Bishop installs Father Velez as pastor of St. Patrick

The priest’s mother and sister from Colombia attend the Mass, which comes ‘as a surprise for them’ 

By Dan McWilliams

Bishop Richard F. Stika installed Father Miguel Velez as pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Morristown on June 26, and there were two special guests on hand to witness it.

Although the signing of the documents made it official for him, Father Velez and Bishop Stika ‘sealed the deal’ with an embrace afterward.

Father Velez’s mother, Cielo Cardona, and sister, Ana Velez, from Pereira, Colombia, were in the assembly as their loved one took the oath of fidelity to be pastor. The two spent a couple of weeks with Father Velez in East Tennessee

“This is a surprise for them. I didn’t tell them about my installation,” Father Velez said afterward. “I agreed with the bishop to have the installation during their visit so they would be able to be part of the celebration.”

The bishop celebrated the Mass with Father Velez and associate pastor Father Adam Kane. Deacon Agustin Ortega, who was ordained to the permanent diaconate on June 11, assisted.

Bishop Stika welcomed the faithful at the beginning of Mass.

“It is a great joy to be here at St. Patrick’s in beautiful downtown Morristown,” he said. “We gather together to celebrate faith and the presence of Jesus in our lives, to celebrate unity, and also to celebrate the official appointment of Father Miguel.”

The bishop said in his homily, “There’s a question that we often have to ask ourselves: is it easy to be a follower of Jesus in this day and age or in all the ages that existed before us? Because I dare say, if we say to ourselves, ‘It is easy, Lord, to follow you,’ either we’re not following Him or we’re lying to ourselves, because it is difficult. It is difficult to let go of those things that cloud our eyesight or cloud our memory, because sin is there. Sin can bring pleasure, it can bring what we might think is true freedom, but it really isn’t. Sin is that which deceives us.”

Bishop Stika paraphrased the day’s Gospel reading from Luke 9.

Father Miguel Velez takes the oath of fidelity as part of his installation Mass.

“‘Jesus, I’m willing to follow you, but I’ve got to bury somebody in my family,’ and Jesus gives this expression, ‘Let the dead bury their dead.’ That might be somewhat difficult to understand, but I think what Jesus is trying to teach us, and this Gospel is a reminder, is that we have to put God first. Because if we don’t put God first, and we put ourselves first or our profession first or another person first, everything else will be on shaky ground. If we put God first, everything will fall into place. It might not be according to our schedule, because if it was, I would win the lottery every week.”

The Eucharist is central to the heart of St. Patrick Parish, the bishop remarked.

“What’s significant for the parish of St. Patrick’s is from the first day, the center of this parish is the Eucharist; it’s faith in Jesus,” he said. “When Jesus said, ‘Take this all of you and eat of it. Take and drink, for this is my body, this is my blood, given for you,’ it’s the foundation of our faith. It’s that which separates us from a lot of our Christian brothers and sisters, a belief that the Eucharist is the epicenter, the highlight, the greatest moment of who we are in church.”

Bishop Stika said “Today is a special day for me, even though Father Miguel has been here a while and Father Adam, too—they came as a tag team from All Saints in Knoxville. I’m going to officially install him as pastor. He’s going to make some promises, and he’s going to sign some documents, and then he will move on here, guiding you as your shepherd. Want to keep him?” a remark that was followed by applause.

The choir at St. Patrick Church sings at the installation Mass.

In installing Father Velez as pastor, the bishop asked him, “Are you willing to proclaim the Word of God in the tradition of the Apostles with compassion and faithfulness to the people who are now entrusted to your care? Are you willing to celebrate the sacraments of the Church and thus nourish and sustain your brothers and sisters in body and in spirit? Are you willing to guide, counsel, and cooperate with the people of St. Patrick’s in the work of building up the Church and in the work of service to all who are in need?” Father Velez responded to each question, “I am.”

Each person in the assembly made the same response when the bishop asked questions of them. “Are you willing to hear with open ears and open hearts the Word of God as it is proclaimed to you? Are you willing to encourage and support Father in his responsibility to lead you in prayer, to nourish your faith, and especially to celebrate with you the Lord’s sacrifice? Are you willing to cooperate with him as he exercises the service of pastor, enabling this community of St. Patrick’s to grow in the light of the Gospel?”

Bishop Stika then led his audience in the profession of faith. Afterward, Father Velez took the oath of fidelity in English and Spanish:

“I, Father Miguel Velez, in sustaining the office of pastor, promise that in my words and in my actions, I shall always preserve communion with the Catholic Church. With great care and fidelity, I shall carry out the duties incumbent on me toward the Church, both universal and particular, in which, according to the provisions of the law, I have been called to exercise my service. In fulfilling the charge entrusted to me in the name of the Church, I shall hold fast to the deposit of faith in its entirety; I shall faithfully hand it on and explain it; and I shall avoid any teachings contrary to it.

“I shall follow and foster the common discipline of the entire Church, and I shall maintain the observance of all ecclesiastical laws, especially those contained in the Code of Canon Law. With Christian obedience I shall follow what the bishops, as authentic doctors and teachers of the faith, declare, or what they, as those who govern the Church, establish. I shall also faithfully assist the diocesan bishops, so that the apostolic activity, exercised in the name and by mandate of the Church, may be carried out in communion with the Church. So help me God, and God’s Holy Gospels on which I place my hand.”

Lonnie Knight witnesses the signatures of Bishop Stika and Father Velez at the installation Mass.

The bishop and Father Velez then signed the official documents of installation, witnessed by Hilario Hernandez and organist Lonnie Knight.

“Father now is officially pastor of this parish,” Bishop Stika announced, leading to another round of applause.

At the end of Mass, the bishop blessed a monstrance donated by a parishioner who wished to remain anonymous.

“I know the donor is here, but I’m like the CIA; I can’t tell you who they are, because they don’t want attention brought to themselves,” Bishop Stika said. “But whoever you are in this church, all the people who will kneel before the Blessed Sacrament, you will always be contained in their prayers, so in the name of the parish, I wish to thank you.”

Father Velez has been serving at St. Patrick since September 2021. Being a pastor “is a big challenge for me,” he said.

“After many years of being an associate, you get adjusted to doing certain duties, but now as pastor I have more responsibilities, more challenges in leading a community, especially this parish,” he said. “We have the English community and the Spanish community—I pray to God that I will keep the right balance between these two communities to work together as one.”

Father Velez will be leading more than 900 registered families at St. Patrick “and probably more that are not registered,” he said.

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