Salina — For the first time in 55 years, three priests were ordained on the same date in Sacred Heart Cathedral. Father Leo Blasi, Father Ryan McCandless and Father Justin Palmer were ordained as priests June 3 in a filled Sacred Heart Cathedral. The last time three were ordained to the priesthood on the same date was June 2, 1962 in the cathedral.
Bishop Edward Weisenburger likened the men to prisms. “It dawned on me often times we see clearest into the light when it is refracted by a prism,” he said. “I think each of you as a refraction of that light gives us a little more insight into the light of priesthood itself.”
The bishop spoke first to Father Leo Blasi. “May each of us take from your wonderful example that there is no time of life that we are truly finished,” Bishop Weisenburger, said referring to Father Blasi’s entry into the seminary following a military career. “For those who are open to it, God has something in store for us at every step of the journey.”
He next spoke of Father Justin Palmer’s vocational discernment, including a year away from the seminary to discern if religious life was his calling. “I was and remain impressed with the diligence with which you dug into discernment, at times very challenging discernment,” Bishop Weisenburger said. “You give evidence of the truth that the parish priest, in the language of Pope Francis and many saints, is to be the contemplative in action. While you will no doubt spend most of your waking hours on pastoral care of our people, it will be impossible for the people of God you serve not to sense the interior call on your part which I think will make them want to visit that quiet, hidden place of encounter with the Lord in prayer as well.”
One aspect of Father Ryan McCandless that was recognized among his peers as being an intuitive and compassionate man. “You are also an artist, a painter, a man who has been granted that exceptional vision to be able to see what could be,” Bishop Weisenburger said. “Like the two men next to you, you have the qualities that bishops are so often looking for in men aspiring to the priesthood.”
After a few years of seminary in Denver, the bishop moved Father McCandless to a seminary in Indiana. “It would have been easy for yourself to stay in Denver, but with hopeful expectation and a sense of obedience, you headed off where you were sent,” Bishop Weisenburger said. “You enflesh the truth that men who are called to the priesthood are — in the old homespun language of western Kansas — called to bloom where we are planted. None of us priests has the vocation nor can we permit ourselves the extravagance of growing too at home where we find ourselves today.”
In combining the strengths of each man’s refracted light, the bishop said, we see Christ more clearly. “If I were to use an analogy from agriculture, I would say what wonderful cross-pollinization we have,” Bishop Weisenburger said. “How wonderful our presbyterate when the individual members lend all their strengths together in the presbyterate gene pool so the people are all well served.”
Father Blasi, who entered seminary in January 2013 after a career in the U.S. Army, was previously married and has six children including sons Leo, Jr., Joshua and Keith; daughters Tracy Releford and 25-year-old twins Danielle and Desiree; and seven grandchildren. Father Blasi is one of 10 children of Franklin and Jeanette Blasi. A member of St. Andrew parish in Abilene, he attended seminary at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology in Hales Corner, Wisc., which focuses on second-career seminarians. He was vested by Father Henry Baxa and Father Larry Letourneau, who were both second-career seminarians.
He celebrated two Masses of Thanksgiving on June 4: at St. Andrew Parish in Abilene and St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Wichita, where his parents are members. “Both of the Masses moved me more than what I would have expected,” Father Blasi said. “Each one for different reasons. In Abilene, it was the people who had been around for the last 15 years. At St. Peter there were a lot more family members. The priest who said the homily for me was the pastor when my family was down here. He shared stories about remembering looking out in the pews and seeing my two oldest boys going at it during Mass, and said he wouldn’t have imagined 25 years ago he’d be giving a homily for Fr. Leo.” Father Blasi will begin his first priestly assignment at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Hays on June 30.
Father McCandless said he listened closely to the first reading from 1 Timothy, which encourages people to not neglect their gifts. “All the gifts I’ve been given over my life have been so great,” Father McCandless said. “I neglected them in the past, and now I have been fostering them. Then the reading finishes about the gift of the imposition of hands or laying on of hands — the gift of the priesthood. I was like ‘Wow, all the gifts I’ve been given have been culminating in this one humongous gift of the imposition of hands from the bishop.’ ”
Father McCandless, who grew up in Wichita, is the son of Rory and Teresa McCandless, members of All Saints Parish in Wichita. He has a brother, Matthew and wife Melissa, who have four children. He also has a sister, the late Kathryn Vogel. He is the grandson of the late George and Margaret Deslongchamp and the late Russell and Mary McCandless.
Deacon McCandless began his seminary studies in September 2010 after discerning his vocation while at Kansas State University in Manhattan. He attended seminary at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, and St. Meinrad Seminary in St. Meinrad, Ind. He was vested by Father Keith Weber, who was the chaplain at the St. Robert Bellarmine Parish-St. Isidore Catholic Student Center in Manhattan.
His Mass of Thanksgiving was June 4 at All Saints Parish in Wichita. “When I was going to All Saints (Church), I was about to turn into the parking lot and park where I normally do for daily Mass,” he said, then realized he needed to access the church via the sacristy. “I thought ‘This is totally different.’ I had to go in the back way. I saw the parish in a different light.” He will begin his first priestly assignment at the St. Robert Bellarmine Parish-St. Isidore Catholic Student Center in Manhattan on June 30.
Father Justin Palmer said the ordination itself was powerful for him. “Probably most memorable would have been the laying on of hands of the bishop and then of all of the priests with the Veni Creator Spiritus was being sung,” he said. “After that, the prayer of ordination because that’s the point I’ve been working towards for many years. It was a culmination of all the work and all the prayers and support of the people to become a priest.”
Father Palmer, the son of Greg and Karen Bond of Sylvan Grove and the late Robert Palmer, is a vocation of St. Patrick Parish in Lincoln. His sisters are Erica, Amy and the late Crystal Palmer. He is the grandson of Flossie and Tony Malsom, the late Elissa Palmer, the late Ernest Ptacek and the late Bob Palmer. He also has two nephews and one niece. He attended Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis. He was vested by Father Jarett Konrade.
His Mass of Thanksgiving was June 4 at St. Wenceslaus Parish in Wilson. “It was very humbling on Sunday, just because knowing this time I was the main celebrant,” he said, and added that he offered his Mass of Thanksgiving for his late father, Robert Palmer, who died when he was 11. “It just seemed right that I should offer my first mass for my father. It seemed very fitting.”
In addition to remembering his late father at his Mass of Thanksgiving, Father Palmer said he also thought of his late great-uncle, Father Maurice Ptacek, who offered his own Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Wenceslaus on June 4, 1962 — exactly 55 years prior. Father Ptacek was in the last trio of men ordained on the same date. He will begin his first priestly assignment at Sacred Heart Cathedral and St. Joseph Parish in Brookville on June 30.