In persona Christi – Ordination brings blessings upon new priest

In a public response to a “call to holiness” Thomas Gregory Dougherty, 55, was Ordained to the Priesthood by Bishop Frank J. Dewane during a Mass on June 8, 2024, at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Venice.

The poignant and emotional rite places Father Dougherty in a new role as he is raised to the Order of the Presbyterate where he will now celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, confer the Sacraments and teach the Gospel. The ordination fell on the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, chosen by Father Dougherty because has a strong devotion to Our Lady. The location was changed to Our Lady of Lourdes due to the ongoing reconstruction of Epiphany Cathedral.

Following his ordination, Father Dougherty said the entire experience was otherworldly and beautiful. “Praise be to God; I can’t think of a better way of entering into the priesthood than through the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary,” noting the Memorial to the Sacred Heart of Jesus took place on June 7.

Bishop Dewane congratulated the ordinand for answering the call to holiness and advancing in formation through prayer, discernment, guidance and direction which helped him grow closer to the Lord. Through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the ordinand is called to reflect and magnify Christ and bring others closer to Christ. The priesthood was established as coworkers with the Order of Bishops, with whom they are joined in a priestly office, and with whom they are called to the service of the people of God.

“Through ordination you are conformed more fully to Christ, the Son of God,” Bishop Dewane said. “These are words we all need to hear – you are more fully committed to Christ. In receiving the Sacrament, the hard work is still ahead, and it will begin to happen in a more profound way. Focus on that man of prayer you are called to be, it is that prayer which, over and over again, supports the ministerial priesthood and lifts us up. Be open to what it is the Lord asks.”

Bishop Dewane said the change that happens upon priestly ordination is drastic, but he reminded Father Dougherty to let the Lord guide him on his new path, having been chosen by God from among His people and to be anointed on their behalf.

“Fulfill the ministry of Christ. the priest, and do it with joy and with love,” Bishop Dewane said. “You have been blessed with many talents; but know the Lord has an idea of how you are to go about your ministry. In this, strive to gather the faithful into the family, so that you may lead them to God, through Christ.”

When the Rite of ordination began, Dougherty was called forth to the presence of the Bishop by Diocese Director of Vocations Father Alex Pince, and upon hearing his name called out, he answered “Present.” After the homily, Dougherty knelt before the Bishop to promise respect and obedience to him and his successors. Then he lay prostrate before the altar for the Litany of Supplication/Litany of Saints. The whole assembly joined in the prayer which invoked God’s grace and the intercession of the saints in heaven.

After this solemn act of prayer, the Sacrament of Ordination was conferred when Dougherty knelt before Bishop Dewane, who in silent prayer, imposed his hands on the head of the ordinand. In the sharing of the priesthood, each priest present laid their hands on the head of the newly ordained Father Dougherty, one at a time.

The ordinand then knelt once again before the Bishop, who then recited the consecratory Prayer of Ordination; the prayer, together with the Bishop’s imposition of hands, is the essential Rite of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

After the prayer, the newly ordained was vested in the stole and chasuble, vestments which are worn when celebrating the Eucharist and symbolize the responsibility and authority in service to Christ. Father Dougherty was vested by Father Michael Scheip, a retired priest who assists at Incarnation Parish in Sarasota and was a spiritual advisor when Father Dougherty assisted at the Parish while in seminary.

The palms of the new priest were then anointed with the Sacred Chrism by Bishop Dewane, the sign of the special anointing of the Holy Spirit who will make the priest’s ministry fruitful. Next, the Bishop presented Father Dougherty with the chalice and paten which all priests are called to present to God in the Eucharistic sacrifice saying: “Receive the oblation of the holy people, to be offered to God. Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s Cross.”

The Rite of Ordination ended with the Bishop giving a fraternal kiss of peace to the newly ordained priest, welcoming him into the Diocesan Presbyterate or priesthood. The priests present then followed the Bishop’s example. The newly ordained Father Dougherty then joined Bishop Dewane at the altar to the applause and joy of all present.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist followed. Father Dougherty joined all the priests for the first time in concelebrating the Eucharist with Bishop Dewane, reciting together the words of consecration. For the first time, he offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, acting in persona Christi. From this sacrifice his whole priestly ministry will draw its strength.

Although a late vocation, Father Dougherty said he thought about becoming a priest in high school, even enrolling in a minor seminary but never attended because he was conflicted about his decision. He attended Bradley University before going on to graduate from Middle Tennessee State University, becoming an elementary school teacher in Winchester, Tennessee. He transitioned into industrial sales for several years before following the call of God by returning to teaching, developing catechetical programs for Catholic education in Cincinnati, Ohio, just prior to entering seminary at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts.

As a seminarian for the Diocese, Father Dougherty had pastoral assignments at Incarnation Parish in Sarasota and Ss. Peter and Paul the Apostles Parish in Bradenton. While in seminary, Deacon Dougherty’s pastoral assignment was with the Archdiocese of Boston’s Pro-Life Office. Father Dougherty celebrated his first Mass at Incarnation Parish in Sarasota and has been appointed as Parochial Vicar at St. John XXIII Parish in Fort Myers.

Present for the ordination were two of his siblings, as well as other relatives and friends from his life in Ohio, Tennessee and the seminary in Massachusetts. Among others present were more than 40 priests, including Msgr. Brian R. Kiely, Rector of Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary, men and women religious, Permanent Deacons, Knights and Dames of the Order of Malta, Knights and Dames of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, the Knights of Columbus Color Corps, as well as hundreds of the faithful.

The Ordination to the Priesthood is considered one of the most important events in the life of a Diocese as it ensures the continuation of the Church and the availability of the Sacraments to the faithful.

A reception followed in the Parish Hall where Father Dougherty formally greeted the public and imparted his priestly blessing upon them, smiling all the while.