A chosen vessel unto me

Father Christopher Floersh ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Stika

By Bill Brewer

It started with a chalice decades ago.

And it did so again June 3 at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, where Bishop Richard F. Stika presided at the ordination Mass for Father Christopher  Floersh, the 52nd priest ordained in the Diocese of Knoxville and the 17th priest ordained by Bishop Stika.

In celebrating the ordination Mass, Bishop Stika invoked the vocations of two monsignors who have served the Diocese of Knoxville with distinction.

Bishop Stika told Father Floersh that his prayer for the new priest is that, someday, the chalice used by Father Floersh will be held aloft during a future priest’s ordination Mass and Father Floersh will be cited as a good and faithful servant of God in the company of Monsignor Philip Thoni and Monsignor Xavier Mankel.

The monsignors were singled out as good examples of priestly service for all young priests to model.

Bishop Stika said that at the ordination Mass last year for Father Adam Royal, he used the chalice of Monsignor Thoni, a diocesan priest who died in 2015, as a way to celebrate the lifelong servant of God, to celebrate the priesthood, and, above all, to celebrate the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.

And for Father Floersh’s ordination, Bishop Stika said he wanted to continue the practice by using the chalice of Monsignor Mankel, who passed away June 21. Monsignor Mankel’s parents, George and Willia Mankel, gave him the chalice on his ordination to the priesthood in May 1961.

“This chalice is very precious,” Bishop Stika told Father Floersh. “Possibly for the first time, Monsignor Mankel is not with us. He is a good and faithful servant of God who loves the priesthood, as we all do. We are people who love the priesthood. We are just like you.

“We are characters, and we have personalities, and we have flaws, and we have gifts, and we have joys. So, in a very special way, it’s a nice tradition for the ordination of a priest to use something from someone who is being called home to God to celebrate the priesthood,” Bishop Stika added. “To be of service to God’s people is a blessing and a cross, a challenge and a joy.”

Bishop Stika instructed the 33-year-old ordinand to pray for God’s people and to serve God’s people.

More than 30 priests concelebrated the Mass, including Father David Boettner, cathedral rector; Father John Boeglin, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Jasper, Ind.; and diocesan deans Father Ron Franco, CSP, Father Michael Cummins, and Father Doug Owens.

Masters of ceremonies were Father Joe Reed, associate pastor of the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus; Father David Carter, rector of the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul; Father Arthur Torres, associate pastor of Sacred Heart Cathedral; and Deacon Gary Brinkworth, who serves at St. Stephen Church. Diocesan Chancellor Deacon Sean Smith was deacon of the Word, and Deacon Hicks Armor, who serves at the basilica, was deacon of the Eucharist.

Also in attendance were Sister Kateri Visocky, FSE, associate director of pastoral formation at St. Meinrad School of Theology, where Father Floersh attended seminary, and members of several religious communities, including the Religious Sisters of Mercy, Missionary Congregation of the Evangelizing Sisters of Mary, Dominican Sisters, and Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George.

Before the homily, then-Deacon Floersh was called forward by Deacon Smith. Deacon Floersh approached Bishop Stika and made a sign of reverence. Bishop Stika then asked Father Reed, also diocesan director of vocations, if Deacon Floersh was worthy of ordination.

“After inquiry among the Christian people and upon the recommendation of those responsible, I testify that he has been found worthy,” Father Reed responded.

In the election by the bishop and assent of the people, Bishop Stika then declared, “Relying on the help of the Lord God and our savior, Jesus Christ, we choose this, our brother Christopher, for the order of the priesthood.”

The congregation responded, “Thanks be to God,” and the concelebrating priests then led the congregation in applause for Father Floersh.

As Bishop Stika began his homily, he said that in the years since his ordination, he has never used the homily from the Rites of Ordination, but he wanted to share its wisdom with the newest ordinand.

“It’s beautiful, and Christopher, I address it to you. And I address it to all my brothers and sisters and all the thousands that you represent in the Catholic Church of East Tennessee and throughout the country,” Bishop Stika said.

“Beloved brothers and sisters: Because this, our son, Christopher, who is your relative and friend, is now to be advanced to the order of priests, consider carefully the nature of the rank in the Church to which he is about to be raised. It is true that God has made His entire holy people a royal priesthood in Christ. Nevertheless, our great priest himself, Jesus Christ, chose Christopher and disciples before him to carry out publicly His name, and on behalf of mankind, a priestly office in the Church,” Bishop Stika said.

“For Christ was sent by the Father, and He in turn sent the apostles into the world, so that through them and their successors, the bishops, He might continue to exercise His office of teacher, priest, and shepherd. Indeed, priests are established co-workers of the order of bishops, with whom they are joined in the priestly office and with whom they are called to the service of the people of God,” the bishop added.

Bishop Stika then continued, “After mature deliberation, this, our brother Chris — Christ’s mirror — is now to be ordained to the priesthood of Jesus Christ in the order of the presbyterate so as to serve Jesus, the teacher, priest, and shepherd, by whose ministry His body, that is the Church, is built and grows into the people of God, who is indeed a holy temple.

“In being configured to Christ, the eternal high priest, and joined to the priesthood of the bishops, he will be consecrated this day as a true priest of the New Testament, to preach the Gospel, to shepherd God’s people, and to celebrate the sacred liturgy, especially the Lord’s sacrifice of the Mass.”

