Live within limits, physical and spiritual, new priests told amid pandemic
Hometown heroes Rev. JD Carmichael and Rev. Curtis Berube were ordained as priests in the Archdiocese of Edmonton on June 29 with a call to ‘live within limits’ – both the physical imposed by crowd restrictions and other precautions against the spread of COVID-19, and the spiritual.
“We’re physical beings. We’re emotional beings. We’re spiritual beings. And on of all that too we’re sinners. Even learning to live as a priest, you’re still a sinner. That’s a tough one to kind of grapple with,” newly-ordained Father Carmichael said. “It’s a reminder to just rely on the Lord even all that much more.”
Outdoorsmen, friends at the fishing hole and in seminary, Father Carmichael and Father Berube are the first priests ordained under global COVID-19 pandemic restrictions at St. Joseph’s Basilica. The next scheduled ordinations will be on July 21 for candidates to the permanent diaconate.
In his homily, Archbishop Richard Smith addressed the limits the new priests will face.
“Curtis and JD, of all the instruction you have received throughout your many years of seminary training, the most important lesson for you to learn for the effective exercise of priestly ministry is to live within limits; not the limitations externally imposed but those that arise from human weakness,” Archbishop Smith said.
“Trust not in yourself but in the Lord who calls you. Remember that he always stands by you, giving you strength and removing every obstacle to your public proclamation of the truth of his identity to a world that needs the Gospel.”
Father Berube said the Archbishop’s homily is a reminder of the call to ministry.
“It reiterated that the priesthood is not what I can do on my own. It’s about being ordained for service, but then also just allowing Christ to work through me,” Father Berube said.
“So it’s a message of hope for me to accept my own human limitations as I start into everything, which will be new to me once I get into the parish. I accept my own limitations, but also trust that God will work through me to do amazing things if I’m just open to Him and allow His Spirit to work through me.”
Edmonton-born Father Carmichael, 34, and Father Berube, 27, were both raised, in part, in Sherwood Park. They say they had other plans before hearing God’s call to the priesthood. Father Carmichael worked in the oil and gas industry, and Father Berube had considered a career in carpentry.
Father Carmichael recalled the nerves he felt driving north on Highway 2 towards Edmonton for his ordination – the culmination of years of discernment and study at St. Joseph’s Seminary.
“I even shut the radio off. I was taking a few deep breaths and then I got a phone call from [my] brother, and he said ‘Hey, just wanted to call and see how you’re doing?’ I said ‘Bro, I tell you I’m nervous’. He said ‘Well, don’t be nervous. Problem solved!’. It was good. I started feeling better,” Carmichael said.
“Definitely the part where we were concelebrating with the bishop, I just felt really at peace and thought ‘It’s a good sign.’”
Father Berube recalls: “In the week leading up to the ordination I was busy with a lot of preparation, and inviting people, so when it came to the day, I tried to slow down a little bit and reflect more on the ritual and prepare myself to receive the sacrament.”
“I was excited, a little bit nervous, but mostly ready to do this.”
COVID-19 precautions loomed large over the past few weeks, casting doubt at one point that the ordination would even take place this spring, and then there were only a few days’ notice that it was a ‘go.’ At first, the crowd restrictions were much more stringent but then they were eased slightly.
Nevertheless, their ordination Mass was unlike any other, with a limited number of family and friends, and livestreamed from St. Joseph’s Basilica for those who wanted to but couldn’t attend. Supporters carrying homemade signs cheered and congratulated the new priests after Mass.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little sad when I sat beside the Archbishop and looked back on the congregation and thought ‘Wow, this place is empty’,” Father Carmichael said. “There are people there. I loved that they were there. But it was empty.”
While it’s disappointing they couldn’t invite more people, Father Berube said he accepts the limitation and he’s grateful that the ordination was able to proceed despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Father Carmichael plans to celebrate a Mass in thanksgiving for his priesthood when COVID-19 restrictions are eased and it can be followed by sharing a meal afterwards.
On June 30, Carmichael celebrated his first Mass as a priest with a small group at St. Joseph Seminary. He plans to celebrate Masses this weekend in the Rocky Mountain House area before making two “rain or shine” backpacking trips in the Rockies over 10 days.
Father Berube celebrated his first Mass at St. Charles Parish at the invitation of Rev. Marc Cramer, the vocations director for the Archdiocese of Edmonton. Father Berube now plans to spend time with family friends and brother priests.
Feted after his ordination, Father Carmichael said it’s the seminarians who deserve it more.
“You get so many congratulations and people giving you gifts. I was like ‘You know what, this isn’t when you need it’. It should almost be done for any guy who enters seminary,” Carmichael said. “It’s such as huge step for any man to do.”