continued, adding his brother had always had a deep spirituality.
Brian was touched, too, during the actual ordination, when Archbishop Naumann, Archbishop Emeritus James P. Keleher and then the many priests in attendance performed the ancient rite of the laying on of hands.
“Just to see all those men who have committed their lives to Jesus,” he said, was amazing.
That was not the only moment that touched Father Hamilton’s siblings, though.
One part of the rite of ordination is when the soon-to-be-ordained man lies prostrate before the altar while the congregation sings the Litany of the Saints.
“That was an amazing, amazing moment,” Joseph Hamilton said, illustrating a man surrendering his life to God.
Joseph said he always thought Justin would become a priest.
“He’s always had a deep prayer life developed from a very young age,” he said.
Amy Hamilton, too, said she was moved by the laying on of hands, as well as watching her brother’s hands be anointed with the sacred chrism.
“He has blessed hands,” Amy said. “A simple act [of anointing] changed him into a priest forever.”
And being a priest is truly what her brother is called to do.
“Justin has the gift of a compassionate and understanding heart. He has gone through many difficult times in his life, which has given him much more compassion and empathy for people. So I would consider Justin a very down-to-earth, loving and accessible person.”
One of Father Hamilton’s challenges occurred during his first month in the seminary. He experienced a detached retina.
“It was a very scary experience for all of us. That first year was pretty tough because we had to help him with his studies by reading for him, since he wasn’t able to use his eyes after surgery,” Linda Hamilton said of her son.
Angela D’Souza, another sister, said Father Hamilton’s challenges have made him stronger and more patient.
“He has amazing insight, but he listens so carefully and patiently,” she said.
“I was so very excited to see the anticipation and joy in my brother’s eyes,” she continued. “He literally counted down the days, and I am so happy for him that he’s found so much joy and peace in following God’s call.”
Besides his siblings, the new priest has 15 nieces and nephews, ranging from toddlers to teenagers.
His oldest niece, Malena Hamilton, said seeing “all the priests giving him hugs” was “so cool.”
Her uncle, she believes, “is really close to God and always has great wisdom.”
For Father Hamilton’s parents, their son’s ordination is the culmination of their family’s life of faith.
“I never pushed him,” said his father Dave. “I encouraged him. I felt that it wasn’t my place [to push him]. I just prayed that God’s will be done in his life. If God called him to a vocation to the priesthood, I would be profoundly happy.”
“Parents are the key to a child’s openness to a vocation,” he added. “Parents plant the seeds to a child’s openness to a priestly or religious vocation by emphasizing the importance of prayer and sacraments and building godly virtue.”
Watching his son lie prostrate before the altar was an amazing moment, he said, calling it a “profound act of surrender.”
Witnessing her son surrender his life to Jesus, Linda said, was inspiring to her. It’s hard to adequately capture her feelings in a few words.
“The first Mass was definitely the best part of the whole weekend,” she said.
“The Mass is the summit of our Catholic faith, and I was very moved by Justin’s first Mass being so reverent,” she continued, “and thinking about how my son is now a priest and can consecrate the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ for the people.
“Plus, he’s already heard his first confession. It’s all overwhelmingly beautiful.”