PROVIDENCE — It was with great joy that Father Nathan Ricci and Father Jorge Rocha stepped into the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul on Saturday morning to celebrate their ordination to the holy priesthood. Bishop Thomas J. Tobin presided at the ordination ceremony, performing the rite of ordination and addressing the two men who answered the call to serve the people of the Diocese of Providence with faith, reverence and charity.
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“We know that this moment is the fulfillment of your hopes and dreams and many prayers,” said Bishop Tobin shortly before the prayer of ordination. “My brothers, we are proud of you and grateful that you have responded to the Lord’s call with such generosity and courage.
“We pray that the holy spirit of God will wash over you, fill your hearts, raise you up and help you always to be faithful and joyful servants of Christ and his people.”
The ordination was an occasion for celebration not only for the two new priests, but for the countless family members who have worked tirelessly through the years to support them on their vocational paths. Father Ricci, who grew up in St. Catherine Parish, Warwick, was joined at the front of the cathedral by his parents, Albert and Ann Ricci, while Father Rocha, son of the late Victorino and Maria de Fatima Rocha of Cape Verde, was accompanied by his sisters, uncle and other relatives, who filled several rows of pews on the other side of the aisle.
Following the election of the candidates, during which a representative of the people names the candidates as worthy to receive the sacrament of ordination, Bishop Tobin addressed the two men, reminding them of the reality of the priesthood in the life of the Church.
“Priesthood doesn’t exist in the abstract, as a vague theological construct. The priesthood is fulfilled in very real individuals who live in a particular time and place, in a particular context,” he said. The bishop noted that the vocations of the two new priests have been impacted by their ordination during the Year of Mercy, quoting Pope Francis’s recent advice to priests at the Vatican that “mercy is a verb, not a noun.”
“Our Holy Father, in so many compelling and beautiful ways, is teaching a new grammar of discipleship, a new grammar of ministry, particularly for priests,” said Bishop Tobin. “He has called us, all priests, to be ‘missionaries of mercy’ in our daily lives and in the exercise of our priestly service.”
At the pivotal moment of ordination, Father Ricci and Father Rocha approached the altar, where they prostrated themselves before God and participated in the laying on of hands. In a tradition that goes back to the time of the apostles, Bishop Tobin invoked the Holy Spirit upon the candidates, ordaining them as priests and presenting them to the people of the diocese.
The new priests then donned their priestly vestments, each choosing a mentor to assist him. Father Ricci was assisted by Father Richard Friedrichs, pastor emeritus of Saint Catherine Parish, Warwick, while Father Rocha was assisted by Father Joseph Escobar, pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, Providence. Once vested, the priests had their hands anointed with the oil of sacred chrism and received the greetings of their fellow priests.
Among those greeting the new priests was Father Carl Fisette, director of vocations for the Diocese of Providence. As vocations director, Father Fisette came to know both men well as they prepared for the priesthood. Following the ordination, he noted that neither priest discerned his vocation until after entering college and beginning another career path, emphasizing the many varieties of the vocational journey.
“I think our diocese is tremendously blessed to have two new priests who bring great zeal to the diocese,” he said. “These two men in particular show that God calls at different times. Our diocese is very fortunate to have them.”
After the ceremony, Father Ricci and Father Rocha made their way downstairs to the cathedral hall, where they were greeted by large crowds of family and friends offering congratulations and seeking blessings from the new priests. Among those who waited to receive a blessing was Christine Richard, a parishioner at St. Philip Parish, Greenville, who came to know Father Rocha during his time serving there as deacon.
“He is one of a kind because he didn’t go [into the seminary] right from high school. He understands the working person more,” she said. “He’s just a very kind, caring priest. It’s wonderful.”
Among those who greeted Father Ricci were high school companions Robert Bucci, Jr., and Nicole Matiello. Bucci attended Bishop Hendricken High School with Father Ricci, while Matiello, a graduate of St. Mary Academy — Bay View, recalls participating in joint theater productions with the new priest. Both friends remember a studious, outgoing young man who graduated in the top 10 of his class and was active in drama and other extracurricular activities.
“I’m happy for him today because it’s been a long time coming,” said Bucci. “It’s sort of something that you’ve always had the inkling he was going to do.”
The celebrations continued the following day, when both priests celebrated their first Masses of Thanksgiving at churches that held special meaning for them and their families. Father Ricci celebrated his first Mass at St. Dominic Chapel at Providence College, his alma mater, while Father Rocha celebrated his first Mass at his home parish of Our Lady of the Rosary, Providence.