By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – The Diocese of Jackson gained two new priests on Saturday, May 11 – one a native Mississippian and another from Mexico. Both have a devotion to the Blessed Mother and although both considered the priesthood as boys, both waited until after they had worked out in the world before they entered the seminary.
Father Mark Shoffner was working as a nurse in a cardiac unit when he finally realized that he did want to pursue the priesthood. But first, he wanted to take a sort-of pilgrimage. He told his mother about his plan on his next visit home. “It was January, 2012. He sat down to the supper table. I was making supper, and he said ‘I came home to tell you something – I am about to quit my job and travel around Europe for three months with just a backpack and then I am going to go to the seminary and become a priest,’” said Eva Shoffner.
His journey through the seminary started that fall and his family was thrilled to attend the ordination. “I am so excited. We have just been anticipating this time for a long time – seven years now – and we are just thrilled that the Lord choose our son to become a priest. He has always had a great faith in God and has always had such reverence. He has always greeted each day looking for something good. He is always grateful for all things. I believe he will be a good priest,” said his mother.
Father Adolfo Suarez-Pasillas lived in Mexico and the United States, searching for his true vocation. He said his family was devoted and constantly exposed him to prayer and sacraments, but it took a long time for him to respond to God’s love. His family told Mississippi Catholic that when he was very young, he would make play altars with sticks and flowers. His mother and aunts believe the seeds of his vocation were already starting to take root.
He went through a deep depression before he finally opened his heart and started to work towards the priesthood. Father Suarez-Pasillas could have gone to any number of dioceses, but chose the Diocese of Jackson because he wanted to serve in a place where he could be with the poor and marginalized and where the church needed him most.
The night before the ordination, the candidates, diocesan seminarians, Chancellor Mary Woodward and liaison to the seminarians Father Aaron Williams gathered for a rehearsal. The mood was joyful. Bishop Joseph Kopacz joked with the men as they walked through each part of the rite – the presentation, the litany, oath of fidelity, laying on of hands, vesting, anointing with chrism, receiving the chalice and paten and, finally, standing at the altar for consecration as priests of the church.
The Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle was standing-room-only full for the Mass of Ordination. Several days of bad weather cleared Saturday morning, leaving conditions breezy, but the sun peeked through by the time Mass started. Priests from across the diocese came to celebrate as well as Bishop Emeritus Joseph Latino.
Sister Magdalena Carrillo, Monsignor, read the first reading in Spanish from the Acts of the Apostles – Paul’s instructions for the presbyters to watch over their flock, keeping them safe from wolves and liars. Sister Dorothea Sondgeroth, OP, proclaimed the second reading from Ephesians in which St. Paul urges ministers to be humble and gentle and to unify the church. Deacon Andrew Rudmann chanted the gospel, a reading from John 17 about Jesus giving the word to his apostles and sending them out into the world.
At the conclusion of the Mass, all the priests sang Salve Regina in Latin, a tradition at many diocesan liturgies. As the new priests exited the church, their seminary classmates waited to greet them with cheers and hugs.
The next stop was Jackson St. Richard Parish where a team of volunteers and caterers, led by Berta Mexidor, had arranged a reception honoring the Mississippi and Mexican roots of the ordinands. Magnolias and mariachi music made for a merry reception. The priests offered first blessings while guests snacked on tamales, Delta-inspired stuffed grape leaves and a variety of other foods.
Father Suarez-Pasillas offered his first Mass of Thanksgiving that very afternoon at Jackson St. Therese Parish while Father Shoffner traveled to his home parish of Greenville St. Joseph for a Sunday Mass.
By Maureen Smith