GARY — “What a joyous day today is for the entire Diocese of Gary,” Bishop Donald J. Hying said Saturday prior to ordaining Jeff Burton to the priesthood and Declan McNicholas to the transitional diaconate of the Roman Catholic Church.
For the Rev. Burton, this has been a unique journey. Following college, he worked six years as a journalist, including five years with The Times.
“It feels right. It’s felt right for a long time,” said the 34-year-old priest who will become associate pastor at St. Paul Parish in Valparaiso.
“I’m looking forward to connecting with my new family through the sacraments. Right now, we’re living in a world where there’s a lot of hurt, anger. A relationship with Jesus Christ can help us navigate through those waters."
Serving in one of the largest parishes in the Gary diocese, Burton said, “I want to help people know they are not alone. God loves us and has a plan for us. I also want people to know there are always others willing to journey with us.”
While a deacon this past year, Burton served at St. Mary Parish in Crown Point. Through that experience, he said, “I learned a lot about how to build a sense of community, centered around Jesus Christ.”
Founded in 1865, St. Mary has been spiritual home to generations of families, from baptisms to weddings to funerals. Burton said the Catholic Church needs to return to that sense of social networking in parish life.
“That can’t be replicated by anyone else, because it’s centered in Christ, who unites us, who makes us part of that great human family,” he said.
McNicholas, in the final year of his studies before his priestly ordination in 2019, will serve at St. Michael the Archangel in Schererville.
McNicholas, 25, is a product of St. Patrick Parish in Chesterton.
The ordination rite at Holy Angels Cathedral began with presentation of the two candidates to Hying, after which the two men pledged their obedience to the bishop and his successors.
As a sign of humility, Burton and McNicholas lied prostrate near the altar, while the assembly prayed the litany of the saints.
Hying laid his hands on McNicholas, after which the deacon-elect was vested with the stole and dalmatic and received the Book of the Gospels, all symbols of the diaconate.
“God has stirred in your hearts this remarkable call – come, follow me,” Hying said in his homily. “You are sent in the name of Jesus Christ to proclaim the Gospel.”
Thanking those who have helped shape the two men, Hying said, “We see in you the authenticity of a life lived in Jesus.”
Lying prostrate, the bishop said, is a “beautiful act of humility. You give yourself to God and his people. … God has called you by name, and he loves you.”
In an age of entitlement, the bishop called Burton and McNicholas “the antidote and antithesis to entitlement and self-absorption. When you give yourself to Christ, you lose nothing and gain everything.”
Following the bishop’s homily, Burton was vested with the stole and chasuble, vestments that are symbols of the priestly office. The bishop then anointed the hands of the newly-ordained with sacred oil of chrism, symbolic of the priest’s capacity to bless and celebrate Mass.
Following the bishop’s sign of peace on the two ordinands, other clergy approached each man to offer a similar sign or embrace.
Burton’s parents, Bob and Barbara Burton, presented offertory gifts to the bishop.
“It’s been a long journey,” Bob Burton said, “but Jeff’s ready. He’s a people person. He is really concerned about everybody.”
“I feel very blessed today,” Barbara Burton said. “I believe this is a true calling. It was just in him, since he was a little boy.”
The mother continued, “Jeff was always quiet, the thinker, just an old soul. Just very considerate, always thoughtful. He never reacted quickly to any situation. He gave everything a lot of thought.
“Going to church was not a burden, not a task for him. He loved it. I didn’t push him into any decision. It was his decision. It was all him.”
The new priest was a parishioner at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in New Chicago, where Dorie Little, the parish’s director of religious education, said Burton taught for one year.
“He’ll be a dedicated priest, because he was a very dedicated teacher,” Little said. “He was pleasant and helpful in any way he could.”
Several days prior to his ordination, Burton confessed he felt neither nervous nor excited about the big day.
“This is a big step along my journey, but this feels natural,” he said. “It feels like this is part of God’s plan.”