Priesthood calls two Carmelite monks to deeper service
By Dan Rossini
Denver Bishop James D. Conley imposes his hands on Father Michael Mary of the Trinity, a Carmelite monk, ordaining him to the priesthood / Photo Credit: Dan Rossini
During the ordination Mass, Auxiliary Bishop James D. Conley of Denver placed his hands and uttered the words of the sacrament on Brother Michael Mary of the Trinity, M. Carm., and Brother Joseph Marie of Jesus, M. Carm., before family, friends and well-wishers who packed the church.
The three-hour long ordination Mass, celebrated in the Extraordinary (Tridentine) Form of the Roman Rite, included chant and polyphony sung by a schola from Wyoming Catholic College in Lander.
In his homily, Bishop Conley called the monks’ ordination day “an historic day in the life of the Church, in the life of this new monastic community, in the life of the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyoming, and in the life of the world.”
“It is obvious that the Lord is about a great and serious work here,” he said, “for he has touched the hearts of many other young men, whom we see here today … who have answered his call to serve in this great adventure of love.”
The twofold vocation of the new priests will involve teaching, sanctifying and leading their brother monks to follow the Carmelite charism, a life “of prayer, solitude, penance, and strict observance in separation from the world” and “dedicated to interceding for the Church and to the world,” according to the bishop.
The two new priests, having completed their theology studies at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary outside of Lincoln, Neb., this spring, are the first priestly ordinations for the Wyoming Carmelite monks. They join Prior Father Daniel Mary of Jesus Crucified, M. Carm., in providing spiritual care for the community’s 19 members.
Bishop Conley said that the new monastery of Carmelite monks, who seek to perpetuate the charism of the Blessed Virgin Mary by living a life inspired by the primitive Carmelite rule and the ancient monastic observance “is cause for great rejoicing in Holy Mother Church.”
He pointed out that the ordination occurred on the anniversary of the community’s founding, Oct. 15, 2003. On that day, Brother Michael Mary was clothed with the Carmelite habit and became a novice, joining Father Daniel Mary as co-founder. Brother Joseph Marie joined the two as a postulant on July 16, 2004, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and entered the novitiate on Dec. 8 of that year.
At Father Michael Mary’s first Mass the next day, at which Father Joseph Marie served as deacon, Father Daniel Mary exhorted the new priests to never forget that they had lain down their lives in union with Christ, just as they had lain prostrate on the cathedral floor at their ordination.
“If you truly lay down your life in union with Our Lord Jesus Christ, your life has to be in union with his on the cross, especially as Carmelite priests,” he said. “Our priests, as monks, are to be victims in union with Christ. We are to lay down our lives in union with him. Insofar as we lay down our lives in union with him, to that degree we will have power in our priesthood.”
He explained that there would be times the new priests would feel the burden of the priesthood. “When one person after the next is demanding our time, we might just want to say, ‘Hold it! Stop! I can’t take it anymore.’” But the more they give, he said, the more our Lord and our Blessed Lady will fill them up. “They will give you the strength to be a holy priest,” he said.
Father Daniel Mary stressed the importance of priests being devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary. “Never turn away from Our Lady, never forget her in the priesthood, always run to her to be united with her, because she will give you the power, the strength to be holy priests, to be effective priests, and to do all things out of love for the children of God,” he said.
In an interview later that day, he described the great gift the two new priests would be to the community. “Our Lord has blessed me with two of the best men to be leaders of the order,” he said. “Our Lady handpicked these men for this great work of formation for our community.”
Father Michael Mary has been appointed novice master, taking responsibility for the formation of both postulants and novices. He will provide them with instruction on the Carmelite charism, their rule, their constitutions, and the works of their saints, especially St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.
“He has a real talent for getting into the novices’ souls and pulling out all the things that impede their growth. And he does it by love,” said Father Daniel Mary. “He wants them to become holier. He’s not afraid to point out the faults of the novices – which is a good quality to have in a novice master. It’s kind of like Our Lady’s spiritual boot camp.”
Father Michael Mary, 31, was born Michael Wright, the ninth of 11 children of Jack and Florence Wright of Minneapolis. He grew up in Visitation Parish, Minneapolis, and graduated from Trinity High School, Bloomington, Minn., before spending two years at Christendom College, Front Royal, Va.
