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New Priests Urged to Follow Example of Good Shepherd

By Denis Grasska

SAN DIEGO — On June 24, during a Mass at St. Therese of Carmel Parish, Bishop Robert W. McElroy ordained four local men to the priesthood.

David Exner, Corey Tufford and Derek Twilliger were ordained for ministry in the Diocese of San Diego, and Glenn Baaten as a priest for the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. Established by Pope Benedict XVI, the ordinariate is essentially a diocese for former Anglicans throughout the United States who wish to be fully Catholic while retaining their Anglican traditions and liturgical practices.

“In today’s liturgy, four separate lives converge in service to the Church through ordained priesthood,” Bishop McElroy said in his homily, noting the unique paths that had led each of the men to their priestly vocations.

The bishop said that “the prism for that convergence” could be seen in the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, and he shared “three dimensions of the love of the Shepherd” that might serve as a challenge and a source of consolation for them at the start of their ministry.

The first dimension, the bishop said, is composed of the “countless, unimaginable graces and joys” that mark the priestly life.

“Every new priest is ordained with expectations about how the priesthood will unfold in his life ... but priesthood itself is rooted in a surrender to the God who constantly amazes and who unveils wonders which are beyond all of our preconceptions,” Bishop McElroy said.

The second dimension, the bishop said, is the call “to become sojourners for the Lord.” He explained that the shepherd is “a wanderer,” who is constantly leading his sheep toward nourishment and safety and who at times must be willing to leave the rest of his flock to seek out the one sheep who has gone astray.

“You must love like such a shepherd,” he said. “You must become a sojourner who journeys with your people into their greatest struggles, their most intense suffering, their times of feeling utterly lost.”

“The act of accompaniment itself,” the bishop said, will be the “truest gift” the new priests can offer.

The third dimension, he said, is “the call to witness to the sufferings of Jesus Christ.” The priest must be ever mindful of the sufferings of Jesus, which are “the most vivid testimony of God’s love and mercy,” but he must also be “constantly sensitive and attentive to the sufferings of his people.”

“The priesthood is a life filled with immense joys but it also has great moments of hardship and struggle,” said Bishop McElroy. “Both the joys and the hardships are essential to any priest who seeks to be an icon of Jesus Christ, whose disciples we are, for a true shepherd can only understand the pain of his people if he shares in it and shares also in the mercy of God, which brings constant hope amidst even the greatest suffering.”

The bishop concluded his homily by praying that, for Fathers Exner, Tufford, Twilliger and Baaten, the Good Shepherd might be “your model, your guide and your constant grace.”

The following are profiles of the new priests.

Father David Exner

Growing up in an evangelical Protestant home, David Exner was taught that his relationship with Jesus was “the single most important thing” in life.

Explaining that it was the sacraments that attracted him to Catholicism, he mused, “I guess it was only natural that, later on, that desire for closeness with Christ in the sacraments would draw me closer to the altar.”

The first inkling that he might be called to the priesthood came after college during his five years of service in the U.S. Marine Corps. While stationed in Fallujah, Iraq, he asked the Catholic chaplain a question about prayer. Though Exner only wanted to know how to listen better in prayer and had no real interest in the priesthood, the priest misinterpreted his question as a query about discerning a priestly vocation.  

“After that conversation, every time I tried to pray for the next several months, God would very gently ask what I would do if He was calling me to be a priest,” recalled Father Exner, 33. “So, I actually got the answer to my question — just not in the way I expected — and I discovered who God created me to be in the process.”

For Father Exner, priesthood is “not a job, but a calling.”

“The priesthood is not first what a man does, but who a man is,” he explained. “The priest is a spiritual father to God’s children, a man of prayer and service who makes Jesus Christ present to others in his life.”

Father Exner, who has been appointed associate pastor of St. Michael Parish in Poway, admitted to feeling anxious as the date of his ordination approached, seeing himself as “utterly inadequate and incapable” of the great calling he has received.

“However,” he said, “I’ve come to realize that that is the whole point: I can’t do any of this on my own, but Jesus can. So, I just need to be faithful, be present, and then get out of the way when He starts doing stuff.”

Father Corey Tufford

By the time he entered high school, Corey Tufford already aspired “to do something great” with his life.

Back then, he imagined himself becoming a wealthy architect with a beautiful wife and an expensive car. But instead of achieving greatness through the acquisition of material wealth, he ultimately found it in “offering myself as a sacrifice for the good and healing of others.”

