HARTFORD, Conn. – Punctuated by centuries of sacred Franciscan tradition, glorious music, triumphant applause, and a safely-distanced crowd of friars, family members, and friends, Jay Woods, OFM, was ordained to the priesthood in the rite of presbyteral ordination at St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church, where he had previously served a yearlong internship in pastoral and outreach ministry to the marginalized.
Franciscan fraternity was on full display at the 11 a.m. liturgy on June 12, as nearly 40 friars, including Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, who concelebrated at the ordination Mass, were part of the procession that entered the church to the resounding vocals of the parish choral ensemble.
The principal celebrant was the Most Reverend Mark Bartosic, auxiliary bishop of Chicago. He has been a mentor to Jay from the time they met when Jay was performing chaplaincy ministry at the Cook County Jail while living at the Franciscan interprovincial post-novitiate formation house in Hyde Park.
Still adhering to pandemic guidelines, which limited in-person attendance, the nearly two-hour liturgy was live-streamed on multiple platforms including the Facebook pages of the Province and parish.
“It was wonderful to be ordained at St. Patrick-St. Anthony because I served in ministry and formed many friendships there. It’s a place of love and welcome. It gave me a chance to pick up where I left off. Leaving during a pandemic felt like I left in the middle of the night. It was nice to come back and be able to hug, shake hands, and interact with people,” said Jay, explaining why he chose the downtown church, where Holy Name Province has been providing pastoral and administrative care since 1990.
The attendance of family members and friends made the day extra special – some who drove from New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Jay was grateful to the nearly 40 friars who traveled from other states to bear witness and celebrate with him at the ordination Mass, whose masters of ceremonies were Timothy Shreenan, OFM, pastor of St. Patrick-St. Anthony, and Maxwell Klug, OFM, of Assumption Blessed Virgin Mary Province.
A Brother First and Foremost
For Jay, ordination “first and foremost, is being a brother to all of my brothers, all who I meet, and all in creation. Ordination means continuing the focus on living and preaching the Gospel of love and forgiveness,” he said. “But another important part of my calling to the priesthood is my desire to bring peace and serenity through the sacrament of reconciliation, to offer the same freedom and peace to others – freedom from worry, anxiety, and whatever may be weighing on them – that has so freely been given to me.”
Jay was grateful to have been ordained by a friend and mentor. “I met Bishop Mark when he was Father Mark. In addition to knowing me, he knows Franciscans and the heart of our fraternity and charism. You could tell from his homily, which he started off with a little humor, that we were there to be joyful, that there were no pretenses. The way he intertwined the Gospels with the Franciscan charism and who I am striving to be was truly special for me,” said Jay.
Even with retreats, planning, preparation, and prayer in the weeks and days leading to his ordination, reality hadn’t sunk in until that morning. “It became very real the moment I drove into the friary parking lot, that this was about to happen on grounds where I had spent a year with such amazing people,” said Jay.
“Tim was great – really, everyone involved in the planning was great. Everything was prepared, so there was very little for me to do that morning. After changing into my vestments, I was able to spend some time in quiet prayer and reflection in the friary chapel,” said Jay.
A Parishioner’s Testimonial
After presenting the Gospel, Kevin called Jay forward and asked the bishop to ordain “our brother” to the responsibility of the priesthood. Bishop Bartosic responded, “Do you know him to be worthy?” With that, Kevin summoned Richard Broggini, a member of the St. Patrick-St. Anthony community, to testify to Jay’s worthiness for ordination.
“We are grateful that Brother Jay spent his internship here; he inspired us as a person of deep faith and [was] eager to serve the people of God as a Franciscan priest. He touched so many lives in our parish with his gift of kindness, compassion, joyful spirit, and infectious laugh. We admired how he cared for sisters and brothers living on the margins of society [and] in need of compassion and assistance. I strongly believe his priestly ministry will be an invaluable asset to the Church and enthusiastically support his ordination to the priesthood,” said Broggini.
“After inquiry among the Christian people, and upon the recommendation of those responsible, I testify that Jay has been found worthy,” declared Kevin.
“Relying on the help of the Lord God and our Savior Jesus Christ, we choose Jay, our brother, for the order of the priesthood,” said Bishop Bartosic – and at those words, the congregation erupted into resounding applause as Jay, standing in the center aisle, turned and faced the crowd.
While there were many points during the Mass that brought Jay to tears of joy, he said the steady stream of emotion was triggered by the words of Broggini’s testament.
The Story of ‘Bro-Jay’
In his homily, Bishop Bartosic spoke about a book, “Together on the Road” – noting that one of the things that struck him was the author’s view on fraternity, the hallmark of Franciscans.
“The author said if we do not see our brother as an obstacle, we cannot love him,” said Bishop Bartosic, who then recounted a story involving Jay about “the other as an obstacle, as a sign of something to be overcome or won over.”
When he ministered with Jay at the Cook County Jail, he noticed one of the officers would not engage with them when they crossed paths in the hallways.
“I just thought – well, whatever – but Jay was really bothered, until one day he said, ‘stop!,’ and [began] removing [the upper portion of his habit]. He introduced himself to the officer as Brother Jay. He said he was a Franciscan and that, ‘we are followers of St. Francis, this is our habit, this is the way we dress.’ When the officer saw the green t-shirt under his garment, it changed everything. After that, it was, ‘Hey Bro-Jay, how you doing?’” the bishop said, eliciting laughter.
“Jay did that because as Christians, we have to give people a reason for our hope. If they won’t talk to us, they won’t hear us. This is what the sacramental presence of the other means. Jay is always at work. There is something irresistible about Bro-Jay – that oil of gladness, that infectious smile – but it’s not Bro-Jay, it’s Jesus. Sacramental presence is at the very epicenter of what it means to be a priest. There is an itinerant wandering to a Franciscan’s life whose only satisfaction is the gift of finding God wherever he finds himself,” added Bishop Bartosic.
Jay said the experience made him realize that as a friar, you have to make people comfortable and show that you’re approachable. “Sometimes that means getting rid of the collar and habit, and being sensitive to and tearing down barriers,” said Jay, who prior to joining the Franciscans had a 13-year career in theater, television, and film, and who has a bachelor’s degree in fine and performing arts and a minor in philosophy from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
After joining Immaculate Conception Province in autumn 2013, Jay, a Massachusetts native, entered the interprovincial novitiate in Burlington, Wisconsin, one year later, where he also professed his first vows as a Franciscan in August 2015. In 2016, he joined Holy Name Province and relocated to St. Joseph Friary in Chicago. He made his solemn profession in August 2020 and was ordained to the transitional diaconate the following month.
Following the homily was “the promise of the elect” – during which Jay stood before the bishop and pledged to discharge the office of the priesthood and all its responsibilities. This was followed by the Litany of Saints as Jay lay prostrate in the center aisle at the foot of the altar as a symbol of humility, obedience, and giving of oneself.
“It was extremely intimate, a very raw and wonderful moment between me and God, calling upon the saints for their prayers and intercessions,” he said, noting that the anointing of his hands with chrism by Bishop Bartosic was also a “meaningful moment of grace that continued to build throughout the Mass.”
The laying of hands ritual first involved the bishop placing his hands on Jay’s head as a sign of passing to him the priestly office. As Jay knelt at the altar, the ordained friars in attendance, one-by-one, placed their hands on Jay’s head, conferring upon him the Holy Spirit – which he called a “very special moment of prayer and more powerful than I anticipated.”
During the investiture with the priest’s stole and chasuble, Jay was assisted by Roberto Serrano, OFM, Sister Beth Fischer, RSM, and Lydia Velez-Herrera, a St. Patrick-St. Anthony parishioner and advocate for the city’s homeless and impoverished with whom Jay had worked during his internship year.
