Extraordinary ordination


Celentano_YennockChristopher Celentano ordained a priest for the Diocese of Syracuse

by luke eggleston
sun staff writer

The Syracuse Diocese welcomed its newest member into the order of priesthood Saturday, June 7, when Father Christopher Celentano officially responded to the call at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

With Bishop James Moynihan still in the hospital recovering from a surgical procedure performed on his knee, Bishop Thomas Costello celebrated the rite of ordination.

“I’m trying to be a pinch hitter,” Bishop Costello said.

“It’s just completely overwhelming. It’s wonderful to have my family present and Bishop Costello did such a wonderful job. We missed Bishop Moynihan, at the same time, but I know that he’s been praying for me. I had a chance to see him. Just to know that everyone here is in prayer for me to accept the call to God is just amazing. It’s an awesome feeling. I look forward to their continued support but more importantly to serving the people who God has called me to serve,” Father Celentano said.

A native of the Lyncourt area in Syracuse, Father Celentano was brought up in a dedicated Catholic family. Several family members, including his father, Deacon Joseph Celantano, participated in the ceremony. Father Celentano’s brother, Joseph Celentano Jr., and his mother, Diane Celentano, offered readings during the celebration.

Father Celentano is the first deacon’s son to be ordained a priest.

“It’s an awesome experience to know that he answered the call from the Lord and that I bore him and now I’m giving him back to God,” said Diane Celentano, a long-time director of religious education at St. Daniel who now works at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Liverpool.

“We are very blessed by the Lord. We’re a family of prayer and we are truly blessed by the Lord. Nothing happens without God,” she said

Deacon Celentano offered similar reflections to those of his wife following the ordination.

“It’s just a great honor and a blessing of the Lord. It’s a wonderful feeling with very strong emotions between me and my wife to see this young man who is so gifted and so blessed be ordained a priest today,” Deacon Celentano said.

Msgr. Eugene Yennock, pastor of St. Daniel, said that he saw the spark of spiritual inspiration in Father Celentano at a young age.

“I think [I recognized it] very early even though he went in a different direction,” Msgr. Yennock said. “But I thought that eventually he would find his true vocation.”

Msgr. Yennock said that, in addition to receiving the call, Father Celentano’s strong family background propelled him to the priesthood.

“He had a strong family and the Lord’s calling. I think that’s the first part. If the Lord is calling you and we all do our part, it happens,” Msgr. Yennock said. “All in all he had a strong family foundation and I think that’s the bottom line.”

“Christopher felt called by the Lord to serve him as a priest and we said if this is what you feel the Lord is calling you to then we’re behind you and our prayers are with you and our love and support will always be with you,” Deacon Celentano said.

Father Celentano graduated from Bishop Grimes Junior/Senior High School. He was a committed athlete who played baseball at the scholastic level. After a brief period at Le Moyne College, he transferred to Ithaca College where he studied sports management. Following college, Father Celentano worked for the Augusta Green Jackets in Augusta, Ga., but decided to return to school to pursue his law degree. Before he could attend a single class at law school, however, Father Celentano decided that his future lay in the priesthood.

“When he was a young boy he said that he wanted to be a baseball player and a priest. Ironically, he got sports management degree and worked for a baseball team, then he was on his way to law school a year after he graduated and made a left turn into the seminary,” Deacon Celentano said.

After six years of study and discernment, Father Celentano was visibly moved during his ordination ceremony. In the midst of the early portion of the rite of proclamation, he exhaled heavily while the attendees, both lay people and priests, applauded his acceptance of the call.

Father Celentano explained that he was reacting to the enormity of the moment.

“It’s just six years of hard work, things culminating and the church officially calling me to the order of priests and it just was overwhelming to have all that support and people standing and clapping and the priests standing and clapping and the bishop coming down and smiling at me…it was just an awesome feeling,” Father Celentano said.

Bishop Costello began the homily by noting that he was reading from notes Bishop Moynihan prepared for the homily on April 21, 2008.

“Obviously Chris, you were on the bishop’s mind for many years and certainly you are in his heart,” Bishop Costello said.

The homily’s theme revolved around the priests’ place in society as someone who is set apart, but indispensable.

“The priest appears to the world as the representative of that invisible world that is also full of mystery,” the bishop said, adding that the priest is “the everlasting outsider” who is “in the world, but not of the world.”

The homily compared the priesthood to Jesus Christ as one who mediates between God and man.

Bishop Costello concluded the homily by saying, “Welcome to the priesthood of Jesus Christ.”

Father Kevin Maloney and Father Joe O’Connor were ordained in 2005. Both spent time with Father Celentano during their years in seminary and he considers them close friends.

When he has been on break from the seminary, Father Celentano has stayed at Blessed Sacrament Church in Syracuse, where Father Maloney is parochial vicar.

“He’s very spiritual, he’s very prayerful, but he’s also got a great sense of humor,” said Father Maloney. “Chris is going to be a wonderful priest. I’ve seen him grow not only spiritually but as a person.”

Father O’Connor has known Father Celentano since they participated in Faith In Action Today as teenagers. Father O’Connor noted that Father Celentano has particularly strong communication skills.

“He’s an excellent communicator so whoever gets him is going to be very blessed,” Father O’Connor said. “He is just so impassioned. He’s in love with the Lord and he wants to communicate that to the people.”

Father Celentano was notified after the ordination that he has been assigned to a position at St. Andrew’s Church in Binghamton, which is currently involved in a merger process with nearby St. John’s. Having spent last summer at St. Andrew’s, Father Celentano is very familiar with its parishioners.

“It’s a smaller parish that’s actually merging with St. John’s,” Father Celentano said. “I served the people at St. Andrew’s through the summer and I’ll be there through the merger. We’ll see where it goes from there and what the bishop has in mind. I’m really looking forward to it. The people are wonderful and they’re very supportive. It’s a good community.”

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