Tufford, who was not even baptized at the time, felt drawn to Catholicism during his years at St. Augustine High School. And it was during a weekend retreat in 2004, as he was preparing to receive the sacraments of initiation, that he first considered a priestly vocation.

“I remember simply looking up after Mass had been celebrated and seeing Father Bill Springer purifying the chalice and paten,” said Tufford, 27. “At that moment, the thought ‘What about priesthood?’ entered my heart.”

He continued to discern his vocation throughout high school and as a member of the priestly discernment program at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

“The ministry of the priest is a mission to communicate the love of God to every person he encounters,” he said, describing this as “a weighty reality” but one that the Holy Spirit provides the grace to accomplish.

Father Tufford, who has been appointed associate pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Chula Vista for the summer, is scheduled to return to Rome to complete a licentiate in Biblical Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

Though he says, “Wherever there are people, I will be happy to serve as their priest,” he expresses particular interest in being part of the Church’s outreach toward the growing number of young adults who identify as “non-religious.”

“As a priest, I hope to be a bridge for men and women, leading them to Jesus,” he said. “Simply put, I want others to know Jesus and His Church, and the true fulfillment and true joy they offer — fulfillment and joy the world can never offer.”

Father Derek Twilliger

After many years trying to convince himself that “the perfect job and Ms. Right were both out there somewhere,” Derek Twilliger finally said yes to God’s invitation to priestly ministry.

“I did not heed this voice for quite some time,” admitted Father Twilliger, 45, who doesn’t recall a specific moment when he felt called to the priesthood but rather “a calling that grew over time.”

He first heard that call during his high school years, when his brother spent some time in the seminary and he had the opportunity to meet other seminarians.

“I was able to identify with many of them,” he recalled, “and that was when I thought of the possibility of becoming a priest.”

Father Twilliger, who was a member of his high school youth group as a teenager, became actively involved in Church ministry after graduation. He served in youth ministry, both as a volunteer and as a member of the parish staff, and also as a catechist, lector and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion.

“As I went further in ministry, I began to hear the voice of the Lord calling louder,” said Father Twilliger, who noted that his interactions with many “good and holy priests” over the years had helped to make the priesthood “an attractive option for a vocation.”

“A priest is supposed to be the face of Christ to the people of the Church,” he said. “His life should mirror Jesus, the Eternal High Priest, so that when people see the priest, they see Christ. He is called to lead and sanctify the people he is called to serve.”

Father Twilliger, who has been appointed associate pastor of St. Mark Parish in San Marcos, said, “The primary joys [of priesthood] for me will be forming relationships with the families and people of the parish where I am assigned. Also, bringing the sacraments to the people will be a primary joy. The major challenge I see will be not having enough time to do everything I will want to do.”

Father Glenn Baaten

Glenn Baaten’s path to the Catholic priesthood is very different from that of the three men who were ordained alongside him at St. Therese of Carmel Parish.

He is the married father of two grown children and is a soon-to-be grandfather. He credits his wife of 33 years, Cathy, with playing an invaluable role on his path of discernment.

“I can truly say that my faith journey has certainly been just that, a journey,” said Father Baaten, 58, the newly appointed pastor of St. Augustine of Canterbury Parish in Carlsbad. The parish is not part of the Diocese of San Diego, but rather the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, and his flock is composed of former Anglicans like himself.

Father Baaten did not grow up in a home where the faith was fervently practiced. Later, as a teenager, he felt drawn to the “dynamic expression” of the faith that he saw in Charismatic Christianity. He later joined the Episcopal Church and then the Presbyterian Church, where he was ordained a pastor, but ultimately left both denominations after encountering theology that he considered to be at odds with “the ageless teaching of the Church.”

He joined the traditional Anglican Church of North America and was ordained an Anglican priest. But he and his wife ultimately decided to “become visible members of the Roman Catholic Church.”

“We were confirmed and received into the Roman Catholic Church on Christmas Eve 2013,” he said. “We were finally home.”

Though he was resigned to being a member of the Catholic laity, his ministry experience and the retirement of Father George Ortiz-Guzman, his predecessor as pastor of St. Augustine of Canterbury Parish, provided the opportunity to serve as a pastor once again.

He was ordained a transitional deacon in the Catholic Church on May 31 by Bishop Steven Lopes of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. Bishop Lopes also was in attendance at his priestly ordination on June 24.

“I thank God for all the years He has allowed me to serve His Church,” said Father Baaten, “as a Presbyterian pastor, an Anglican priest and now, most especially, as one serving the fullness of the Church as a Roman Catholic priest.”

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