The ordination of a priest is always a time of great joy and celebration, not only for the newly-ordained, but also for his family and friends, clergy and religious, the congregation looking on during the solemn liturgy, and indeed the Diocese as a whole.
This great joy and celebration was amplified on August 2 with the ordination of Father Norbert Suresh Vargheese, 29, who was welcomed into the presbyterate after a journey of discernment and formation that brought him to the Diocese of Harrisburg from his native India.
Father Vargheese will serve in his first assignment as parochial vicar at St. John Neumann Parish in Lancaster.
The new priest smiled broadly throughout the liturgy, celebrated by Bishop Ronald Gainer.
“I am so happy and excited,” Father Vargheese told The Catholic Witness. “I am looking forward to celebrating the sacraments, especially Confession and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”
His home parish is the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Hanover. He is the fifth priest to be ordained for the Diocese this year.
Journey to the Priesthood
A native of Tamil Nadu, India, Father Vargheese said his vocation was fostered in his home and in his parish, where he was an altar server as a child.
“My faith journey started from my mother. She is a very devoted woman. I recall going with her to Mass. I used to help the priest celebrate the Mass, being an altar server. Being able to be so close to the Altar of God and seeing how the priest was so close, I was so much inspired,” said Father Vargheese, whose family watched the livestream of the Mass on the Diocese’s YouTube page from their home in India.
“I expressed the idea to my parents about becoming a priest, and they were very happy about that. After tenth grade, I told our former parish priest. He also was very happy with that,” he recalled. “I was inspired by his parish ministry work and administrating the sacraments. He helped the poor. Whatever the people asked him, he would do for them because he was very people-oriented.”
Father Vargheese came to the United States after joining the Missionaries of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in 2008. He was invited by the order to study Theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., and professed his vows in 2019.
He came to know the Diocese of Harrisburg and the Diocesan priesthood through the religious community’s House of Studies located at Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Fairfield. Through that awareness of the Diocesan priestly vocation and the generosity of his former religious community, he was incardinated as a cleric of the Diocese of Harrisburg.
“The Diocese of Harrisburg has a good, solid presbyteral foundation, rooted in a deep respect for persons, loving service, supports our relationships with the people and our brother priests, and helps the priests muster the energy of the believing community to be minsters of loving service as well,” Father Vargheese remarked. “I personally feel a sense of welcome, love and care.
Eager to Shepherd
Father Vargheese’s assignment prior to ordination was to St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Lancaster, and one that he called “a great blessing.”
“The people in the parish received me with such love and care. Father Matthew Morelli is a great pastor, understandable and easy to work with,” he said. “During this period, I learned many things about the Diocesan priesthood. My pastoral period helped me to discern my vocation deeply in the Diocese of Harrisburg; that my priesthood should serve the particular pastoral needs of the parish, such as being available to those who are in need, visiting the sick and spiritually accompanying parishioners.”
In his homily during the Mass, Bishop Gainer offered an instruction on the ministry of the priest. “Norbert, in your hands, the great miracle of Divine Love is perpetuated. The Holy Eucharist is rightly at the center of the priest’s life, just as it is at the center of the Church’s life,” he told the candidate he was about to ordain.
“Let the offering of the Sacrifice of the Mass strengthen you for the many and challenging sacrifices that will be required of you in your daily life and ministry,” the bishop told him.
“Be a reconciler, be an ambassador of Christ, by showing His mercy to all you serve” and “lead the flock to God the Father, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit,” he said.
“Norbert, be a good shepherd – generous, loving and self-forgetting – for the people entrusted to your care,” Bishop Gainer said.
Father Vargheese expressed his eagerness to serve the people of the Diocese. “I look forward to bringing Christ to people, and people to Christ by journeying together with them to heaven,” he said.
It’s been quite a journey for the new priest – from India to Pennsylvania, from a religious community to the Diocesan priesthood.
“The times of waiting have taught me to trust in the Lord at all times in my life,” Father Vargheese said. “I know that it is not easy for me, but many people, my spiritual director and many priests, supported me during these times of waiting. This period taught me that God is raising up the right leaders at the right times to shepherd the people of God.”
“This many years, I have experienced God’s mercy and love, so I am eagerly looking forward to show that same love to the people through my service and ministry,” he said.
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness