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Father Muench Says...

Remembering my first Mass

June 9, 2021

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

One of the joyful celebrations for a Catholic diocese is the ceremony of the ordination of new priests. Then this is completed by the celebration of the first Mass that the newly ordained celebrates at his home parish with his family and friends. We know well that the Catholic Church needs more priests. We need an increase of ordinations each year. The Diocese of Ogdensburg was blessed this year with three ordinations, three new priests.

I was not able to attend this year’s ordination, however, I did watch the ceremony and Mass through live streaming on television. I also watched the first Mass celebration of Father Matthew Conger. Father Matt celebrated his first Mass at Notre Dame Church in Ogdensburg. Father Matt was ordained a priest at St. Mary’s Cathedral by Bishop Terry LaValley on Memorial Day, along with Father John Ojuok and Father Fernando Solomon Jr.

Watching Father Matt’s First Mass, I was rather pleased to see several of the younger priests of our diocese in the sanctuary assisting and supporting this newly ordained priest, Father Matt. It was so great seeing these young priests, sort of a demonstration of a strong foundation for our diocese. By the way, there were several older priests of the diocese at this Mass also.

As you might have imagined, as I watched Father Matt’s first Mass, I remembered many things from my own first Mass so many years ago. I was ordained a priest with six others by Bishop James J. Navagh at St. Mary’s Cathedral – a long time ago.

After my ordination, I headed to Syracuse and home to prepare for my first Mass at Holy Cross Parish. I must admit on that Sunday Mass, there were more people in attendance than I imagined. Present there were lots of family and friends, including many folks I had not seen in a very long time.

I wasn’t worried about making mistakes at Mass. Among all the theology and Sacred Scripture courses that made up my studies during my major seminary studies, I also took many liturgy courses focusing on the understanding and celebrating of the sacraments of the Catholic Church. I believe I was well prepared.

I do remember that the homilist at my first Mass was Msgr. Joseph Bailey. Msgr. Bailey had a profound influence on my formation as a priest. At Wadhams Hall, Msgr. Bailey presented a course in public speaking each year. This course helped me a great deal to become a priest and preacher. I know only too well how his guidance helped me become a better speaker before people, a preacher of the word of God at Mass in church.

The interesting thing was that Father Bailey became my pastor for the first year of my priesthood. He continued to show me a great deal about being a good priest, a good pastor and a good preacher. So, I want to take a moment right here to offer a prayer to God and a note of gratitude for Father Bailey’s place in my life and for the wisdom and support he demonstrated to me.

This reminds me of many other priests who were such great influences on my life as a young priest. I was blessed. And now, all these years later, I continue to realize how much I owe to so many pastors and priests who touched my life as a young priest. I must add also that I learned so much about preaching from many great preachers, simply by watching and listening. God has given me such great examples. Thank you, Lord.

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