The four seminarians who participated in the Dec. 15 Rite of Candidacy celebrated by Bishop O'Connell are shown from left, Christopher Ziegler, James Sicilia, Timothy Graham and William Clingerman. Joe Moore photos
The four seminarians who participated in the Dec. 15 Rite of Candidacy celebrated by Bishop O'Connell are shown from left, Christopher Ziegler, James Sicilia, Timothy Graham and William Clingerman. Joe Moore photos

By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor

Seminarian James Sicilia has been diligent and content with his studies in St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Wynnewood, Pa.

But on Dec. 15, Sicilia realized a milestone in his priestly formation when he and three other seminarians from the Diocese participated in the Rite of Candidacy with Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., which is a formal step in the preparation for priesthood.

“The rite made things very real, very concrete for me,” said Sicilia, a member of St. Mary Parish, Barnegat, and a first theology seminarian who is pursuing a master of theology degree.

Sicilia joined seminarians William Clingerman, Thomas Graham and Christopher Ziegler in receiving the rite in St. James Church, Pennington. The Mass was followed by the annual Christmas dinner, a time when the Diocese’s 16 seminarians can come together with their Bishop and area priests.

“When I think of Advent, I think of a homecoming,” a return to the Church and all that it offers – a family of faith, things that are familiar, an opportunity to be at home with God and with one another. All these things we celebrate with joy,” Bishop O'Connell said in his homily for the third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday. 

Preaching on the themes of homecoming and of joy, the Bishop continued, “Advent is a doorway to the joys in the home that is Christmas where Jesus dwells with us.

“The season of Advent once again opens the door to the Savior. As we anticipate Christmas, the Church helps us and is a place where we find forgiveness, compassion, mercy and love,” Bishop O’Connell said. “When the door [to the Church] is open, go inside and make yourself at home.”

The Rite of Candidacy, which followed the homily, began with Msgr. Thomas J. Mullelly, diocesan vicar for Clergy and Consecrated Life and director of seminarians, calling the names of each of the four seminarians. They each responded “present” and stood as the Bishop welcomed them into the next step in their formation.

“Even though there was no ontological change, as happens in ordination, there is a particular joy that filled my heart being called for candidacy,” Sicilia said of the rite. “This is different from anything else that I have ever done with my life, and the joy that I am experience with candidacy reaffirms my belief that this is exactly where the Lord wants me to be.

He admitted that he has found the seminary experience to be “quite a transition for me.”

“I was used to living on my own and doing things on my own time,” he said. “My time is no longer my own, but that is all part of the formation process. Part of a man’s time in seminary is for him to diminish so that Christ can increase in him, and as a priest devotes his time to the people of God and is obedient to the Bishop, so we are being taught in the seminary with our daily routines. This is no longer my life that I am living for me alone, but my life that I am living in Christ as well.”

Ziegler, a first theologian in Mount St. Mary Seminary, Emmitsburg, Md., where he is pursuing a master of divinity degree, regarded the Rite of Candidacy as a double blessing. In addition to being formally accepted by the Bishop, he also received the rite in the parish church where he grew up and attended preschool.

“It was great to be able to bring my mostly private discernment process into a public forum and receive the open support of the people of God,” said Ziegler, whose home parish is Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, West Trenton.

Clingerman is also a first theology seminarian in Mount St. Mary Seminary, where he is pursuing master of divinity, master of arts in philosophical studies and bachelor of sacred theology degrees.

“Now that a formal agreement has been made between the Church and myself, I will continue my preparation for a life spent in service to and sacrificial love for the Bride of Christ. I learned, or confirmed, that this is what the Lord wants of me, and I am happy to comply with his wishes,” said Clingerman, who hails from St. John the Baptist Parish, Allentown.

For Graham, also a member of St. John the Baptist Parish and a first theology seminarian in St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, the Rite of Candidacy meant expressing intention to receive Holy Orders as well as growing deeper into prayer with God, in holiness and being more faithful to his vocation.

“Taking this step toward the priesthood is not a promotion, but rather it continues to do the work God has for us when we get ordained,” Graham said, who shared how excited he is to pursue the next step in his formation. 

“We hear in the Rite of Candidacy, ‘May God who has begun good work in you, bring it to fulfillment,’” he said. “I want to be a good and holy priest that God is calling me to be, and I want that holiness to shine out in me and others so that they can see Christ in me.”

Along with Msgr. Mullelly, the Bishop was joined by several priests at the altar, including Father Michael Wallack, pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish, Allentown, and diocesan director of vocations; Father Daniel Swift and Father Garry Koch, both of whom serve as assistant director of vocations for the Diocese, and Father Herbert Sperger, director of spiritual formation in the Theological Seminary in St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.