By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
MUSCATINE – One by one, Bishop Martin Amos and 32 priests laid hands on the head of Christopher Thomas Weber as he knelt in prayerful contemplation of his ordination to the priesthood in Ss. Mary & Mathias Church.
“I was just praying that God would give me a share of the best gifts of each of these priests,” Father Weber said June 3, after the ordination Mass in his adopted parish. Some of the priests, deacons, women religious and youth ministers who witnessed Fr. Weber’s ordination that sunny morning said they knew he had a vocation to the priesthood long before he did.
“I’ve been praying for this day for a long time,” said Deacon Joe Dvorak, who proclaimed the Gospel at Fr. Weber’s ordination liturgy. “The Holy Spirit finally got him!”
Deacon Dvorak has known the new priest for about 25 years. “We’ve been great friends. He was a youth minister while I was director of youth ministry for the diocese. I kind of mentored him,” added Deacon Dvorak, who serves as parish life coordinator for Immaculate Conception Parish, Colfax. “He’s got a very caring personality, he’s extremely intelligent and he will do really well.” “He’s very genuine,” added Peggy Dvorak, Deacon Dvorak’s wife.
Fr. Weber, 39, admitted to doubts entering the seminary. “But after that first semester I realized that’s where I belonged. … A lot of people knew long before I did.”
Bishop Amos, who retires this month, shared insights about his own priesthood during his homily at the ordination Mass. The bishop said he discovered while serving in his home Diocese of Cleveland that parishioners’ lists of hopes for a new pastor were a little unrealistic. “Jesus himself could not do this!” the bishop quipped.
But, he added, “What I consistently heard was: we want a holy man, a man of prayer, a good presider and preacher, a servant-leader, and a good liturgist. I think they were looking for a priest after the heart of Jesus, the high priest.”
The bishop reminded priest-elect Weber that “ministry and priesthood are not primarily about you. You are not a one-man show. I remember Bishop Ken Untener, when he was alive, contrasting the role of a concert pianist and a piano player at a sing-along…. At a sing-along the piano player is there to enable the music to come out of those who have gathered. We have a particular and special role in the church. We are not the concert pianist. We invite and lead others to help bring about the Kingdom.”
You must be a holy man, a man of prayer, Bishop Amos said. People have a right to good liturgy and good preaching, he continued. He joked about some challenges in his ministry, such as the times he’d think: “I wonder why that person is yawning during my homily!” The bishop advised: “Don’t tell them everything you know when you preach … God will speak to their hearts.”
Finally, you must be a servant-leader, the bishop said, and remember that God is with you. “… My prayer is that you will experience some of the same joy I have experienced, especially in the people you serve.”
Father Marty Goetz, celebrating his 25th anniversary as a priest this year, expressed a similar sentiment. Before Mass, he and priest-elect Weber were standing outside the church. “He was thinking of me and I was thinking of him,” Fr. Goetz said.
“We share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. It’s awesome to be here to pray for Chris. Hopefully, he’ll have the same joy that I have experienced these past 25 years,” added Fr. Goetz, pastor of parishes in Burlington, West Burlington and Dodgeville.
Fr. Weber said he experienced many powerful moments during his ordination Mass. During the Litany of Supplication, when the congregation asked the saints to intercede for the needs of the priest-elect and for the needs of all people, he thought about “being surrounded by the whole family of God.”
Another powerful moment came during the vesting ritual, when Father Jake Greiner, pastor of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport, helped Fr. Weber put on his chasuble. The two priests smiled broadly and shared a bear hug as the congregation sang “You are a priest forever, in the line of Melchizedek.”
“We were good friends at St. Paul Seminary,” Fr. Greiner said later. “He asked me to vest him as a result of that friendship. I was blown away that he asked me. It was an honor and a privilege. He’ll be an amazing priest for the diocese. He brings so much experience because of having been a youth minister and he has a pastoral style beyond his age. …He’ll do a great job because Christ will work through him.”
Sister Cheryl Demmer, PBVM, director of Religious Education at Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine, noted that “Chris and I worked together for eight years. He was my youth minister. I actually hired him. I have a lot of pride, a deep sense of gratitude and am very happy” to see him ordained to the priesthood.
“After collaborating with him for 11 years as a youth minister, it’s incredible to see him carry on this journey,” said a teary-eyed Pat Sheil of St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt. “When he told all of us (youth ministers) that he was entering the seminary, everyone said, ‘“It’s about time.’”
“Ever since I met now-Fr. Chris Weber, I admired his charism for youths,” said Father Jeff Belger, parochial vicar at St. Mary Parish and a campus minister at Newman Catholic Student Center, both in Iowa City. “When he announced that he was going to seminary, I said ‘Thanks be to God.’”
Seminarian Andrew Rauenbuehler participated as a young teen in the youth group in Muscatine when Fr. Weber was the leader. “He created an environment that made everyone who came feel welcome and that they had a part to play in the church.” The two men also attended seminary the past two years at St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St. Paul, Minn. “I’m so happy for him,” Rauenbuehler said. “I know he’ll be a great priest.”
Carol Laughlin, director of Religious Education and the youth minster at St. Mary Parish in Pella, said Fr. Weber “was such a great youth minister. He has a tremendous amount of ministry skills. He’s just so good with the people, and so dedicated to what he does.”
Fr. Weber said he discerned a vocation to the priesthood eight years ago, through the “witness of some really happy, holy priests who radiated joy in priesthood. When these guys came into my life, I thought (the priesthood) was something I could be excited about giving my life to.” His parents, Tom and the late Jan Weber, also provided an excellent witness, he said. “They had a steady faith.”
Bishop Martin Amos was the first person Chris blessed after the ordination Mass; his father, Tom, was the second. Standing by the bishop at the altar during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, it sunk in, Fr. Weber said. “I’m a priest and this is what I do – offer the Mass.”