Record crowd attends 2010 Ordinandi Dinner in Toronto

By  Luc Rinaldi, Catholic Register Special
  • March 5, 2010
{mosimage}In 1990, 50 people gathered to celebrate the upcoming ordinations of a small group of soon-to-be priests. Twenty years later, a record 1,760 attended this still-growing tradition known as the Ordinandi Dinner.

Held in Toronto’s Pearson Convention Centre on Mar. 1, and hosted by Serra International, an organization promoting religious vocations, the Ordinandi Dinner celebrated its 20th anniversary by welcoming into religious life 10 men from St. Augustine’s and Redemptoris Mater Seminaries.

The event raises awareness of religious vocations and also recognizes those who have answered the call to the priesthood. In addition to showcasing  priesthood candidates who will be ordained in May, the dinner also honours priests who have been in service for 50 and 60 years.

This year’s Ordinandi were: Luis Manuel Calleja Jr. of Toronto; Stephen Crowley of Peterborough; Kim D’Souza born in Nigeria; Silvio Eljuga from Croatia; Landorff José Garcia Mariona of El Salvador; Jeffery Oehring from Walkerton; Bart Palczewksi of Poland; Christopher Sherren of P.E.I; Henry Smolenaars from Nova Scotia; Jerry Tavares born in Toronto and raised in Hamilton; and Fr. Mounir El-Rassi born in Lebanon, who was ordained to the priesthood in August 2009 and invited to join this year’s Ordinandi celebration to share his story.

The highlight of the night was the vocation stories as told by the Ordinandi. The men, ranging in age from 25 to 57, each outlined their own call to the priesthood, or how God “knocked at their heart” as El-Rassi described it. The Ordinandi briefly shared their own spiritual journey towards a radical call to follow Christ, brought about by a desire for meaning in life, a troubled past, or even a recently departed spouse. For many, there was a struggle to discern their vocation, what Mariona described as “a tug of war between God’s will and my will.”

Also taking the stage were representatives of the Serra Clubs who run the event. Celeste Iacobelli, the Chair of the Ordinandi Dinner, recognized the continuing support and efforts of the event’s founder, Mario Biscardi. Archbishop Thomas Collins, who spoke briefly, asked the audience to be grateful, to reflect upon the priesthood, and to celebrate vocation, whatever it may be.

“The growing numbers are a sign of our faith,” said Crowley about the presence and strength of the Catholic Church, “and I’m not nervous at all.”

The proceedings were underlined by a fundamental purpose and theme. As vocations director of the archdiocese of Toronto Fr. Hansoo Park explained, “The foundation of the priesthood is a personal relationship with Jesus . . . and everything else is hinged on that.”

Also in attendance were the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic Women’s League, the Office of Catholic Youth, and students and staff from 35 different schools totalling over 400 participants. Among the young people present was John Rugosi, a Gr. 12 student of Dante Aligheri Academy, who found the stories of the Ordinandi to be quite relatable.

“I feel like there’s always been a divide between my life and the life of someone in the seminary,” he said. “Seeing this and hearing their stories created a bridge; I saw they were just normal guys.”

Gathered for the Ordinandi dinner were, in front, seminarians Luis Manuel Calleja, Jr., Stephen Crowley, Jerry Tavares, Jeffery Oehring and Kim D'Souza; back, Christopher Sherren, Landorff José Garcia Mariona, Silvio Eljuga, Archbishop Thomas Collins, Henry Smolenaars, Bartlomiej Palczewski and Fr. Mounir El-Rassi. (Photo courtesy of the archdiocese of Toronto)

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