HARTFORD – It was a joyous day for celebration and "firsts"on May 12 as Archbishop Henry J. Mansell ordained four men to the priesthood, including the first married priest and the first Vietnamese priest to serve in the Archdiocese of Hartford.
The Cathedral of St. Joseph was the setting in which clergy, seminarians, family and friends gathered to celebrate the ordination of Father Mathieu Isaac, Father Robert Nelson Landback, Father Timothy Edward Ryan, and Father Nicola Nghĩa Hũu Trân. (See photo gallery at right.)
"We give thanks for the men who are being ordained today," said Archbishop Mansell, who offered a few moments of personal reflection.
Referring to research in a book published last year, Why Priests are Happy, by Msgr. Stephen J. Rosetti, the archbishop said that the author found that of all vocations, priests are among the happiest people in the world.
"There is no greater love than to lay one’s life down," he said, "through hearts that are filled with enthusiasm, love and joy" – the joy that comes through the order of the priesthood.
The archbishop also used the occasion to note that the cathedral, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, installed a new permanent altar. Using the symbolism, he reflected on how every good work in the Church proceeds from the altar where priests consecrate the Eucharist.
"We are all Catholics together at the Eucharist, people of communion with God," he said. "That’s what the priesthood is about."
During the rite of ordination, the candidates were presented to Archbishop Mansell by Father Michael J. Dolan, archdiocesan director of vocations. The men then moved forward one at a time to give their promise of obedience to the archbishop and his successors.
The men prostrated themselves during the Litany of the Saints. Archbishop Mansell recited a prayer, asking God to "pour out the gifts of heaven" on the men he has chosen to be priests.
The archbishop then called each man forward to lay his hands on them in silence. The 70 priests attending then moved forward to do the same.
The archbishop then extended his hands over the candidates for the prayer of consecration.
The four men were vested in stoles and chasubles for the first time. Then the archbishop anointed their hands with chrism and presented each of the newly ordained priests with a paten holding the bread and a chalice containing the wine mixed with water.
Before the final blessing, Archbishop Mansell announced, to the cheers and applause of those gathered, the first appointments of the newly ordained: Father Isaac to St. Mary and St. Ann in New Britain; Father Landback to St. Mary in Branford; Father Ryan to St. Mary, St. Rose and St. Isaac Jogues in East Hartford, and Father Trân to St. Mary and St. Robert Bellarmine in Windsor Locks.
With the conclusion of the Mass, the faithful flocked to the new priests to congratulate them and seek their first blessing.
"It’s beautiful … it’s so holy," said an overwhelmed Father Isaac about the ordination, as tears streamed down his face.
Echoing those sentiments was Father Ryan, who moved to Connecticut from California 25 years ago to work for American Airlines.
"It’s exciting, thrilling. I’m nervous, but very happy," he said.
A reflective Father Landback noted that he felt the presence of the Holy Spirit along with the support and prayers of the community during the ceremony.
Also reflective was a beaming Father Trân, who looked on as 14 Vietnamese sisters came from Holy Apostles College in Cromwell, where they are studying, to offer their prayers, support and congratulations.
"I’m so happy, so joyful; my faith has saved me," he said. He stated proudly that after his conversion from Buddhism, his entire family also converted to Catholicism two years ago.
Family members and friends were equally enthusiastic.
"We’re very excited," said Anne Marquis, sister of Father Ryan, who came from San Francisco to attend the ordination. "It’s such a beautiful ceremony, and this is something Tim has wanted his whole life. It’s a dream come true."
A busload of parishioners came from St. Mary Parish in Branford to support Father Landback, who celebrated his first public Mass there.
"It’s so gracious of the Catholic Church to open the priesthood to my husband because he is really meant to be a priest," said his wife, Sally, who attended the ordination with the couple’s daughter and three sons.
Father Landback had been a priest in the Episcopal Church. He was received into the Catholic Church in 2005. His wife also joined the Catholic Church.
Pope John Paul II issued a "Provision" in 1980 allowing Episcopal laity and priests to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. The Provision also allows married former Episcopal priests to be ordained Catholic priests.
Also enjoying the presence of a large contingent of parishioners was Father Trân, who was supported by members from the Vietnamese community at St. Lawrence O’Toole Parish in Hartford.
"We’re proud to have the first Vietnamese priest to be ordained in this archdiocese," said Lauren Ngo, who came from California to represent Father Trân’s immediate family members, who were unable to attend.
"This is very special to us," she said.
Equally thrilled was Mary Isaac of West Haven, the only member of Father Isaac’s family from Gonaives, Haiti, who was able to attend the ordination.
"It’s a big event for our family because of what God is doing in his life," she said of her brother, who she said was influenced by his father, a sacristan in their local parish, and by the faith and devotion of his mother.
Three candidates from Colombia, who were listed among the ordinandi in the program, had asked permission to delay their ordination in a letter to Archbishop Mansell, he announced.
Principal concelebrants for the ordination were Archbishop Emeritus Daniel A. Cronin, and Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Peter A. Rosazza.
Among concelebrants were Msgr. John J. McCarthy, rector of the cathedral and chancellor of the archdiocese; Msgr. Gerard G. Schmitz, archdiocesan vicar for priests and rector of St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield; Father Dolan; Father Douglas L. Mosey, president and rector of Holy Apostles College and Seminary; Father Thomas R. Mitchell, who vested Father Isaac; Father Robert J. Rousseau, who vested Father Landback; Father Ivan D. Ramirez, who vested Father Ryan, and Father Robert F. Tucker, who vested Father Trân.