Frs. McKenzie, Nowak, Peterman 'sent on mission' to reclaim the world for Christ, archbishop says

DETROIT ­­­— “You are a priest forever, like Melchizedek of old.”

The psalm emphasized the permanence, the staying power, the indissolubility of the priesthood, as three men were ordained priests for the Archdiocese of Detroit. 

The Rite of Ordination of Priests that took place on June 8 at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament had elements dating back to the start of the Catholic Church.

Missed the ordination Mass? The Mass will be rebroadcast on CTND at 8 p.m. Sunday, June 16; 4 p.m. Monday, June 17; 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 18; and 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, June 19.

But the three men who were called forward to lie prostrate before the altar, upon whom Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron and other bishops and clergy laid hands, who were invested with priestly robes and anointed with holy chrism, were priests who have been called to serve Christ’s Church in 2018.

Hours before the Pentecost vigil took place at the cathedral, Fr. John McKenzie, Fr. Adam Nowak and Fr. Derik Peterman were tasked with continuing the same mission given to Christ’s apostles in the upper room 2,000 years ago.

“The celebration of Pentecost has become central to the life of our local Church,” Archbishop Vigneron said in his homily. “The ordination, the Pentecost vigil and the confirmations on Pentecost have been in the past few years the main focus on our Church’s calendar. Since 2014 and our Year of Prayer, we’ve been focused on consecrating a band of joyful, missionary disciples to be on mission. 

“Pentecost has become a time when we totally dedicate ourselves to the responsibility to be missionary,” Archbishop Vigneron told the newly ordained, the priests and bishops in attendance and the lay congregation. “At the vigil, we wait in anticipation for the Holy Spirit. On Sunday, we celebrate individuals who are being brought into ministry to live the Gospel. This morning, we consecrate these three men in the mission to lead others in ‘unleashing the Gospel.'”

The elect lie prostrate before Archbishop Vigneron during the Litany of Supplication, when the faithful pray for the intercession of saints and martyrs to pray for the men about to be ordained.

To be a priest is to announce the kerygma of Christ rising from the dead to conquer sin, as Peter preached on Pentecost to use the gifts the Holy Spirit has bestowed to further the kingdom of God, Archbishop Vigneron explained.

“And in the Gospel, your call to the priesthood is always this question: ‘John, Adam, Derik, do you love me?’ By coming into the cathedral today, you said, ‘yes,’” Archbishop Vigneron said. “By the power of love, you’re able to come forward. Loving God’s people is necessary for the work of the priesthood. If you don’t love them, you can’t do anything for them.”

After Archbishop Vigneron’s homily, then-Deacons McKenzie, Peterman and Nowak made their final promise of obedience to the archbishop and his successors. The elect laid prostrate before the altar before being called to kneel before the archbishop for the laying on of hands while the cathedral choir chanted Veni Sancte Spiritus “Come, Holy Spirit.” 

“In a few weeks, you will start your assignments on a mission to re-found your parishes,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “Your mission will be to celebrate this new Pentecost, to continue the work of the new Pentecost. This is God’s work; He made you a missionary priest.”

“We have priests to embody Jesus in the flesh and blood,” Archbishop Vigneron continued. “In every part of who you are, you are consecrated to serve. You accept that today, that every part of your being is to be the embodiment of Christ.”

Hope in challenging times

Fathers McKenzie, Nowak and Peterman weren't the only ones to receive instructions from the archbishop. Every priest, religious and lay person in the cathedral was tasked with the mission to evangelize, as Archbishop Vigneron announced the Archdiocese of Detroit’s next phase in its efforts to undergo a missionary conversion to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ in southeast Michigan.

Archbishop Vigneron lays his hands on the head of Fr. McKenzie, ordaining him to the priesthood.

“We in the archdiocese have a sense of the gifts of the Holy Spirit,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “God heard us and answered us abundantly as we prayed for a new Pentecost. In the next few days, we’ll enter a new stage of the missionary journey. We thought about calling it ‘Unleash the Gospel 2.0,’” Archbishop Vigneron said with a few good-humored chuckles from the pews.

“See, you laughed, so that’s why we’re not calling it that,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “It’s called ‘Sent on Mission.’ We’re asking our parishes to be refounded so that everything we do at the parish is about how we pray, serve and teach the Gospel message to be more effective witnesses to Christ.

“That is where you deacons come in,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “You have been called to lead the people on this mission.”

Newly ordained and tasked with reclaiming southeast Michigan for Christ, Fr. Peterman spoke on behalf of his ordination class after Mass.

“Thank you, Jesus!” Fr. Peterman proclaimed. “We give praise to God for the incredible work He has done in making us priests, and thank Him ahead of time for the work He will do in us and in the Archdiocese of Detroit. All the glory belongs to Him.”

Fr. Peterman thanked Cardinal Adam J. Maida, Detroit's archbishop emeritus, for being in attendance, along with former Detroit auxiliary and current Archbishop of Agana, Guam, Michael J. Byrnes, and Detroit Auxiliary Bishops Robert Fisher, Gerard Battersby, Arturo Cepeda and Donald Hanchon, and retired Auxiliary Bishop Francis Reiss. 

Fr. Derik Peterman is vested in priestly robes during the Rite of Ordination.

Fr. Peterman also acknowledged Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry and Msgr. Todd Lajiness, rector of Sacred Heart Major Seminary, as well as seminary staff and professors, priests and religious who accompanied them on their discernment and a score of others who supported the three men on their journey to the priesthood. 

