Five to be ordained at Rosary Cathedral today are, from left, Chris Bohnsack, Jason Kahle, Kishore Kottana, Eric Mueller, and Tony Recker.
BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
May 30, 2009
In a Mass Saturday in Rosary Cathedral, Bishop Leonard Blair is scheduled to ordain five men as priests in the Toledo Catholic Diocese. The five ordinands - Chris Bohnsack, Jason Kahle, Kishore Kottana, Eric Mueller, and Tony Recker - make up the diocese's largest class of new priests since 1996, when six men were ordained. Two priests were ordained last year and one in 2007. The average age of the Toledo ordinands is 35, one year younger than the average age of new priests nationwide, according to a survey conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, or CARA. Reflecting another nationwide trend from CARA, in which 25 percent of the 465 potential U.S. ordinands are foreign-born, one of the new Toledo priests was born outside of the United States. Mr. Kottana is a native of India. The other four hail from within the 19-county Toledo diocese. The five were ordained as transitional deacons last year, a step required by canon law before they can become priests.
Deacon Chris Bohnsack, 40, of East Toledo, started thinking about the priesthood in second grade, the year of his First Communion. Part of the early inspiration came in dramatic fashion. "One day I was chosen among the class to portray Jesus in a class play," Mr. Bohnsack said. "I portrayed Jesus at the Last Supper and that memory is still burned in my brain, of me standing there as Jesus breaking the bread." Thoughts about becoming a priest returned over the years, becoming stronger and stronger, he said, but he kept pushing them aside. Then he attended a weekend program, called Christ Renews His Parish, at his home parish, St. Thomas Aquinas, in the late 1990s and it "felt like a bolt of lightning." "I just felt Christ's love like I had never felt it before. It was a total feeling of peace and love," Mr. Bohnsack said. A graduate of St. Thomas Aquinas School and Cardinal Stritch High School, Mr. Bohnsack received a bachelor's degree in communications from Bowling Green State University before entering Mount Saint Mary's Seminary in Cincinnati in 2003. He said he thought going to seminary would be difficult because he would be away from his family - his parents, Charles and Marcia, and three brothers and three sisters. But it didn't take long for him to feel comfortable with the seminary's community living. Mr. Bohnsack said that even after entering seminary, discernment was an ongoing process. "At the end of every year, I asked, 'God, are you still calling me to the priesthood?' And if I felt God was saying yes, I would continue on with my formation. And every year, that desire for God got stronger." As part of the Toledo diocese's formation process, each seminarian spends one year working as an intern at a parish. Mr. Bohnsack served at All Saints Parish in New Riegel. "Me being a city boy, when I was first assigned there I didn't know what to expect," he said. "New Riegel has one traffic light in the whole town. But that experience taught me that there are great parishes in the country. The people were so supportive, they inspired me. No matter where I'm assigned as a priest, country or city, I will be fine with that."
Deacon Jason Kahle, 29, is from Kalida, Ohio, and received a bachelor's degree in science and industrial design from Ohio State University. He also went to Mount Saint Mary's Seminary in Cincinnati. The son of Michael and Lucy Kahle, Mr. Kahle's home parish is St. Michael, Kalida. It was during his sophomore and junior years at Kalida High that people started suggesting the priesthood to him, he said. "I had a lot of good friends and priest friends and my parents who told me, 'Jason, you'd be a good priest,'•" Mr. Kahle said. "And at that age, I thought they were crazy. I wanted to get married and have a family and a quote-unquote normal job and normal life." But the priesthood was always in the back of his mind, he said, "no matter how much I tried to push it aside." As he entered his senior year of college, Mr. Kahle decided that "enough is enough," and enrolled in seminary after graduating from OSU. He spent his internship year at St. Mary's Parish in Sandusky. "It was great, I loved every minute of it," Mr. Kahle said. It also was humbling. "For people to invite you into their life for all sorts of things, births and deaths and weddings, the whole gamut of experience, it was very humbling," he said. "It makes me very grateful for my vocation and for the people."
Deacon Kishore Kottana, 44, the son of Johnes and Santha Kumari Kottana, was born in Visakhapatnam, on the southeastern coast of India, and raised in Mumbai. He came from a devout Catholic family and said his entire community converted from Hinduism in the late 1800s. "The freshness of the new faith for my grandparents and parents, that influenced me," Mr. Kottana said. He said he saw much poverty when he was growing up in India "and that influenced my heart very deeply. How can I make the suffering less? That was like a seed to the calling [to the priesthood]," he said. Mr. Kottana said he was shy and as a young man lacked the courage to pursue the priesthood, even though he felt a calling. Instead, he worked for 18 years as a submarine refit supervisor for the Indian Navy. "With the money I was able to feed the hungry," he said. "I would make sandwiches at home and pass them out in the morning, and then buy some food and pass it out on my way home. I also would buy clothing for the poor." When he was 35, he was invited to study at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, where he received a bachelor's degree in philosophy and a master's degree in theology. Mr. Kottana said he wrote to Bishop Blair asking to come to Toledo because "I wanted to be under a bishop who is faithful to the church." Mr. Kottana served at St. Wendelin Parish in Fostoria and St. Mary's Parish in Sandusky and has been assigned by the bishop as associate pastor at St. Joseph's Church in Maumee.
Deacon Eric Mueller, 32, of Landeck, Ohio, which is five miles southwest of Delphos, is the son of Ralph and Geraldine Mueller. He studied environmental and hazardous materials management at the University of Findlay, receiving a bachelor's degree, and went on to get a master's in chemical engineering from the University of Toledo. "I first started to think about the priesthood when I was a junior in college," he said. "I met a young associate pastor and he was really happy and enthusiastic in his life as a priest." The young priest asked Mr. Mueller if he had thought about the priesthood, and that conversation started the ball rolling. "I started to think about it and think about it and it wasn't going away," he said. The turning point came, he said, when he realized that he had been thinking only about what he wanted in life, not what God wanted for him. Now Mr. Mueller sees the priesthood as "a beautiful calling." After receiving his master's degree, he began working as an engineer and confided in a co-worker - who was a Baptist - that he was considering the priesthood.
"She was the one who said, 'You ought to talk to a priest about this,'•" Mr. Mueller said. He enrolled at St. Meinrad School of Theology in Indiana and spent his intern year at St. Michael's Parish in Findlay.
Deacon Tony Recker, 31, of Napoleon, was in medical school when he felt God calling him to treat people's spirits as well as their bodies. A defensive tackle for the Napoleon High Wildcats, Mr. Recker studied biology as a pre-med student at Franciscan University and then entered what is now the University of Toledo Health Science Campus, formerly the Medical College of Ohio. After graduating from MCO with a doctor of medicine degree, Mr. Recker decided to enroll at Mount Saint Mary's Seminary. "It was a big shift change in my life," he said. "When I came into the seminary, I still had a lot of questions. But within the first few months I felt at peace that it was truly God's calling." The son of Jane and the late Louis Recker, Mr. Recker has an uncle, Father Odo Recker, who is a priest and another uncle who will be ordained in June. Mr. Recker, who also plays piano and organ, said he believes his medical degree will complement his role as a priest. "It gives me an understanding of the human person in a more comprehensive way. Understanding the body and the spiritual dynamic, they work together," Mr. Recker said.
The new priests will be honored with receptions after ordination and will celebrate Masses of thanksgiving at their home parishes. Most of the new priests said they are anxiously awaiting their first pastoral assignment from Bishop Blair.