DURHAM, N.C. – Returning to the parish he served during his internship year, and not far from where he attended high school, Casey Cole, OFM, will be ordained to the priesthood in front of a gathering of family, friends and parishioners at Immaculate Conception Church on June 22. The celebrant of the 11 a.m. Mass will be Bishop Luis Rafael Zarama of the diocese of Raleigh, N.C.
Studying and Ministering
Casey, who was born in Pennsylvania, graduated in 2011 from Furman University in Greenville, S.C., where he earned a bachelor’s degree with a major in religious studies and a minor in poverty studies. He became acquainted with the Franciscans through his participation in a Furman spirituality group led by Patrick Tuttle, OFM, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish, not far from the campus and where Casey also spent a summer as an intern.
He made his first profession in 2013 with novices from seven North American provinces at the Franciscan Interprovincial Novitiate in Burlington, Wis. Casey professed his final vows in 2017, and in March 2018 he was ordained a deacon. In between, in 2016, he completed his internship at Immaculate Conception in Durham. He now lives in Chicago, where he is completing studies toward a master of divinity degree at the Catholic Theological Union, which he expects to receive this spring,
Having spent the last several years studying and evangelizing through talks and presentations – sharing information about the Catholic Church and the Franciscans – Casey authors a blog Breaking in the Habit and popular videos, including the series titled “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.”
He chose Durham for his ordination Mass or several reasons.
“I went to high school just 25 minutes away and my family still lives relatively close to the area, making it convenient,” Casey said “It is also the place where I did my internship year and acted in the most meaningful way as a minister. This community helped to form me into the priest that I will become.”
Making his final vows is when everything seemed to “get real” for Casey.
“With solemn profession, I made a serious commitment that will last for the rest of my life, and the long-awaited future was suddenly very near,” Casey said. “Being ordained a deacon last year and beginning to serve in an official capacity in the Church – baptizing, serving at Mass, preaching – furthered this feeling. The long years of preparation were being put to work, and I am so thankful for what I’ve been able to. do.”
Feeling the Call
After ordination, Casey would like to continue with speaking and retreat ministries, as well as the video productions for which he has become known.
“My online ministry began in July 2011 just before I entered postulancy, when I started writing a blog about my experience going through formation,” he said. “This evolved over the years, expanding to YouTube videos in 2015. I felt that more could be done in the work of evangelization and catechesis, and that this was a perfect way in today’s world to reach people constantly connecting to online content.”
Casey added, “While I have continued the blog since 2011, I’ve found that YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram offer an opportunity to preach and teach in a wider way, reaching a much younger – and often, less Churched – demographic. I am always looking for new forms of media that might reach people, which is why Br. Tito [Serrano, OFM] and I began a podcast last year. The collective work of this ministry has engaged people in faith, encouraged discernment, and even inspired a few vocations.”
As for most men called to religious vocation, Casey’s journey toward ordination has involved much self-reflection, as he came to the realization that he wanted to be a Franciscan prior to discerning his call to the priesthood.
“For me, my primary calling is to follow Christ in humility, community and prayer, serving others and preaching the Gospel. When I thought more about what exactly that would look like, I began to see a great need in our Church for ordained ministers, and realized that the work of a priest was a powerful way to live the values of St. Francis,” Casey said. “Through the liturgy, I could evangelize and preach; through the sacrament of reconciliation, I could offer healing and prayer, and through the other aspects of priestly life, I could live with humility in trying to build up the kingdom.”
He has noticed that the perception of the priesthood – even by those in discernment – is sometimes a narrow view.
“When most people think of being a priest, they usually think only of celebrating the sacraments. That is obviously a major part of this life, but being ordained a presbyter in the Church means being ordained into the threefold ministry of Jesus Christ: priest, prophet and king,” Casey explained. “As a priest, I very much want to emphasize the prophetic and leadership aspects of Christ’s ministry, as well as continue my ministry of evangelization and catechesis through social media, traveling to offer retreats and talks, working with those who are poor and marginalized, and building up the local community in the way of Christ.”
With much of his formation process having been “interior or private,” and completed in cities where he has known few people, Casey is looking forward to this milestone with friends and family.
“In having this ceremony at a place that I call home, and among the people who inspired my vocation and helped shape it, I see the ceremony as much for everyone else as it is for me. I hope that they see it as the fruit of all their work over the years,” Casey said. “Much of my formation process has been private — done in cities where I have known few people.”
Those who are unable to attend the ordination will undoubtedly see information, photos and perhaps a video online as Casey continues to share milestones of importance in his Franciscan journey.
— Jocelyn Thomas is communications director for Holy Name Province.
Editor’s note: Over the years, the ordinations of HNP friars has taken place a various churches, including St. Francis of Assisi in New York City, St. Camillus in Silver Spring, Md., St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, St. Francis of Assisi in Triangle, Va., Assumption in Wood-Ridge, N.J., Holy Name of Jesus in New York City, and St. Francis of Assisi in Raleigh, N.C..
- “Casey Cole Writes First Book” – April 2, 2018, HNP Today
- “Three Friars Ordained Deacons” – March 13, 2018, HNP Today
- “Casey Cole’s New Video Series Shows Varied Lives of Friars” – June 29, 2017, HNP Today
- “Post-novitiate Community Settles into Chicago” – Jan. 18, 2017, HNP Today
- “Friars Celebrate Contributions of Durham’s Emily K Center” – Nov. 16, 2014, HNP Today