Joining the Church family

Bishop Stika celebrates Father Mark Schuster’s ordination to the priesthood, a first for new Sacred Heart Cathedral

By Dan McWilliams

The priestly ordination of Father Mark Schuster was certainly a family affair.

Family members of the ordinand filled four pews at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus on June 8. The support began with his mom and dad, Maureen and Bill Schuster.

Mrs. Schuster said she was overjoyed at the ordination.

“Oh, yes. There’s hardly a word for it. It’s so overwhelming. We’re thrilled for him. It’s just wonderful,” she said.

She talked about the new priest’s support network.

“We really aren’t a big family, but this is it, and this is just about everybody who came,” Mrs. Schuster said. “He has a lot of friends who have been very supportive, and especially St. Albert the Great Parish — they have just been very nice to him, very good and supportive, and he appreciates them very much.”

Mr. Schuster’s voice broke with emotion as he spoke of his son.

“I’m humbled to have a son now who’s a priest. It’s unbelievable. I’m so proud of him,” he said. “He worked so hard to get this far. I don’t know what else to say. It’s a humbling experience for a parent.”

Ordination day marked the end of a long journey to the priesthood for Father Schuster, his dad said.

“He’s 41 years old. He came to us back in high school, and he’d talked about it. He decided to go to college and see other things, but I think that having gone out on his own, paid bills, paid rent, worked a job — then he finally, I guess about seven years ago, decided ‘this is what I really want to do,’ and we support him 100 percent. We couldn’t be prouder,” Mr. Schuster said.

Bishop Richard F. Stika presided at the ordination. In choir was Cardinal Justin Rigali.

Concelebrants included Father David Boettner, vicar general and cathedral rector; Father Doug Owens, vicar general; the four diocesan deans, Father Michael Cummins, Father Charlie Burton, Father Ronald Franco, CSP, and Father Brent Shelton; Father Chris Michelson of St. Albert the Great Parish, who vested Father Schuster; Monsignor Pat Garrity, vicar for priests; Father Joe Reed, director of vocations for the diocese; Father David Carter, vice chancellor for canonical affairs and rector of the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul; and Father Bede Cisco of St. Meinrad School of Theology. More than 40 priests and more than 12 deacons attended overall.

Father Schuster is the first priest ordained in the new cathedral, after his diaconate ordination last year made him the first person to be ordained in the new mother church of the diocese. He is the 53rd priest ordained for service to the Diocese of Knoxville and the 18th ordained by Bishop Stika.

“What a great and beautiful day it is for the Catholic Church in East Tennessee,” Bishop Stika said in his greeting. “It’s also historic. Our first ordination last year happened to be Mark Schuster. Now our very first ordination to the priesthood of Jesus Christ is the same. … We celebrate with Mark and his family, his mom and dad, and with all of you who represent this diocese, as we give praise and honor to God for the gift of the priesthood, for the continuation of what happened so many centuries ago in the great commission of Jesus.”

The bishop chose to deliver his homily from his chair at the center of the sanctuary before the altar.

“One of the options that a bishop has by virtue of his teaching office is to preach while he is sitting down,” he said. “Being a bishop now for these 10 years, I don’t think I’ve done that, so I want to make sure that I exercise all the options of my episcopacy.”

Before the homily, then-Deacon Schuster was called forward by Deacon Sean Smith, diocesan chancellor. The soon-to-be priest responded “present.”

“Do you know, Mark and the Church have just done something very simple? The simplicity can be overlooked,” Bishop Stika said. “It was a question and an answer. He was presented as a deacon of the Church to me to be ordained a priest. He really didn’t say much. All he said was, ‘I’m here.’ ‘Present.’ But what that means and what that signifies is so very important.”

The bishop did some background work on his new priest shortly before the ordination.

“A couple of nights ago I looked through his file, from the very first moment when he came and spoke to me and worked through the vocation office, when he decided after a looooooooooong time,” as the assembly laughed, “that he felt the call of Jesus to be ordained a priest, God willing, someday. It’s a good file, good grades, good words of support, a few challenges — like all seminarians, it’s pretty normal. I was thinking, what am I going to preach on today? There’s a set ritual in the book, but I’ll cover all of that. But you know we hear in the Scriptures that God has known Mark since his conception.”

Bishop Stika then examined the ordinand’s first and last names.

“Schuster, a German name, huh? A couple of definitions was one who sews, one who makes shoes, one who brings leather together,” he said. “Then I looked at his name Mark. One who worships Mars. Second definition is a warrior in the name of Mars. Then I thought, naaah, probably not. Then I looked at his degree. He’s a geologist, right? … One who studies rock formations. The building blocks of rock, minerals, all the creations of God. Who would bring these together?

“So long ago, Jesus chose Peter, the first of His apostles: ‘Upon this rock, I will build my Church.’ Peter and the other disciples, on that which we commemorate tomorrow, Pentecost, were filled with the Holy Spirit and left that Upper Room, and because of what they were able to accomplish, especially in those early days of the Church, has an effect on us today, because we’re here, because ‘on this rock, I will build my Church.’ Mark has been called by the Church.”

