NEW YORK — A childhood dream became a reality for John Aherne, OFM, on Saturday as friends and family gathered to witness his ordination to the priesthood at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, six miles from the Queens church where he first felt called to the priesthood.
Archbishop Roberto González, OFM, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, celebrated the 11 a.m. Mass on June 23, with Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, and Provincial Vicar Lawrence Hayes, OFM, serving as concelebrants. George Corrigan, OFM, Joseph Cavoto, OFM, and Ronald Pecci, OFM, vested the newly ordained friar. Also participating in the Mass were Timothy Shreenan, OFM, as master of ceremonies, and Casey Cole, OFM, who served as deacon.
At Home in Church
“I always felt very welcome and comfortable in churches, and also felt something of the sacred whenever I entered them,” John said. “The parish where I grew up, Transfiguration Church in Maspeth, Queens, was staffed by kind, generous prayerful men who were terrific role models. They also sparked within me a love for the sacramental and liturgical life of the Church, a love that has been kindled by the many Holy Name friar-priests I’ve gotten to know.”
During the reception following the liturgy, John’s mother, Bridget Aherne, recounted how happy her son was while attending church as a youth.
“People used to come up to me and say that they hoped that he would become a priest, that he would be a good priest. I didn’t say anything because I wanted him to follow his own path, but it’s beautiful that it came back to that,” she said. “He loved being there. He was happy in church.”
That same joy was evident throughout John’s ordination Mass – from the moving testament to his character given by lay witness Erin Murphy, to the Irish dance performance by students from the Aherne Sheehan School of Irish Dancing, which John co-founded and where he taught before becoming a friar.
While there were many highlights for John, “the laying on of hands is an experience I won’t ever forget,” he said. “To look up and see so many of my brother priests welcoming me and blessing me was profoundly moving, and more than a little overwhelming.”
He continued, “It was also humbling to see people from so many different parts of my life gathered in one place to celebrate with me. Friends from high school and college and my days in publishing and Irish dancing; partners-in-ministry from Tampa, Boston and Chicago; friends and family from Ireland. It made me profoundly grateful for the gift of life I’ve been given and the wonderful people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.”
Called to Serve
During his homily, Roberto spoke about the need for a priest to be an instrument of peace and a servant to others, especially the poor and the marginalized. It was providential, he said, that John’s ordination coincided with Caritas International’s Week of Action on Migration and fell close to World Refugee Day on June 20.
“The purpose of the global week of action is to unite our actions and prayers in the issue of migration with a focus on building the necessary relationships that allow us to shift from fear to hope,” he said. “As Franciscan friars, we join together on behalf of migrants and refugees so that a culture of peace may prevail and all nations may build bridges, not walls. In this context, we pray for the wellbeing of undocumented immigrants in our midst and express our solidarity with them, especially those found at our borders, who endure separation from their families. These actions are immoral and should cease immediately.”
Among the more than 300 people in attendance at the liturgy were John’s parents Daniel and Bridget, and his siblings Sheila, Brian and Mary, all of whom spoke with pride of the son who has always been happy to help others, the brother who has always made time for his siblings.
“He has a vocation. He’s always been happy to help others and to be a good Christian,” said Brian. “We’re very proud of him.”
“I hope that he will be happy and make a change in the world,” said Bridget. “He fights for the poor and the immigrants. It makes him angry to see anyone treated unfairly or unjustly. He has always helped other people. He always makes time to talk to the poor or people who are in trouble.”
Eager to Begin
Prior to joining the Franciscan Order, John graduated from New York University with a bachelor’s in English and worked at several publishing companies. He got to know the friars by attending daily Mass and serving as a lector and Eucharistic minister at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, where he professed his final vows in 2016.
In preparation for his ordination, he completed a master of divinity degree at Catholic Theological Union and spent a weeklong retreat at the Franciscan interprovincial novitiate in Santa Barbara, Calif.
“It was invigorating to spend time with the novices during this intense year of their Franciscan formation, and it also gave me a chance to meet and spend time with the brothers from another province as we move toward revitalization and reconfiguration in the United States,” said John. “And of course, the fact that Santa Barbara is beautifully situated didn’t hurt.”
The retreat, John said, “gave me time to take a step back from preparing for the practicalities of ministerial priesthood, which had been occupying much of my time during the past year, and to focus more on prayer. I prayed in gratitude for the priests who have shepherded me over the years, and for the grace and strength and the listening heart to be a good priest to others.”
John has been assigned to St. Mary’s Church in Pompton Lakes, N.J., where he is “chomping at the bit to begin ministry.”
“The parish community has been very warm and welcoming, and I look forward to celebrating the sacraments and walking with them over the next couple of years,” he said. “I’m also looking forward to being in fraternity with Gonzalo Torres-Acosta, OFM, Emerson Rodriguez, OFM, and Larry Hayes, OFM.”
Beyond that, John hopes to be open to the needs of the Province and the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
“Franciscan life in the United States is bound to undergo some wild changes in the next few years,” he said. “I want to approach those changes with open hands and a willingness to say yes to whatever comes next. Bring it on!”
— Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.
- “Three Friars Profess Solemn Vows – and Gratitude” – Sept. 2, 2016, HNP Today
- “Walking in the Footsteps of St. Clare” – Aug. 10, 2016, HNP Today
- “Two Friars Ordained During Interprovincial Mass” – June 20, 2017, HNP Today