DURHAM, N.C. – The friar known for using digital and social media platforms and networks to promote Franciscan life was ordained to the priesthood last month at Immaculate Conception Church here.
The June 22 ordination Mass was like a homecoming for Casey Cole, OFM, who spent a year of internship at Immaculate Conception after professing his solemn vows, and whose faith formation was ignited when he joined a youth group at his childhood parish of St. Michael’s in Cary, N.C., less than 20 miles from Durham. Both elements factored greatly into his selection of Immaculate Conception as the venue for this momentous Mass.
“In having the ordination at a place that I call home, and among the people who inspired my vocation and helped shape it, the ceremony was as much for everyone else as it was for me. I hope that they saw it as the fruit of all their work over the years,” said Casey, who, during his short time as a friar has produced more than 240 videos on YouTube, including 12 in his popular series creation named “A Friar Life.”
Christopher Van Haight, OFM, pastor of Immaculate Conception, said Casey’s ordination was a wonderful event for the parish.
“Casey’s time with us a year ago blessed us in so many ways – not just in the programs he offered, but because of his fraternal and caring spirit,” said Chris. “It was so nice that folks got to see him again and share this special day. Many parishioners mentioned that it was the first ordination they had ever attended and were grateful that Casey chose Immaculate Conception.”
The choice was an easy and obvious one for Casey, an alumnus of Green Hope High School in Cary and who spent August 2016 to the following summer at Immaculate Conception Parish in a very active internship ministry that included teaching classes on the Bible and Church history, helping at Immaculata Catholic School, visiting hospitals and nursing homes, and coordinating the resettlement of an African refugee family.
While Casey was thankful for the parishioners, friends and family members who attended his ordination Mass, he was profoundly moved at the sight of two of his college friends – Sally Morris Cote and Desireé Coutinho – serving on the altar.
“As I knelt before the bishop, one of my closest friends, Desiree, was standing next to me holding the ritual book. My friends weren’t just there supporting me. They were taking part in the celebration,” he said.
“I was encouraged by the number of friars who were able to be at the Mass,” Casey said. Since the ordination wasn’t in New York, I wasn’t sure how many friars were going to be able to make it. Seeing them was such a great reminder of the love and support we have in our fraternity, and that our priesthood comes from our experience of brotherhood.”
The friar known for his digital communication proficiency didn’t let the opportunity slip by to proclaim his big day on social media platforms. “It was a day that brought together my many worlds. There’s nothing in the world that can prepare you for ordination,” Casey said in a video – titled “The Day Changed My Life Forever” – released on YouTube and posted on his Facebook page.
One thing that may have paved the way early in life – and certainly unbeknownst to him at the time – was faith-sharing experiences as a member of his parish youth group. “I was inspired by how many people my age seemed interested in religion. I found the environment to be a fun, welcoming place doing great work for others,” he said.
It was a message not that different from the one delivered by Bishop Luis Rafael Zarama of the Diocese of Raleigh, N.C., who presided at the 11 a.m. ordination Mass.
“Your mission is to help turn people around and to help them see Jesus,” Bishop Zarama said during his homily, which was recorded by the Raleigh Diocese.
“By allowing Jesus to serve you, you will become more like him. The beauty of vocation is the relationship,” Bishop Zarama said. “Love Jesus in your everyday life. Let your heart be free. The love of Jesus will be the key for you in seeing the things we need to change in our everyday lives.
“Come and help him, as a person and as a priest. God chose you and he knows that you can do it. You can be an ambassador for Christ,” the bishop added.
Provincial Vicar Lawrence Hayes, OFM, the Province’s secretary for formation and studies, concelebrated the Mass. He extended the following words of gratitude to all present:
“Bishop Luis, on behalf of Fr. Kevin Mullen, OFM, the provincial minister, and all the friars, we thank you for celebrating the Mass and making it such a Christ-centered liturgy. To Casey’s parents and family, thank you for nurturing Casey’s faith and for what you’ve given to the Church. To all of you of Immaculate Conception Parish, thank you for welcoming Casey when he was here and for helping to form him as a friar and a priest.”
Others participants at this celebration of the rite of presbyterial ordination included James Sabak OFM, as master of ceremonies, Abraham Joseph, OFM, as deacon, Patrick Tuttle, OFM, as vesting minister, and Angela Flynn, director of music at Immaculate Conception Parish, as lay witness.
Casey graduated in 2011 from Furman University in Greenville, S.C., where he earned a bachelor’s degree in religious studies with a minor in poverty studies. He made his first profession in 2013 at the Franciscan Interprovincial Novitiate in Burlington, Wis. In March 2018, Casey was ordained a transitional deacon, and in May 2019, he graduated from the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago with a master of divinity degree.
He said he sees the role of a priest, “especially a Franciscan one,” as that of a reconciler.
“We are to be the ones in the middle facilitating relationships and bringing people together,” Casey said. “That goes for a relationship with God – teaching and preaching about the faith – but also with one another, serving as a voice for hope, healing and forgiveness in our torn world.”
Casey has spent much of the last several years sharing information about the Catholic Church and the Franciscans through talks and presentations. He authors a blog, “Breaking in the Habit,” and produces popular videos, including the series “A Friar Life,” which are available on YouTube. A collection of his blog posts was published in a book titled “Called: What Happens After Saying Yes to God.”
“I really enjoy the opportunity to share this life with the world and to interact with people who have questions – even complaints – about Catholicism,” said Casey. “For me, there are so many people seeking truth and in need of love, and yet they don’t realize that it’s right in front of them.”
To help prepare for his ordination, Casey went on a self-imposed disconnect – unplugging all electronic devices for a week-long retreat at Mepkin Abbey near Charleston, S.C. – no easy feat for a friar who heavily uses digital communication to spread the Gospel message and Franciscans values.
“I was privileged to have this time, to be able to devote an entire week to reading and praying,” Casey said. “As connected as I am, it is necessary to take time regularly to turn off my phone, close the computer, and sit in silence with God. Nothing I do would be possible if it weren’t for the love and mercy I find in Jesus Christ.”
Casey celebrated his first Mass on June 23 at Immaculate Conception Church, and on July 1, he began his new role as an associate campus minister at the University of Georgia in Athens, where the friars of Holy Name Province have ministered for more than 60 years.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.
Editor’s note: Photos of many scenes of the June 22 ordination Mass can be found on the St. Anthony’s Guild Facebook page. Photos can also be found on Casey’s Facebook page.
- “Casey Cole’s New Video Series Shows Varied Lives of Friars” – June 29, 2017, HNP Today
- “John Aherne Ordained a Priest” — June 26, 2018, HNP Today
- “Durham School Receives National Education Award” — Sept. 29, 2012, HNP Today