"Preserve my heart and my body immaculate, that, with a joyful and pure conscience, I may be able to celebrate Thy sacred mysteries often, and receive for my eternal salvation what Thou hast principally ordained and instituted for Thy honor and perpetual remembrance."
The words are solemn and sacred from the verses of "Imitation of Christ," included on the prayer cards printed and distributed in honor of the first mass celebrated more than a year ago by Rev. Benjamin J. Ross on June 24, 2012.
Ross, a 2004 graduate of Highland High School, was 26 when he entered the Roman Catholic priesthood with his ordination at Cathedral of the Holy Angels in Gary during the ceremony presided over by Bishop Dale Melczek, of the Gary Diocese.
Now assigned as associate pastor at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Munster, when he greets visitors to his office in the parish rectory, he always hands his guests one of his prayer cards.
"The prayer cards explain my chosen path and remind me of my journey of how I got to the place where I am now in my faith and responsibilities," said Ross, who turned 27 in March.
The son of Thomas and Rose Ann Ross, he is the oldest of six children, and was a parishioner at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Hammond, St. James the Less Church in Highland, and at the time of his ordination, was a parishioner at St. Stephen, Martyr Church in Merrillville, where his uncle, Rev. Michael Maginot, is pastor.
"I think people might think that because my uncle is a priest, that's the primary influence of why I also became a priest," Ross said.
"But the priestly calling is much more than the influence of just one person. It is much more than that. I feel that being a priest is something I was always called to do. But how someone is called to the priesthood can be a different experience or process, depending on each person's personal story."
Deacon Jaime Perea, 35, of East Chicago, was also ordained the same day. Ross, like Perea, was also ordained a deacon in 2007 and served in various posts prior to ordination.
At age 10, Ross said he had two strong interests, both familiar to his family and friends.
"I was very fascinated by dinosaurs, which might be the case for many 10-year-old boys," Ross said.
"But I was also very faith-driven and drawn to my faith, including a deep interest in the parts of mass and what can happen with the power of prayer. I was on fire with faith."
He said by high school, he was done with dinosaurs, and all of the friends and family knew about his plans for a path to the priesthood.
"I think what surprises some people is even though I knew I wanted to be a priest, when I met for an interview at the diocese to answer questions about my future and plans, I wasn't just instantly accepted to start the process," Ross said.
"I was told to attend college for two years and continue to experience life while furthering my education and then return to further discuss future plans. So at the time of my high school graduation, I hadn't really even really pursued applying to colleges and universities because I thought my next step was going to be the needed prep for eventually attending seminary."
He immediately applied and was accepted to Immaculate Heart of Mary in Winona, Minn., where he earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy. Ross then studied theology at Pontifical North American College in Rome and attended Pontifical University of St. Thomas, where he pursued a licentiate, or advanced degree in canon law. One of his duties as a deacon in Rome was assisting Pope Benedict XVI for Christmas midnight Mass at St. Peter's Basilica.
While Ross said his frequent attendance at retreats and Catholic youth conferences, starting as far back as his middle school years, prepared him for a life of study, prayer and meditation, there was still one aspect of the priesthood that caused him concern and worry.
"The question I get so often is about the vow of celibacy," he said.
"But because of my strength in prayer and devotion to my calling, this wasn't my driving concern that caused me doubt. What I did worry about was the need to be able to speak in front of so many others. And today, I'm still working on my public speaking skills and trying to talk more freely with a congregation and not just stand formally behind the pulpit."
The other "learning curve" Ross said he is still wrestling with is adapting to "being a public figure."
"Now, even if I'm just going to the store, I'm recognized and that's something new I have to get used to," he said.
During the course of his journey to the priesthood, he said he was guided by Rev. Michael Kopil and Rev. Kevin Huber, since both held the post of director of vocations for the diocese. Ross said he also considers and cherishes the words and guidance he has received from Bishop Melczek and the Gary Diocese.
"In God's love, his priestly people and members of the Body of Christ, he has called Jaime Perea and Benjamin Ross to the Order of the Presbyterate," Melczek said.
"Jesus not only chose Jaime and Ben, but he desires to remain with them in their life and ministry."
Ross said he believes his particular gifts include intercession for and encouraging others in spiritual life. He said he's already talked to young men in the diocese, including his own two younger brothers, all with both questions and an interest in the priesthood.
"We all know only too well that the priest remains human," Melczek said during Ross' ordination.
"He, like everyone else, must struggle to overcome selfishness and sin. He must constantly strive to imitate the complete self-giving of Jesus. How does (the priest) do this? Clearly not through his own power. Through the laying on of hands, an ancient Christian sign of being set aside for a particular work in the church, Jesus gives the gift of the Holy Spirit to Jaime and Ben so that they might faithfully give Him to his people."