After the presentation of the gifts by Jack and Maureen Woods, Jay’s parents, all of the friars offered Jay a sign of peace, greeting him with an embrace. Among them was Fr. Thomas Washburn, who served as Jay’s vocation director when both were members of Immaculate Conception Province, and who is now a diocesan priest and rector of the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption in Fall River, Massachusetts.
Provincial Offers Gratitude
Earlier in the Mass, Jay’s younger siblings, Mark and Heather Woods, presented the first and second scripture readings from the book of the prophet Isaiah and First Corinthians. The altar assistants included James Bernard, OFM, James LaGrutta, OFM, Aaron Richardson, OFM, Luis Rosada, OFM, as well as Joshua Critchley, OFM, of the IC Province, and Eric Seguin, OFM, of St. John the Baptist Province. The music ministry was led by director Gabriel Löfvall.
Before the recessional hymn, Kevin spoke on behalf of Holy Name Province, noting that Jay set the tone of this special day with his “wonderful words of reflection” on the last page of the ordination Mass program.
“The words, most appropriate for a Friar Minor, begin with a sense of gratitude. That is how we begin and conclude activities – gratitude for all gathered, in a very special way for Jay, Holy Name Province, and, of course, gratitude to Bishop Bartosic,” said Kevin.
“To Jay’s parents and family, thank you for the gift of Jay to the Franciscan Order, the Church, and the people of God. To this parish of welcoming, hospitality, and openness, thank you for shaping Jay in his ministry. Thank you to my brother friars who came from around the country to be witnesses. We will be with you, Jay, and we know that you will be with us,” said Kevin, who invited all attendees to an HNP-sponsored reception at The Franciscan Center for Urban Ministry immediately following the Mass.
Jay celebrated his first Mass the following day – on the feast of St. Anthony — at the parish’s 11:45 a.m. Sunday liturgy. Bishop Bartosic attended in choir and Thomas Gallagher, OFM, the former pastor of St. Patrick-St. Anthony, delivered a stirring homily in which he spoke frequently of Jay’s love of God and work with the marginalized.
“As we celebrate this Mass with Jay, St. Anthony provides us with an interesting model. Each one must use his own gifts. Anthony, for his part, allowed his gifts to be transformed and shaped by the witness of others and by knowing the love that is God. The grace and gift that Jay has is this way of knowing and entering into that love,” said Tom.
“Last year, Jay arranged for Thanksgiving dinner for families at St. Catherine’s Place. Hospitality at the table and gathering together is this care for the poor and growing in love. When these folks moved out, Jay made sure the space didn’t sit empty – and in partnership with a local organization he enabled the kind of hospitality in which people formerly homeless in downtown Hartford now have a place to stay – and that’s the great gift of wonder,” added Tom.
An outdoor reception after the Mass was hosted by the parish’s Open Hearts LGBT Ministry in the friary gardens.
Jay has been assigned to St. Anthony Shrine on Arch Street in downtown Boston, where he plans to begin studies in September for a master’s degree in social work at Boston University.
“In prison chaplaincy, outreach and direct service work – particularly with those experiencing homelessness – as much as I have been able to do, there always seems to be a missing link. This degree will allow me to better help the people I am being called to serve, and it will add to my ministry as a friar and ordained priest,” said Jay, who completed his master’s in divinity degree last month at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
“People are suffering and experiencing homelessness and addiction everywhere, which makes this degree helpful regardless of where I am assigned,” added Jay, who will also be serving in sacramental ministry at the Shrine and hopes to be involved with outreach and service ministries as well.
“One thing I learned in formation is that you cannot just have studies. I need to continue active ministry, which feeds the fire and passion I have for outreach and being a friar,” said Jay.
— Stephen Mangione is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.
- “Juan Turcios, Jay Woods Ordained Transitional Deacons” – Oct. 16, 2020, HNP Today
- “Jay Woods Set for Solemn Profession” – July 16, 2020, HNP Today
- “A Passion for Harmony in Hartford” – Aug. 29, 2012, HNP Today