“We cannot express how filled we are with both gratitude and amazement,” Fr. Peterman said. “Gratitude, that God has called us to be priests; and amazement, that God has called us to be priests. It is a ministry we are not worthy to take on. But like so many priests before us, we offer to God the little we have so that he might multiply it; and that by remaining in Him, we might bear much fruit.”

Recognizing the scandals of abuse and cover-ups that stain the Catholic Church, and the challenges many Catholics face in maintaining confidence in the Church, Fr. Peterman made a solemn pledge. 

“In His Providence, the Almighty Father has called us new priests to serve Him during a very unique moment in Church history,” Fr. Peterman said. “There are a number of challenges we face some of those are as old as sin, as they say, and the Church has been dealing with them since the time of the apostles. But there is also a new context to this issue of today, which requires a unique response.  

“It is no news to you all that the actions of many of our brother priests have devastated the integrity of the priesthood and scandalized people throughout the world,” Fr. Peterman said. “Every new story of scandal that comes out pierces my heart. But that has not left me hopeless, because Jesus our Lord had his heart pierced, too.”

“It is no news to you all that the actions of many of our brother priests have devastated the integrity of the priesthood and scandalized people throughout the world,” Fr. Peterman continued. “Every new story of scandal that comes out pierces my heart. But that has not left me hopeless, because Jesus our Lord had his heart pierced, too. Instead of discouraging us, the current climate of the Church has brought about a greater courage in my classmates and I. We see the need for radical fidelity to the Gospel; to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. I can assure you, people of God, that we will do our best, with His grace, to restore the trust that has been lost and to fight against the sins which plague the Church.”

Fr. Peterman then asked the laity and the entire Church to pray for the newly ordained and all priests as they work to bring the saving message of Jesus to the world. 

“We ask for your continued prayers that we might remain faithful to our promises,” Fr. Peterman said. “Pray that we will be prayerful and holy. Pray that we will be courageous in our preaching. Pray that we will be joyful, missionary disciples. Pray that we will take refuge in Mary, mother of priests. And pray that God will call more men to pick up their cross and follow him in the priesthood.” 

Families proud of newly ordained

After Mass, as people lined up to receive blessings from the newly ordained priests, the first in line were those who brought them into the world their parents. 

Fr. Adam Nowak blesses a group of women after Mass as the three new priests offered their first blessings.

“It’s an unbelievable joy; it’s just unreal right now,” said Alan Nowak, father of Fr. Adam Nowak. “Leading up today, it was crazy. And today, it felt like it was everything it was meant to be, it was calm and it was perfect. When he entered the seminary, we understood this was going to happen. But when we got to see him as a deacon and doing a homily, he looked so comfortable that we knew this was where he was supposed to be.”

“The topic of the priesthood came up his freshman year of college,” Shelly Nowak, Fr. Nowak’s mother, added. “And I told him, ‘No way.’ You need to wait until you've lived some kind of life, graduate from university, and then decide. And that’s what he did. When he entered the seminary, I was sad, I grieved, I cried. It took time, but by the end of the first year, I was finally good with it. Then I began to love all the guys in the seminary as well. His personality and his smile will make him a great priest.”

Cynthia Greenlee, mother of Fr. John McKenzie, said the moment hit her that her son was a priest as he was being vested during the liturgy. 

“It’s just so exciting; you cannot put it into words, to express how you really feel, because it’s just so exciting,” Greenlee said.

Greenlee was a little hesitant about her son becoming a priest — meaning no wedding or grandchildren — but saw through the formation process that her son was indeed called by God.

“I’m very proud of him,” Greenlee said. “He has a lot of love, is very compassionate and he loves people, to help those who can’t help themselves and to get them there. No matter where he goes, people always want him to come back. Because my son is a priest, I know I've got a seat in heaven.”

“He has a lot of love, is very compassionate and he loves people, to help those who can’t help themselves and to get them there. No matter where he goes, people always want him to come back. Because my son is a priest, I know I've got a seat in heaven.”

Bill and Debra Peterman, along with the rest of the Peterman family, were first in line to receive a blessing from their son, Fr. Derik Peterman. 

“He has reached the culmination of a lot of work, and I think he is beyond relieved, but certainly happy, joyful, because this is something he has wanted for a long time,” Bill Peterman said. “We had serious conversations on this when he was quite young, 12 or 14, he mentioned it. And we had conversations about it a couple of times.”

Debra Peterman said the day was full of joy for the entire family, many of whom made their way to the cathedral.

Before ordination, Deacons Peterman, McKenzie and Nowak met with Cardinal Adam Maida, former archbishop of Detroit. Cardinal Maida attended the ordination along with several other Detroit bishops.

“Today there is a gratitude, happiness and joy, thankfulness, that his whole family is here to celebrate with him,” Debra Peterman said. “During Communion, there was a lady who was running behind. And Derik was going to turn around, to go back to the altar. When she said, ‘Father,’ and he turned around, Bill and I looked at each other and said, ‘That lady called him ‘Father.’”

Calls to the priesthood are gifts from God to the entire Church, Debra Peterman said — and a special grace for the families who raised those priests.

“When he was little, I remember praying, giving thanks to God,” Debra Peterman said. “I said, ‘Thank you, God, for my children. And if you want to use one of them as a priest for your service, you can.” 

Debra Peterman said she realized God didn't need her permission to call her son, but she was glad when she finally saw Fr. Peterman put on the Roman collar. 

“When I thought about the fact that he’s taking a road less traveled, I became happy about it,” Debra Peterman said. “He’s a caring person, a great listener. And for that reason, he will make a great priest and a wonderful gift to the Church.”

Listen to Archbishop Vigneron's homily


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