WILMINGTON — From many appearances, the ordination of Michael Vogt to the priesthood for the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales was the same as any other ordination. There was the altar, the bishop, fellow priests laying their hands on his head, and proud family and friends looking on.
But in other ways, Father Vogt’s ordination on Jan. 27 was very different. For one, it was held in the gymnasium at Salesianum School, where the new priest is a campus minister and theology teacher. And there likely have been few ordination Masses that were followed by a “victory lap” of sorts, as Father Vogt circled the gym to thank the students, who packed the bleachers, each section rising to give “Rev,” as he is affectionately known, a standing ovation as they chanted his name. He graciously returned the applause.
And though given the go-ahead at the end of the two-hour Mass by their principal, Oblate Father Christian Beretta, to leave for the weekend, approximately 50-60 students waited in line in the gym to be blessed by the new priest. Junior A.J. Campli was one of the last ones in line.
“I’m a football player, and Rev did pretty much all our chapels before the games. Rev’s always encouraging all the students, he’s always there helping out,” Campli said.
Campli said Father Vogt is “huge to the school. We basically dedicated Feast Week (celebrating the school’s patron, St. Francis de Sales) to the ordination, and it was really cool to see it happen.”
Tim Cannon, a freshman, attended his first ordination and waited patiently for a blessing from the new priest. “He’s one of those guys who’s always there if you need help. He’s an important guy for us.”
Father Vogt said it was special to be ordained in front of the students, faculty and staff he works with every day.
“I am extremely proud of being a teacher and being a part of Salesianum School, and of the student body,” he said. “They are the best gift to me this day.”
Salesianum wasn’t the only school represented in the bleachers. A contingent of students from Father Judge High School in Philadelphia, where Father Vogt used to teach, stood out in their red and blue sweaters.
The ordination was the latest step in a journey that started in 1976, when Father Vogt entered the Oblates after his high school graduation. Father James Greenfield, the Oblate provincial for the Wilmington-Philadelphia province, noted near the end of Mass that he and Father Vogt were seminarians together when Father Greenfield joined in1979, and Father Vogt’s route to the priesthood was just “very extended.”
“It doesn’t matter how you get there, it matters that you got there,” Father Greenfield said.
Mary Vogt, seated in the front row with her husband, Albert, was thrilled to see her son finally reach this destination.
“It was beautiful, absolutely beautiful. The gym looked perfect. It was very personable in the gym,” she said.
“I know the kids love him. I heard that,” she added. “He’s a pretty good teacher, too, but I’m prejudiced.”
God’s voice and hands
As the Mass began, Father Vogt took a seat next to his parents. His brothers and their families were there, as were friends; Salesianum faculty and staff; six Oblate seminarians; and more than 50 priests – mostly Oblates, but also the provincials of the Norbertine abbey in Daylesford, Pa., and the Capuchin Franciscans, along with a few diocesan clergymen.
Father Greenfield noted that the oldest Oblate in the province, 98-year-old Father Roberto Balducelli, who was ordained in 1936, was there, as was the youngest, Bob Killion, 24, a first-year theology student.
For nearly all of the students in attendance, and likely a large percentage of the adults, this was the first time they had witnessed an ordination. They watched as Father Greenfield attested to Father Vogt’s worthiness and Bishop Malooly accepted his recommendation.
During his homily, the bishop explained the duties of a priest, that he is God’s representative on earth.
“You are his voice and his hands. It is humbling,” Bishop Malooly said. “You are to make him present to the people you serve.”
Bishop Malooly said the priests who inspired him when he was young were men of prayer, men who took Christ seriously and who helped him see the face of Christ. He had no doubt that the newest priest in the diocese was all of that.
“The church needs good and holy priests. Michael, you will be that priest,” Bishop Malooly said.
Cathedral for a day
At the moment of ordination, the bishop laid his hands on Father Vogt’s head, as did the other priests in attendance. Father Vogt said after the Mass that the laying on of hands by his brother priests was especially powerful.
“I could feel myself getting warm. All those priests who have touched me in a lot of ways – by their example, by their life – many of those men are dead, and the fact that this long order of presbyter continues in the church 2,000 years back from Christ is an awesome idea and an awesome thing to try and somehow wrap your head around,” he said.
Father Vogt celebrated his first Mass Sunday at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Philadelphia.
The decision to ordain Father Vogt in the gymnasium was made to accommodate the students without having to worry about transportation, and to get them to think about whether they may have a vocation to the priesthood. Father Greenfield thanked Bishop Malooly for approving the nontraditional location, saying that not every bishop would have done so. And other than having the cross over the altar hanging from a raised basketball hoop, it was hard to tell one was in a gym.
“Today, this place looks like a cathedral,” Father Greenfield said.