Path to priesthood influenced by Msgr. Garrity, who aided priest-to-be at a traffic accident more than 20 years ago
By Dan McWilliams
Christopher Floersh received a special birthday present May 14 at his home church of St. John Neumann in Farragut: he was ordained into the transitional diaconate for the Diocese of Knoxville.
“What a great joy it is for the Diocese of Knoxville to celebrate this very special moment again, as we have in the past in our history: the ordination of a transitional deacon, Christopher,” Bishop Richard F. Stika said in his opening remarks. “And so we pray with him during these moments when he offers himself up to the Church and to this diocese for work and service, as he prepares for the priesthood, but first of all as he prepares to live the life as a deacon. We also congratulate his family and his friends who gather with him this day.”
The bishop was principal celebrant of the Mass. Concelebrating were host pastor Monsignor Patrick Garrity, vicar general Father David Boettner, and Father Vincent Tobin of St. Meinrad School of Theology. Father Tobin is Deacon Floersh’s spiritual director.
After the Mass, Deacon Floersh spoke of his journey from the start of seminary to his diaconate ordination.
“It’s been six years since I began seminary. It’s been an amazing experience,” he said. “My love for God has just grown exponentially. I would have never guessed how different I would be now from the start of my journey.”
Before the homily, Father Joe Reed, diocesan director of vocations, called the candidate for the diaconate forward. Father Reed testified to the bishop that the candidate “has been found worthy.” Bishop Stika said that “we choose him, our brother, for the order of the diaconate,” and the assembly responded with applause.
In his homily, the bishop thanked Deacon Floersh’s parents.
“This has been planned perfectly. Today’s his birthday,” he said. “Thirty-two years ago he was brought forth by the power of God into this world, through the love of parents, so that’s called perfect timing.”
Bishop Stika encouraged Deacon Floersh to do what Jesus did.
“As Jesus entered a village, the things he always did in the beginning were to heal and to preach and to teach,” he said. “In so many different ways, for that person who desires to be a deacon or to be a priest or to be a bishop, those should be our fundamental characteristics of mission.”
The bishop spoke of his own episcopal motto, then addressed Deacon Floersh on the subject of a motto.
“What will your motto be for your life as a servant of the Gospel, or as a person who desires to serve the people of God? What will it be?” Bishop Stika said. “Your motto will be shaped through your personality and to your witness. Mine is, ‘Jesus I trust in you.’ So, Christopher, I say to you, what is your motto, what will you pray for during the Litany of the Saints, as you prepare for a public ministry in the Church?
“Because people time and time and time again will come up to you in one way or another, and they’re going to say to you, ‘Sir, I wish to see Jesus. I don’t want to necessarily see Christopher all the time, but I want to see Jesus acting through Christopher and his hands, his voice, and his demeanor.’”
The Liturgy of the Hours “is your companion,” the bishop said, “to pray the prayers that Jesus prayed, the Psalms, to pray for the sanctification of people, to pray the Our Father, to pray for the people whom you’ll be privileged to serve.”
Bishop Stika reiterated that “as you begin this particular ministry in the Church, again follow the example of Jesus to preach and to teach and to heal.”
“Follow the example of Jesus to care for those who wish to see Jesus. Follow the example of Jesus, who gave himself totally to the Church, but also to follow the example of Jesus to continue to love your mom, as Jesus loved the Blessed Mother, to love your dad, as a visible symbol of St. Joseph, who pledged his love to your mom and to you.
“Christopher, God bless you. Be a faithful minister of the Gospel: the face and the hands and the voice and the heart of Jesus, to teach and to preach, but especially to love God’s people.”
After the homily, the future deacon made several promises before the bishop, including “to discharge the office of deacon with humble charity in order to assist the priestly order and to benefit the Christian people,” “to hold fast to the mystery of faith with a clear conscience . . . and to proclaim this faith in word and deed,” and “to keep forever the commitment to remain celibate as a sign of your dedication to Christ the Lord for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, in the service of God and man.”
The candidate promised respect and obedience to the bishop and his successors, then lay prostrate for the Litany of the Saints. Afterward the bishop prayed the prayer of ordination over Mr. Floersh.
Longtime friend Monsignor Garrity vested the new deacon with a stole and dalmatic. Deacon Floersh then knelt before the bishop and received the Book of the Gospels.
“Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become,” the bishop told him. “Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.”
The bishop then gave Deacon Floersh a fraternal kiss, and all the deacons attending did likewise.
The Mass continued with the presentation of the gifts. Deacon Floersh’s siblings, Michael, Sophia, and Olivia Floersh, were the gift bearers.
Deacon Floersh grew up in St. John Neumann Parish but came to know Monsignor Garrity long before the monsignor was assigned as SJN pastor.
“Back when I was in sixth grade, Monsignor was driving in the car behind us, and my family got into a car accident, and he was the one who helped us out, took us into his car, and called the ambulance and everything,” the new deacon said. “Years went by, and this was something I had been praying on for a couple years, and sure enough Monsignor was made pastor of my parish here at St. John Neumann, and I just immediately felt comfortable with him.”
The Floershes didn’t know Monsignor Garrity before the car accident.
“That was the first time,” Deacon Floersh said. “He comes up to the car and says, ‘I am a Catholic priest,’ and immediately we were like, ‘We know we’re safe.’”
Family and friends came from far and wide to the diaconate ordination.
“It was beautiful,” Deacon Floersh said. “People came from California, from all over the place.”
Before he returns to St. Meinrad for his final year of studies prior to his priestly ordination, Deacon Floersh has an important duty to fulfill over the next few months.
“This summer I will be assigned at Sts. Peter and Paul, the basilica in Chattanooga, with Father David Carter,” he said, “and I am looking forward to that because I don’t know much about the Chattanooga Deanery, and I’m looking forward to getting to know it better and all the priests there.” ■