SALT LAKE CITY — Father Stephen Tilley was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Salt Lake City by Bishop Oscar A. Solis on June 30 in the Cathedral of the Madeleine.
“Our hearts are filled with joy and gratitude because our diocese is blessed with a new shepherd, a new priest,” the bishop said.
Concelebrating at the Mass were Monsignor Colin F. Bircumshaw, vicar general; Monsignor J. Terrence Fitzgerald, vicar general emeritus; Father Kerry Abbot, OFM Conv, vice rector of the Pontifical North American College and Fr. Tilley’s formation advisor; Father Martin Diaz, rector of the cathedral; and numerous priests of the diocese.
“In some mysterious way, Deacon Tilley, just like the prophet Jeremiah in the first reading and many other prophets and priests, heard God’s call,” the bishop said in his homily. Although others may be more gifted, intelligent, holier and prayerful, God calls not the qualified, but qualifies the called, and God chose Fr. Tilley, the bishop said.
Speaking to the new priest, Bishop Solis encouraged him to pray so that the world may know and experience God’s love and mercy through his ministry. “Even in the midst of your hectic schedule, never forget to pray. Priestly ministry will be empty if it is not rooted with prayer. Without that dimension of prayer, we will be simply offering a church of the world rather than God’s divine kingdom. Always be ready to face resistance and hostility; indifference to your preaching and skepticism to teaching the truth. You might get tired, frustrated, hurt and disappointed. In your weakness, fragility and brokenness, do not be afraid, for you are not alone – God will be with you, as he promised, forever. After all, the mission of being a priest is not yours, it is Christ’s; the words that you will proclaim are not your words but his Gospel.”
Bishop Solis also expressed his gratitude to Fr. Tilley’s mother “for allowing God to touch him and to respond favorably to his invitation to a life of love and service in the priesthood.” He also thanked Fr. Tilley’s family and friends for their support of his vocation.
Among the family members who attended Fr. Tilley’s ordination were his mother, Ria Tilley, and his younger sister, Michelle Klee. Ria Tilley said she tried not to think during the Mass because she didn’t want to start crying, but she is very proud of her son. When he blessed her at the end of Mass, it was “indescribable,” she said. “My whole inside was shaking.”
Klee said the Mass was surreal “because as a child I always looked differently at priests, and now that my brother is a priest it’s an honor, but at the same time he’s my brother. … It’s surreal. My brother’s a priest!”
After the Mass and blessing the many faithful who came to him in the cathedral, Fr. Tilley echoed his sister’s description of his ordination. “It’s a little surreal,” he said, smiling and laughing at being addressed as ‘Father.’ “It feels natural. It feels like this is what I’m supposed to do. I feel at peace with it.”
For him, the high point of the Mass was when the bishop anointed his hands with the chrism oil, he said. “There’s something sacramental with the oil that makes it very real. To actually have your hands consecrated means that they’re going to be hands that – well, they’re going to forgive sins, they’re going to be hands that lift the Eucharist, they’re going to be hands that show mercy, great mercy.”
The Mass brought back memories for Father Jorge Martinez, who was ordained last year and is now parochial vicar at St. Francis of Assisi Parish. “It was like I renewed my own promises, and I was encouraged by this Mass,” he said.
The Knights of Columbus Councils at St. Francis Xavier and St. Thomas More parishes sponsored Fr. Tilley as a seminarian. Over the past four years, Jerry Angus, Faithful Navigator of Assembly 1144, kept in regular contact with Fr. Tilley, and “you could see the calling coming out of him,” Angus said. “He can relate to the people and bring the Church into the future.”
“I am filled with joy knowing that we have a new priest for our Church. It’s a real blessing to be here today,” said Mariana Ceron, a St. Thomas Aquinas parishioner and lay ecclesial minister, who helped serve at the reception following the ordination Mass.
“When we get a new priest, it is a great blessing for the community because without them we don’t have Christ,” said Noe Ceron, another St. Thomas Aquinas parishioner and lay ecclesial minister.
Intermountain Catholic reporter Laura Vallejo contributed to this article.