My parish gathered Sunday to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ordination to the priesthood of my pastor, Bishop Paul Sanchez (read his biography here).
Days like this don’t come along often. What a great moment it was.
The Jubilee Mass took place at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Forest Hills — the parish he has led for nearly a decade. There were a total of eight bishops — including the just-retired ordinary, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio — and (I lost count) eight or nine priests and (cough) one deacon. The Knights of Columbus were there, too, and a full choir in the loft, led by our maestro, David Close, and accompanied by a trumpeter.
We had about 500 people in a church that seats over 900 — but it was probably the largest gathering we’ve had since early 2020 and the COVID lockdowns and restrictions.
There was a lot of emotion. Bishop Paul was overcome a time or two and had to choke back tears. His beautiful homily was a 25-minute reflection on his parents, his family, and the seeds of his vocation that began to flower when a religious sister first heard young Paul Sanchez tell her in grade school that he was thinking of becoming a priest. Her response: “Keep that intention in your prayers, Paul.”
The rest is history.
He mentioned that December 5th was also his mother’s birthday, and he offered a poignant remembrance of his parents and their life together. (What went unmentioned was that his father, Lawrence Sanchez, was one of the first deacons ordained in the Diocese of Brooklyn — making Bishop Paul one of only a handful of U.S. bishops who have had a deacon as a dad.)
At the end of his remarks, Bishop Paul got a standing ovation for giving what can truly be called the homily of a lifetime.
At the end of the liturgy, I was struck by the closing remarks of Bishop DiMarzio. He took that opportunity — his first Sunday as a Bishop Emeritus — to reflect on the beautiful reality that all bishops are also priests and deacons. He spoke of how all three orders are linked, and how bishops sometimes wear a dalmatic under their vestments to signify their diaconal roots. This celebration of Bishop Paul Sanchez, he added, was a reminder of what a gift the priesthood is. “Pray for vocations,” he said. “Pray for more priests, deacons and religious.”
Bishop Paul has been a great pastor, priest and friend to so many, including me. This was a blessed reminder of that.
I am one lucky deacon. We are one lucky parish.
Deo gratias! Ad multos annos!