Bishop Stika emphasized to Father Floersh, in reciting the Rites of Ordination, that while united with the bishop and subject to him, Father Floersh must strive to bring the faithful together into one family, so that he can lead them to God the Father, through Christ in the Holy Spirit.

“Keep always before your eyes the example of the Good Shepherd, Jesus, who came not to be served, but to serve; who came not to be served, but to serve; who came not to be served, but to serve. Get the point! And who came to seek out and save what was lost. I can repeat that three times, too, but remember it also,” the bishop said.

Bishop Stika noted how appropriate it was for Father Floersh to be ordained on Pentecost weekend, commemorating when Jesus descended and appeared to the disciples and others, “the infusion of the Holy Spirit, which, once again, you will receive with the laying on of hands.

“What a joyful time. And in those moments of great joy, celebrate with your family, who are with you today, but now you are included in a larger family, the family of the Catholic Church of East Tennessee, a beautiful place high atop the mountains that shines forth, like, God willing, the cathedral next year when it is lit up.” Bishop Stika then pointed to the priests in attendance and told Father Floersh that he now is part of a family of priests, to whom he can turn when he needs to.

“Pray for your brother priests and your brother deacons. Pray for each other. God calls each and every one of us to be His ministers, to be His disciples, to be His apostles in extraordinary ways but also in the mundane activities of life.

“Be a good priest. What does that mean? It means be yourself.”

Bishop Stika reassured Father Floersh that God does not want him or anyone to fail. “He doesn’t want you to fail in your priesthood. He does not want you to fail in your life. He doesn’t want you to fail in your commitment. He gives each and every one of us everything that we need through grace and orders to build His kingdom.”

Bishop Stika thanked Father Floersh’s parents for naming him “Christ bearer.”

Bishop Stika wished Father Floersh well as the new priest prepares for his first assignment, in Chattanooga as chaplain and religion teacher at Notre Dame High School and part-time parochial vicar of St. Stephen Parish, where he will be in residence. Father Floersh also will be chaplain of the Serra Club of Chattanooga.

“Christopher, as you go forth from this day, and as you prepare to help form young men and women in high school and to serve the good people of St. Stephen, I pray that, someday, my successor down the line might hold up your chalice that we bless here at the end of Mass and that bishop will say to the newly ordained, ‘Be like Christopher, for he gave his life in service of the Church. Be like Christopher, the Christ bearer.’ If they do that, then you will have lived a life of service to the good people of God in East Tennessee,” Bishop Stika said.

“So, I welcome you as a brother deacon and as a brother priest as we work together, as brothers, proclaiming Jesus and teaching the faith to God’s people,” he added.

Following the homily, the bishop received several promises from the elect, including the ordinand’s “resolve to exercise the ministry of the Word worthily and wisely, preaching the Gospel, and teaching the Catholic faith” and his “resolve, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to discharge without fail the office of priesthood in the presbyteral rank, as worthy fellow workers with the order of bishops in caring for the Lord’s flock.”

In the Litany of Supplication, Father Floersh lay prostrate in front of the altar as the Litany of the Saints was sung. The gifts of the Holy Spirit were then conferred on him through the laying on of hands by Bishop Stika and the prayer of ordination. The concelebrating priests then laid hands on Father Floersh.

As the newly ordained, Father Floersh was vested in a stole and chasuble, with the assistance of Father Michael Hendershott, diocesan assistant director of vocations. Bishop Stika then anointed Father Floersh’s

palms, saying, “The Lord Jesus Christ, whom the Father anointed with the Holy Spirit, guard and preserve you, that you may sanctify the Christian people and offer sacrifices to God.”

After the gifts were brought to Bishop Stika, the bishop and all the priests gave a kiss of peace to the ordinand.

Bishop Stika concluded the ordination Mass by blessing the chalice Father Floersh’s parents, Frank and Rita Floersh, gave as a gift for the diocese’s newest member of the clergy to begin his priesthood.

The diocese’s newest priest said it was exciting to now be called Father Floersh, and noted that he has been discerning a vocation in the priesthood for years.

He celebrated his first Mass June 4 at St. John Neumann.

Following the ordination Mass, Father Floersh’s parents said their son showed an early connection to the priesthood.

“My father saw it when Chris was little,” Mr. Floersh said, noting that two relatives were Catholic priests. Father John Floersh was ordained a bishop at age 35 and also served as archbishop of the Archdiocese of Louisville before his death in 1968. And Father Phillip Floersh was a Green Beret in Vietnam before joining the Vincentian Order of priests. He recently passed away.

“My father, brother, and Father Phillip would really liked to have been here,” Mr. Floersh said, praising his wife for her influence on the newest priest in the family. “It takes a mother to raise a priest. Chris and his mother are very close. And while Chris will always be our son, he says he now belongs to God and the holy community.”

Mr. and Mrs. Floersh, who also are parents of two daughters and another son, credited Monsignor Mankel and Monsignor Patrick Garrity, pastor of the Floershs’ home parish, St. John Neumann in Farragut, for their influence on Father Floersh.

After they presented their son with his first chalice and as Father Floersh was giving his first blessings to the faithful in the Sacred Heart Cathedral School gymnasium, Mrs. Floersh said, “Now it’s my time to give back to the Church that has given us so much. I’ve not lost a son; I’ve gained the blessing of the Holy Spirit.”

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