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With Joy and Excitement, Newly Ordained Priests Begin Their Ministry

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CARMEL VALLEY — Nathan McWeeney and Bill Zondler were ordained to the priesthood June 9 at St. Therese of Carmel Church.

Before conferring the sacrament of holy orders through the laying on of hands and the prayer of ordination, Bishop Robert W. McElroy reflected on the significance of the occasion and what it means for the new priests and their vocational journeys.

“It is tempting to conclude on this day that the call of God in your lives has now become clear and is being addressed with finality,” the bishop said, speaking directly to the two candidates for priesthood.

But, he said, “God’s call is not answered in a single moment. It is answered in a lifetime of ever deeper understanding, ever deeper commitment, ever deeper service, ever deeper love.”

The bishop predicted that the two men will discover unexpected “new dimensions” of that call in the years to come.

Describing the image of the Good Shepherd as key to understanding the priestly mission, Bishop McElroy told Fathers McWeeney and Zondler that they must become “just such shepherds,” providing accompaniment to members of their flock during their darkest hours and most difficult moments.

Bishop McElroy, who began his homily by expressing gratitude to Father McWeeney’s and Father Zondler’s parents, concluded by thanking the men themselves for hearing God’s call, answering it, and accepting the role of priest and shepherd.

Several things attracted Father McWeeney, 31, to the prospect of a priestly vocation. Among them was “the aspect of adventure” that he saw in the daily lives of diocesan priests.

“A parish priest has the privilege of journeying with people through the most dramatic times of their lives,” he explained. “In a single day, a priest might witness a marriage, preside at a funeral, give words of comfort and Holy Communion to a dying person, and give counsel to someone in a life crisis.”

He added, “This strikes me as a life of true adventure and I’ve been attracted to this sort of life, a life of journeying with people through these important moments.”

Originally from Wrightwood, California, Father McWeeney was a member of St. Margaret Parish in Oceanside when, after “an array of affirming experiences” over the course of his life, he recognized the call to priesthood and entered the seminary.

During his youth, he remembers experiencing “a great sense of peace” as an altar server.

“From there, I recall daydreaming about growing up to be a priest,” he said.

Though he brushed the thought away as a high school student, he said, it returned to him as he grew increasingly serious about his faith during his college years.

“When I pictured myself becoming a priest, the vision came with an unsurpassed peace and joy,” he said.

Following his ordination, Father McWeeney will be spending nine weeks studying Spanish in Puebla, Mexico, before beginning his first assignment as associate pastor of Good Shepherd Parish in Mira Mesa in early September.

As the date of his ordination approached, 30-year-old Father Zondler was filled with “awe and wonder” at everything God had accomplished in his life.

“At these moments of transition from one chapter of life to another, suddenly the past makes more sense,” he said. “You see how the pieces fit together.”

Father Zondler, who was raised by a Catholic mother and by a father who entered the Church four years ago, grew up as a member of St. James Parish in Solana Beach. He first opened his heart to the idea of a priestly vocation while attending a Steubenville Conference in 2004. As a college student, the sense of a call deepened as he became actively involved at his local parish.

After graduation, he returned home, where he attended daily Mass, shadowed his parish youth minister, and began seeking the counsel of priests regarding his vocation. Eventually, he decided to enter the seminary.

Of his call to priesthood, Father Zondler said, “There were times I was confused about it, there were times I fought it, there were times I questioned, but I ultimately came to an excited place of peace, joy and excitement.”

Father Zondler, who has been assigned as associate pastor of Mission San Diego de Alcala, said the local Catholic community has played an invaluable role in his path to priesthood.

“I am so grateful to the people of God … for the way they have watered the seed of my faith throughout my life,” he said, “and am so excited to offer my life back to the people of God, here in the Diocese of San Diego, as a part of that expression of gratitude to God and His people.”23

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