Less than two months after being ordained, the Diocese of Orlando’s newest priests – Father Mark Librizzi, Father Bernard Ngila and Father Thomas Wanitsky (pictured left respectively with Bishop John Noonan) – unknowingly celebrated Mass with a special person amongst the congregation. Bishop John Noonan paid a surprise visit at each of the priests’ Masses on July 22, revealing his presence toward the end of the celebration. His visit was not a matter of assessing their progress but rather a means of welcoming them to the priesthood.
“I can write them a letter saying, ‘Congratulations. I have heard good things,’ but I would rather visit the newly ordained parishes and speak to the people to let them know that I have sent and entrusted this priest to their communities,” Bishop Noonan said. “I want the people to know that I do take a personal interest in the newly ordained. My visits are not meant to be an evaluation, but rather a joyful affirmation of their ministries and a way to say thank you. I tell the people to look after the newly ordained as I have entrusted him to the people, and I hope they are going to take care of them and teach them to be a good priest.”
Father Wanitsky, parochial vicar at Holy Cross Parish in Orlando, said he had heard rumors about the Bishop’s surprise visit, but soon forgot about them as he had other concerns on his mind.
“During the 10 a.m. Mass, there were two baptisms, one of which included the immersion of the baby, something I had not yet done, so I was a bit nervous about that,” he said. “The baptism went well, and as I was heading back to my seat, I noticed a man wearing clerics walk across the altar to the Ambo. I was totally surprised and exclaimed, ‘Bishop Noonan!’” (He had been hiding in the choir.)
“Bishop first addressed the families who had just witnessed their babies being baptized and joked with them, saying not to worry ‘The Baptisms are valid.’ Then he asked the congregation to report on how I was doing. They affirmed me with great applause. Bishop gave me a hug and left. What a truly special day for me and the people of Holy Cross!”
Father Mark Librizzi, parochial vicar at St. Margaret Mary in Winter Park, was happy to see Bishop Noonan, especially when he discovered that he did not have enough Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion to distribute the Body and Blood of Christ.
“I was overjoyed to see Bishop walking down the aisle after announcements,” said Father Ngila, parochial vicar at St. Ann Parish in DeBary, adding that he was not nervous because he had been well prepared for his vocation in the seminary. “I am glad he visited our parish. Bishop Noonan is truly a good shepherd.”
All of the priests said they have been blessed by their vocations. Father Wanitsky said his greatest blessing has been in hearing Confessions and “witnessing what is sometimes many years of burden and guilt being lifted off by our most forgiving Lord.”
“Living the life of a priest has been a blessing,” Father Ngila said. “It is wonderful to be able to celebrate the sacraments, serve God’s people and bring these people closer to God. It is a fulfilling vocation.”
Father Wanitsky agreed and said, “If you feel you are being called to the priesthood, answer the call! It is a wonderful life.”
Editor’s Note: This article will be published in the August 10 edition of the Florida Catholic.