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Ordained, Assigned, and Ready to Roll

On his ordination day, a new priest truly begins an epic journey.

He leaves behind a life of personal choice to instead devote himself to sacrifice and service. He must obey the requests of his bishop, serve the needs of the people wherever he is sent and devote his life to spreading the Gospel, offering the sacraments and supporting the mission of the Church.

We spoke with some of our newest priests and asked them about the challenges they face, the best parts about being a priest and what motivates them as they carry out their vocation.

Father Rhett Williams

Ordained: June 8, 2018

Current assignment: Administrator at St. Thomas More Church at the University of South Carolina in Columbia and chaplain at Cardinal Newman School.

What is the best part of your ministry so far?

“I’ve enjoyed working with people from different age groups — young adults, young married couples, college students — helping prepare them for life and helping to build community. I love fostering community and building new ways for us all to have fellowship. I also love hearing confessions and celebrating Mass, and giving homilies has been a highlight. It’s special to be able to pour yourself into a homily.”

What has been your biggest challenge?

“The amount of time that priests have to spend on administration. During our six years of training, very little deals with administration. It takes a lot of time that could be used on the pastoral side, but it’s something we have to deal with. You have to be able to network, use the resources you have from the diocese and from people in the parish, in order to get things done. There’s never enough time to do everything.”

What is your biggest motivation?

“Each morning, I know if I’m not there, there’s something missing. Every day I try to find a way to provide for those the bishop has asked me to serve. A lot rides on a priest. He needs to be there to build up the community, show an example of faith, and uplift the people.”

Father Francisco Oñate-Vargas

Ordained: Feb. 11, 2019

Current assignment: Parochial vicar at St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken.

What have been the best and what were the most challenging parts of your ministry so far?

“The best part: hearing confessions. Reconciling people with God is a humbling and a healing experience. The most difficult is dealing with administrative stuff and sometimes with hardhearted people. However, as priests, we’re sent to minister to all people but especially to those who are most difficult to bring to Christ. It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”

What advice would you give to today’s seminarians?

“A quote from one of my favorite saints, Padre Pio: ‘Pray, hope and don’t worry.’ Seminary formation is hard, as it should be because reconfiguring one’s self to Christ is not an easy thing. So, just take one day at a time. If God has chosen you to be his priest, that day will come, a day when you will be ordained a priest forever.”

What is your main goal in your ministry and what motivates you as a priest?

“I want to empower people to live out their faith. Catholics need to be more involved in the ministry of Jesus and the Church because they are the branches that must bear fruit. My motivation is the people’s cry for hope and thirst for God.”

Father James Touzeau

Ordained: June 7, 2019

Current assignment: Administrator at St. Mary Our Lady of Ransom in Georgetown.

What has been the best part of ministry and the most difficult?

“The best part is celebrating the sacraments, especially celebrating the Eucharist. It is a blessing that God chose me to be an instrument for him, that I am able to bring sacraments to his people. The most difficult would be my ongoing study of Spanish. It is difficult to learn a language at an older age, but I have been working on it, and I have found that the people have been very understanding and helpful to me as I continue to study.”

What would be your advice to our seminarians currently studying for the priesthood?

“Just some of the same good advice I received when I was in their place: Be open. Be open to where God is leading you.”

What inspires you the most in your ministry?

“Our Lord Jesus Christ. Truly being a priest and drawing from his strength and mercy. Knowing that I am not here to save the world. I am here to serve him and his Church, with the gifts he has given me, to lead the flock he has given me.”

Father Bruce Barnett

Ordained: June 7, 2019

Current assignment: Administrator at Sacred Heart Church in Gaffney.

What is your biggest motivation?

“I love getting up every day and not worrying about what God wants me to do for him. Right now, Jesus wants me at Sacred Heart Gaffney and St. Augustine Union. That’s all that I need to know.”

What has life been like since you were ordained?

“I love helping people and writing, so I get to do what I like to do. I cannot imagine anything more rewarding. I have always relied on Jesus to guide me and I use my life experiences to help me counsel others. I think about what I learned from raising my daughters.”

What has surprised you the most?

“Being a late vocation, I knew what I was getting into. There have not been many surprises. Being a priest is like playing a game of whack-a-mole: Enjoy the successes and be ready for the next problem.”

Father Michael Cellars

Ordained: July 10, 2020

Current assignment: Parochial vicar at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Simpsonville.

What has life been like since you were ordained?

“I have found that life as a priest is non-stop, 24/7. As someone now called ‘Father,’ I can attest that it is an incredible joy to be able to enter the lives of so many people, in their joys and pains, at baptisms, weddings and funerals — sometimes all on the same day. It can be physically and emotionally draining at times, but that is the real beauty of the priesthood. This calling is the most amazing gift our Lord could ever give me.”

What is the best part of your ministry?

“Getting to spend time in our preschools and helping with all the youth activities of the parish. So many families have been so kind to me and seeing children’s smiling faces always brightens my day. Spending a lot of time in the confessional and helping people reconcile with God is also rewarding, but also has made me aware of just how broken the world is and how it has trapped so many people.”

What has surprised you the most?

“It took a while to turn my head when people would call out ‘Father!’ Even though you are a new priest, people don’t distinguish between that and a priest that has been ordained 20 years. We are all the same, so it is important to make sure I’m prepared and involved in all parts of parish life.”