"You will be invited into the most personal and private times in the lives of God's people to witness their marriages as two become one in Christ, to anoint them when they are sick, to comfort them when they are dying and to be a presence of Christ to them at all times."
Archbishop Malcolm McMahon uttered these words during his homily at the ordination Mass of the newest priest in the Archdiocese of Liverpool. They were words that served to sum up the special role that a priest fulfils – a role now waiting to be filled by both Father Stephen Lee, the man whom Archbishop Malcolm was directly addressing on 18 July, and Father Matt Jolley, the other new priest welcomed into the archdiocesan fold this summer after the pair had completed their seminary training at Oscott College.
Both men will commence their priestly duties in September – Father Matt will be assistant parish priest at Holy Name, Fazakerley while Father Stephen will begin as a Metropolitan Cathedral-based hospital chaplain – but for now both are still getting used to their new lives. As Father Matt said of his classmate’s ordination at St Marie of the Annunciation in Standish on 18 July: "I walked in and just to be there concelebrating and on the other side of things was rather surreal."
The first of the Archdiocese's two summer ordinations took place on Saturday 4 July at St Mary's, Warrington with Father Matt's admission into the priesthood. For the history graduate from Edge Hill University, after all the anticipation surrounding this special day, the reality of the occasion started to sink in as he lay prostrate on the floor during the Litany of Saints. "That is the point where you feel like everything has been handed over to God," he reflected. "You are about to be ordained so there is nothing else to worry about – there is the contentment of knowing you have reached that point and now it is in God's hands. You hear everyone around praying for you and asking the saints to pray for you and it is time to trust in God really."
One of the most significant moments of the ordination rite comes when the priest receives his chasuble and stole, and in Father Matt's case he was given his garments by Father Pat Sexton and Father Sean Riley – "a big influence and source of support throughout my training" according to the 28-year-old, who also credits the Benedictines, notably Father William Wright, for their support in his vocation. They were not the only ones, of course; his parents Kevin and Louise and brother Patrick were looking on, along with many other welcome faces in the congregation.
"It was nice to see more than six years' worth of people coming to give their support and pray for me. It was moving. The highlight of the Mass came after I was ordained when I went and sat up next to the Archbishop and I looked out and saw such a full church. It is testament to people's appreciation of what priests do." Archbishop Malcolm, speaking in his homily, offered his own positive appraisal of a memorable day when he said: "What is happening in this church today is truly an extraordinary sign of God's love and mercy for his people."
For Father Stephen, meanwhile, "the most moving" moment of his celebration a fortnight later arrived when Father Stephen Maloney, the former Archdiocesan vocations director, helped vest him with his chasuble and stole, together with his parents Dennis and Kathleen. It was Father Maloney whom he had approached when first thinking about his vocation– and here they were together once more, 11 years on, at the end of a long road travelled.
"I think all four of us – myself, my mum and dad and Father Stephen were quite emotional at that point," Father Stephen explained. "You are called forward and your hands are anointed with chrism and then you are clothed in the vestments of the priest. The three people involved had journeyed with me and the challenges I’ve had over past 11 years added to the emotion of finally, after all these years, getting to where I was hoping to get to."
For the former IT technician at Salford University, the following day brought his first Mass as a priest at St Bernadette's in Shevington, the twin parish of St Marie's. It was the first taste of what lies in store in his new life. "You are now the centre of attention and people are asking you what you want," he said. "You have changed from being a parishioner they have got to know over the years to a priest who is going to be there, as the Archbishop said in his homily, supporting people at different times in their lives. You will be there in some of the most important times in their life – the good times and the bad times, the happy times, like weddings and baptisms, to being with someone who is sick or dying. In this modern day there is still the sense of trust that people still have for the priest and they want them to come when they are most in need."
Father Stephen will soon experience this at first hand in his role as a cover chaplain for the Royal Liverpool University and Broadgreen hospitals, working alongside Father Ged Callacher and Father Jonathan Brown, who is the full-time chaplain at the Royal. "Hospital chaplain work is something I've not got that much experience of and I suppose it can be challenging ministry to have, but I am looking forward to it," said the 39-year-old, who will replace Father Liam Collister at Cathedral House. "It is putting into practice all the years of training I have had at seminary and hopefully bringing Christ to people's lives."
Father Matt expressed a similar sentiment about his opening assignment, serving as assistant to the parish priest, Father Kevin McLoughlin, at Holy Name in Fazakerley. "I am looking forward to just getting stuck in really. You spend six years learning all the theory but it is not until you are out in the real world that you put that theory into practice." As with Father Stephen, he is aware that there will be testing moments to come, but he is ready to embrace these challenges. "Hopefully I have got my own qualities I can contribute. It will be a challenge to settle in and adapt – it is a whole new way of life but that is the fun of it really. I am excited after six years' studying and training to finally be able to get out there and do what we've been prepared to do."