Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, who was ordaining his first class of priests as the new archbishop of Los Angeles, told the six young men June 4 that "the priesthood is not about power or prestige."
"It is not an office or an occupation. It is a sacrament. It is a response to God's call to serve souls. You are called to be other Christs," he continued. "This is not a metaphor or a pretty idea. You are his voice and his hands."
Quoting Pope Benedict XVI, the archbishop described the priesthood as "a fellowship of service for God and with God."
Then citing the prophet Isaiah from the day's readings, he told them that as priests they were anointed in the Spirit to "bring good tidings to the lowly; to heal the brokenhearted; to proclaim liberty in those in captivity. Your priesthood is a ministry of reconciliation through the healing love of God."
The new priests represent a real cross section of the archdiocese -- one was born in Mexico, three were born in Korea and two were born in the United States of immigrant parents.
Their backgrounds also reflected a continued pattern of growing cultural diversity among the men being ordained for U.S. dioceses, especially those ordained for religious orders -- according to an annual national survey conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University for the U.S. bishops' Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.
Survey results also showed that 34 was the average age of the 480 or so ordinands in the class of 2011. More than nine in 10, or 94 percent, reported they had some type of full-time work experience prior to entering the seminary, most often in education.
One new priest, ordained for the Diocese of Juneau, Alaska, traded his bulletproof vest for vestments. As a police officer, now-Father Steve Gallagher, an imposing figure at 6-foot 4 and 240 pounds, used to cruise the streets of Olympia, Wash., armed with gun, handcuffs and pepper spray.
The first whisper of the call to the priesthood came when Gallagher was in elementary school on a religious retreat in his hometown of Port Angeles, Wash. Gallagher spent four years at a Benedictine-run high school.
After graduation in 1971, he tried a variety of jobs over the next several years, including tugboat worker, logger and finally a police officer in Port Angeles, where he stayed for nearly 10 years. He returned to the Benedictines, at St. Martin's Abbey, and became a novice monk. After 18 months of discernment, he decided to join the Olympia Police Department.
Father Gallagher, 58, said his faith journey was much like his days as a traffic cop.
"Like other police officers all over the world, we do not like to direct traffic. We know how hard it is to get someone's attention and make them go in a direction other than the one they have chosen. Imagine how much harder it was for God to give direction to me -- not because I didn't want to go in the direction he had chosen -- but because I thought I was driving, " he said.
For 21 years, Gallagher protected and served the citizens of Olympia, despite a bout with cancer.
In 2004, he received a call from a priest in Haines, Alaska, who was responding to his inquiry about becoming a priest. That led to him entering Sacred Heart Seminary in Hales Corner, Wis., in the Milwaukee Archdiocese. The seminary is known nationwide for accepting men seeking to be priests after a career in various fields, as well as older men who have been married and divorced or who are widowed.
Father Gallagher is also a rarity among U.S. Catholic priests for another reason -- he has a daughter, Molly, age 22. His marriage ended with a civil divorce in 1994. He requested and received an annulment from the Catholic Church. The church determined the Gallaghers' marriage was not sacramental.
In Father Gallagher's words, "nothing short of a miracle" took place April 30, when he was ordained a priest by Juneau Bishop Edward J. Burns. Now he is one of nine priests in the Juneau Diocese, ministering in a geographic area the size of Florida.
In the Diocese of Sacramento, Calif., a new priest also took an unusual route to the priesthood. Now-Father Jeff Henry, ordained June 4 by Bishop Jaime Soto, is a former Lutheran minister.
He and his wife of 26 years, Peg, have a daughter, Teresa, who is 21.
He is the diocese's first married priest under a special provision approved by the Vatican in 1980 that allows former Protestant clergy who have become Catholic to be ordained to the priesthood.
In an interview with the Catholic Herald, the diocesan magazine, he said he believes God will continue to open up new possibilities.
"I've benefited from every spiritual experience I've had on this long journey. There were so many things I benefited from in the Lutheran Church and for that I am grateful," he said. "I didn't change so much as that God took me on another leg of the same journey."
Baptized in the Catholic Church as an infant but raised in a military family that didn't attend church much, he got involved in evangelical groups as a college student in Oregon in the 1980s. That eventually led him to leave his first career as a science teacher to attend the seminary and become a Lutheran pastor, first in West Virginia and then in Fairfield in Northern California.
As a Lutheran minister, Henry and his wife became involved with other laypeople and clergy in ecumenical study groups examining the writings of early church leaders, and they began wrestling with the question of joining the Catholic Church. They decided that's where they belonged.
After he resigned his pastorate, the Henrys and their daughter participated in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and were received into the church during the Easter Vigil in 2005 at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Sacramento. They have been active members of St. Joseph Parish in Vacaville.
Henry applied to be a priest the same year and took up a three-year reading course of studies in theology while he waited for his petition to be approved by the Vatican.
"In my new role as a priest, I want to serve the people of the diocese in whatever way Bishop Jaime Soto sees as necessary and beneficial," said Father Henry, 51, dean of students since 2005 at St. Patrick-St. Vincent High School in Vallejo. He will continue in that role following his ordination, as well as assist in parish and pastoral ministry.