Community welcomes Caymanian priest

Father Kirkconnell offers first Mass on Sunday

 

Joseph Derek Kirkconnell was ordained Cayman’s first Catholic priest on Saturday, and he went to work on Sunday. 

The rite of ordination took place at St. Ignatius Catholic Church, where Pastor Suresh Rajaian announced that Father Kirkconnell has been assigned to Cayman for a few months before he is posted to a parish in Gross Pointe, Michigan, in August. 

The historic ceremony was witnessed by hundreds of parish members, relatives and friends of the Kirkconnell family, government dignitaries and religious leaders who filled the church and a television-equipped tent outside. Radio Cayman and Cayman 27 broadcast proceedings to the wider community. 

Promptly at 10 a.m., the rite of ordination began with entrance of the Most Rev. Francis Reiss, Auxiliary Bishop in the Archdiocese of Detroit, the Most Rev. Charles Dufour, Archbishop of Kingston, Jamaica, and several dozen priests and deacons who traveled to Cayman for the occasion, including former pastors Father Devon Nash and Father Michael Molnar. 

At the beginning of the liturgy, Joseph Kirkconnell sat in a front pew with family members, including his parents, Gerald and Deborah Kirkconnell and his grandmother Patricia Kirkconnell. Only after the reading of the gospel was he called to the altar. There, Bishop Reiss asked the rector of Sacred Heart Major Seminary, where Joseph studied, “Do you know him to be worthy?” 

Msgr. Todd Lajiness replied, “After inquiry among the Christian people, and upon the recommendation of those responsible, I testify he has been found worthy.” 

The bishop then told the candidate he must declare before the people his intention to undertake the office of the priesthood. He recited a list of promises and to each one Kirkconnell replied, “I do.” His penultimate vow was, “I do, with the help of God.” 

In a brief homily, Bishop Reiss pointed out that priests are co-workers with bishops, called to the service of the people of God. “Carry out the ministry of Christ with joy and love,” he urged. “Keep before your eyes the example of the Good Shepherd, who came to serve his flock and seek out what was lost.” 

During a litany asking the prayers of various saints, the priest-elect lay on the floor before the altar as a symbol of his humility. He then rose and went to Bishop Reiss, who placed his hands on the head of the elect. The other priests came forward and also laid their hands on his head. The laying of hands by the bishop was the defining point of the ceremony, for afterward the printed program referred to “the newly ordained priest.” 

Father Kirkconnell then received his chasuble, the outer garment he will wear when offering Mass, and the palms of his hands were anointed. Family members brought forward a chalice and paten, which the bishop placed in the new priest’s hands. 

Mass continued with Father Kirkconnell taking part in the liturgy for the Consecration and in the distribution of Holy Communion. Before the dismissal, he went to the lectern and spoke briefly to thank everyone who had prepared for the ceremony and come to witness it. 

Those present included Premier Alden Mclaughlin, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson and Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell. The congregation’s gentle laughter did not intrude on the dignity of proceedings when Father Kirkconnell thanked “Uncle Mose” for honoring him by attending. He also expressed gratitude to government ministers Kurt Tibbetts, Marco Archer and Wayne Panton, MLAs Joseph Hew and Roy McTaggart. 

Ministers of religion present included the Rev. Alson Ebanks of the Church of God and Bishop Nicholas Sykes of St. Alban’s Church of England. Father Kirkconnell asked everyone to pray for Christian unity in this country. 

He thanked his parents for their example and the way they had raised him. He thanked his grandfather, Eldon Kirkconnell, who was watching from home, for his prayers and Christian witness.  

He joked that his maternal grandparents, Derek Wight and Marguerite McTaggart Wight, had “the best seats in the house” as they watched from Heaven. Mr. Wight died in 2011, Mrs. Wight in 2013. 

Father Kirkconnell’s first blessing was of the bishop who ordained him, as is the tradition, and then of Archbishop Dufour, whose presence was a reminder of the religious and secular bonds between Jamaica and Cayman. 

After the recessional hymn, a thanksgiving reception was held in the school courtyard. There Father Kirkconnell renewed acquaintances with scores of people from the community who approached to seek his blessing. 

Bishop Reiss advised the gathering that he had brought with him from Detroit the formal permissions from Archbishop Allen Vigneron for Father Kirkconnell to begin his priestly duties such as saying Mass and hearing confessions. 

“You start work tomorrow,” he told the younger man, who was already scheduled to offer the 11:30 a.m. Mass. 

Among the many participants in the ordination rite was another young Caymanian, Deacon Tristan Abbott, who will be ordained to the priesthood on Saturday, May 31, in Corpus Christi, Texas. Father Tristan will celebrate his First Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Ignatius on Sunday, June 8 at 11:30 a.m. All are welcome to attend. 

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Parishioners and other guests line up to receive a blessing from newly ordained Father Kirkconnell. – Photo: Carol Winker
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