(Updated 6/11/12) - The three men stood grouped together at
the front of the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington
last Saturday, a triangle of fraternity with arms embracing
and faces shining, clearly overcome with joy. Around them,
laughter and applause - somewhat unusual in the middle of a
Mass of Ordination to the Priesthood - broke out, a sign of
approbation and appreciation of newly ordained Fathers Joe
Bergida, Keith Cummings and Tom Yehl.
The spur-of-the-moment gesture demonstrated the close bond of
the "class of 2012," which also includes Father Richard Dyer,
ordained last December to accommodate his father's ailing
Despite their differences in background and age, and their
attendance of three (or four, counting Father Dyer) separate
seminaries, the new priests maintained a close bond
throughout their years of formation.
Most recently, at a retreat in the days leading up to
Saturday's ordination, the men discussed how they would
continue to rely on each other for support as they take this
next step in their priestly lives.
"We spent some time together just as brothers talking
casually about how we want to continue to foster that
fraternity in the months and years to come," Father Cummings
said in an interview last week. "These are really three
fantastic men for whom I have just the highest esteem. The
opportunity to be ordained with all of them at one point
it's just been such a gift."
Throughout the solemn ordination Mass, celebrated by
Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde, the inner delight of the
men kept seeping through - like in the look on Father
Bergida's face as he was vested by his grandfather, Father
Robert F. Hamel, who became a priest later in life; or in the
high-five Father Yehl gave to fellow Youth Apostle Father
Peter Nassetta as the new priest processed out of the
"We are joining that fraternity, which I've sort of looked at
from afar for a long, long time," Father Yehl said. "It's a
day unlike any other day in our lives."
This day included all the age-old moments of ordination:
Father Brian Bashista, vocations director, declared the men
to be worthy of the responsibility of the priesthood. One by
one the soon-to-be priests promised respect to the office of
the bishop and, together, the three men lay prostrate on the
cathedral floor symbolizing dying to the old self and rising
to the new. Following the laying on of hands by all present
clergy, Bishop Loverde recited the prayer of consecration,
officially elevating the men to their new roles in the
"There is something very special for a bishop to ordain
priests at any moment in his life, but for me it's a very
special occasion and experience because I've been here long
enough to have accepted these new priests and to have watched
them grow through the years of formation," Bishop Loverde
said in remarks at the end of Mass. "It's somewhat like being
the father, the parent who saw the little one grow and become
an adult. So I'm very proud."
In a special role, Father Dyer served as one of the major
concelebrants of the Mass as he watched his classmates join
him in the fraternity of the priesthood.
"I'm just so proud of these men," said Father Bashista,
adding that this year was an "extremely special" opportunity
to watch the men he had counseled from first discernment
Father Bashista recognizes that the class has a special bond
- one first exemplified by the Twelve Apostles.
"They're all so different, yet they all came together because
(Jesus) called," Father Bashista said. Relying on one another
"is going to bode very well for them as they enter the
Many priests, Father Bashista added, gather in May or June to
celebrate the anniversary of their ordination with Mass and a
After the Mass, as Fathers Bergida, Cummings and Yehl took
photos on the cathedral steps with Bishop Loverde and family
members, Father Yehl said he felt "exhilarated, awestruck and
"I was shaking the whole time," he said. "Every moment was,
'Oh my goodness, this is happening.'"
Huddled in a group outside the cathedral, Father Yehl offered
his second priestly blessing (his first had been to the
bishop) to his immediate family.
"They've been watching me since I grew up," he said. "To be
here at this moment with me and to walk with me, it's
Father Bergida, moments before receiving a huge hug from his
mother, Theresa, said his ordination to the priesthood was
what he'd been waiting three-fourths of his life for.
"I've been waiting since my waking moments, thinking about
the priesthood," he said. "And finally the priesthood has
come. It's really the beginning. Praise God."
As Father Cummings was adjusting his vestments following the
rite of ordination, he said he felt "awesome."
"It's the most important day of my life," he said. "Nothing
is really going to compare to it."