Though he always hoped to become a priest, Father Michael Mary said that he had to pursue his Carmelite vocation first. “I really felt that I needed to be engrossed in Carmel before I even pursued the priesthood,” he said. “Some people had told me, before I entered Carmel, that maybe I should go and get some seminary done, or some schooling done, and that was always repulsive to me. I did some college, just as an interim thing after high school, but, you know, my first longing was to be in Carmel.”
He entered religious life on Oct. 1, 2000, as a postulant at the Hermitage of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel in Lake Elmo, Minn., where Father Daniel Mary was then novice master. Both left the order in October 2002 with the idea of founding a new Carmelite community.
Father Michael Mary explained that the call to the priesthood is something added to the vocation of a Carmelite monk. Many monks are lay brothers, whose lives are “in a sense more ideal as a Carmelite because they just do simple work, you know, manual labor,” he said.
The priesthood, he explained, is different. “It’s actually for the greater good of the community. … It’s something above and beyond the simple call to Carmel, because the priesthood is not about one’s own perfection, it’s about perfecting others. It’s about the salvation of others. It’s about serving others through the sacraments.”
Father Joseph Marie has been appointed junior professed master, taking charge of the formation of those monks that have made their temporary profession. “He has a lot of gifts in preparing brothers intellectually for the priesthood,” said Father Daniel Mary.
Father Joseph Marie, 34, was born Joseph Gibbons, the fourth of five children of Joseph and Barbara Gibbons. The family made their home in Floral Park, N.Y., on Long Island, and attended Our Lady of Victory Church. He graduated from Hunter College of the City University of New York in 1998. He also joined the Carmelite monks at Lake Elmo, staying until early 2003.
Like Father Michael Mary, Father Joseph Marie said he heard God’s call to the priesthood at an early age. “When I was a little kid, I very much wanted to be a priest,” he said. “And then that desire, with the entry into teen years, disappeared. When I came back to really starting to live my faith, the desire for me wasn’t so much for the priesthood, but for consecrated life.”
He spent three years, from 1998-2001, at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary studying for the Priestly Society of St. Peter. “While I was there, though, that desire came back over and over again: the life of St. John of the Cross,” he said.
That desire, and the sense of his unworthiness for the priesthood, led him to leave the seminary and pursue a vocation as a Carmelite monk. Slowly the calling to the priesthood resurfaced.
“Father Prior thought that I would make a good priest, and encouraged me,” he said. “Following obedience over the years, I could see more and more that despite my reluctance, because of just being who I am, I could see that God was calling me to it.”
With “the gifts and graces of God,” he added, “at some point you just have to accept that he wants something better for you than you expect.”
Father Michael Mary made his permanent profession on Oct. 15, 2008, while Father Joseph Marie took his final vows on Sept. 8, 2009, the feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Father Daniel Mary remarked that it was crucial to have the two new priests at this time because his community is growing so fast. He said that over 250 young men call or write to inquire about the group every year. With their 19th member joining them on Oct. 18, and an additional postulant planning to arrive by the end of the year, they are quickly approaching the capacity of their current residence.
The problem underscores the monks’ need to move as quickly as possible to their new property, a 2,500-acre deeded plot in the mountains northwest of Meeteetse, Wyo., east of Yellowstone. There they hope to build a monastery with a large Gothic church. The Park County Board of Commissioners approved the special use permits for the land on Oct. 5, and the monks closed on and took title to the property Oct. 19.
Father Daniel Mary said that while the monks had the money to purchase the land, fundraising for the monastery is just beginning. “If you’re going to build a monastery, you can only do it once, and you have to do it right,” he said. “For a monastery, you’ve got to build it to last generations of monks.”
“We are in need of help to do this,” he added. “We can only do our part, which is to pray and to do penance. We really depend on the generosity of Catholics to help us accomplish our vision.”
For more information on the Wyoming Carmelite monks, visit www.carmelitemonks.org. For more on their new proposed monastery, see www.newmountcarmelfoundation.
Dan Rossini is the director of Communications for the Diocese of New Ulm, Minn.