That same Spirit was present in the church for the ordination, the bishop said.

“The same Holy Spirit that came upon the apostles at Pentecost, that same Holy Spirit that comes upon the Church at so many moments, in the Eucharist itself, invoking that same Holy Spirit, will be the same Holy Spirit that we invoke today, that Mark will be enlivened by the Holy Spirit, called by Jesus to offer sacrifice, to respond to God,” he said.

“Mark gives his life to the Church. Today we celebrate faith. We celebrate the invitation of Jesus to be missioned out to build the Church, all of us are, by virtue of our baptism, but each of us has a different role to play in the Church. A presbyter, to offer sacrifice, to be the instrument of the forgiveness of sins, to baptize and to marry, to anoint and to bury, as a minister of the Church, enlivened by the Holy Spirit. To preach the kerygma, the Good News, to be a man of prayer, as last year he committed himself to pray the Liturgy of the Hours for the people of God, in his totality as a celibate, as a man who in so many ways weds himself to the Church.”

The definition of Mark “as warrior” applied to the new priest, Bishop Stika said.

“A warrior for God, a warrior not so much in a violent, militaristic way — we’ll leave that to St. Michael the archangel — but a warrior to stand steadfast in the teachings of the Church, the teachings of Jesus … to teach that which the Church gives him today,” he said. “In a very special way to bring people closer and closer and closer to God, by his ministry as a priest of Jesus Christ.

“Schuster: to bring together and to sew. To bring together the people of God, in every parish, in every situation, in every ministry that you do, to bring people together and not to divide, to challenge and not to look away, to believe, and even sometimes in those moments of doubt, Mark, when you might think, ‘Is anybody paying attention to me?’ They are. I always believe a priest, even in this day and age, has the trust of a majority of the people. It doesn’t take much to win over the rest: a smile, a handshake after Mass, a kind voice.”

The bishop spoke of Father Schuster’s first Mass celebrated the next day at St. Albert the Great.

“He will offer sacrifice for the first time, a solo flight, when he will say those most beautiful words: ‘This is my body, and this is my blood, given for you.’”

Bishop Stika repeated his statement that “the first seminary in the life of a priest is his family.”

“To his mom and dad, thank you, and to his family, thank you,” he said. “His family has given us a gift. God has given the Church of Knoxville, the Catholic Church in East Tennessee, a gift. And as bishop, I’m giving a gift to St. John Neumann [Parish], his new assignment. That’s what we celebrate today.”

The bishop then spoke of what would follow the homily.

“Now he’s going to be making some commitments. During the Litany of the Saints, we will pray for him. I think I spoke to him about this: that during that moment when he gives himself to the Church, a death and a resurrection, to pray for all those people who have brought him to this moment, through the intercession of all the saints that we honor.

“Following that is the laying on of hands, myself first and then all my brother priests. He will receive the vestments of priesthood, then he will assist in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that we will celebrate. And then will be the dismissal at some point.”

Before the dismissal, Father Schuster gave his first blessings to his parents and to the bishop.

“But after today and tomorrow, treat him as he should be treated, as a servant, as a brother, as a Father, as a faithful pilgrim with the whole Church, but in a different way, as he leads people to Christ,” Bishop Stika said.

Mr. Schuster, Father Schuster’s father, said one family member, the ordinand’s sister, Kathleen, came from Germany to be at the ordination, as did a brother from a shorter distance away.

“She flew the longest distance to get here, and his brother, Luke, lives down in the Atlanta area.” Father Schuster was asked how his new title sounded.

“New. Very new. I was getting used to ‘Deacon,’” he said.

He commented on his family support, which included relatives “from Chicago, northern Indiana, North Carolina, and of course locally as well. A lot of family support for this. This was a great celebration.”

Father Schuster looked back on his years in formation for the priesthood.

“Six years of seminary at St. Meinrad — it’s just been wonderful and transformative, with all the prayer and the education I’m receiving from St. Meinrad, just growing in the faith, growing closer to Christ. It’s been challenging, of course, but at the same time very joyous,” he said.

He explained his choice of Father Michelson as his vestor for the ordination.

“He’s my pastor at St. Albert the Great Parish. He’s always been the pastor there, and I’ve been there almost as long as it’s been there. Then I’ve known him back at All Saints. I’ve known him for a long time, and, yes, it was a great honor to have him vest me,” he said.

Father Schuster talked about moving from the laying on of hands to taking part in the Liturgy of the Eucharist for the first time as a priest:

“It was very new and very exciting, and also I was a little bit nervous. I was doing something new and different that I had always heard being done, and now I was saying those words. It was kind of amazing.”

His first Mass as a new priest fell on a special day in the Church calendar.

“The feast of Pentecost is a nice day to offer the first Mass of thanksgiving,” Father Schuster said. “I’m looking forward to it, especially with all of the concelebrants coming. That’ll be a great, joyous time.”

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