Responding with a resounding “Yes!” to the Lord’s call, three men were ordained to the priesthood on June 3 at St. Patrick Cathedral in Harrisburg.
Bishop Ronald Gainer was the principal celebrant, and ordained through the Laying on of Hands and the Prayer of Ordination the new priests: Father Joshua Cavender, Father Kevin Coyle, and Father Michael Metzgar.
Father Cavender will serve at St. Patrick Parish in Carlisle; Father Coyle at St. Catherine Labouré Parish in Harrisburg; and Father Michael Metzgar at Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Harrisburg.
When Joshua Cavender was on the cusp between high school and college, the late Msgr. Thomas Kujovsky grabbed his ear about becoming a priest. Literally.
“He pulled my ear and said, ‘Josh, a priest once grabbed my ear and said, ‘Thomas, you’re going to be a priest.’ So Josh, I’m telling you you’re going to be a priest too.’”
Father Cavender recalls laughing off the intimation of Msgr. Kujovsky, who had instructed him as an altar server in his home parish of St. Peter in Elizabethtown.
“But look where we are now,” Father Cavender said. “Obviously, Msgr. Kujovsky was among certain people who saw my vocation. But going through my own discernment with God about what I was supposed to do was obviously something that needed to happen.”
That discernment had begun several years earlier in 2005, when Joshua, then a student at Lancaster Catholic High School, attended the diocese’s inaugural Quo Vadis Days, an annual vocation discernment program for young men.
“It was incredible going to Quo Vadis Days for the first time, where we had Holy Hours before the Blessed Sacrament, the Liturgy of the Hours, incredible talks from our priests on what the priesthood is,” he recalled.
“We were praying hard, we were eating hard, and we were playing hard, and the three things together really opened my eyes to the possibility of the vocation,” Father Cavender said. “The experience of Christ in the Eucharist was really what started to open up my heart to the possibility that it was what God was calling me to.”
Approaching graduation from Lancaster Catholic in 2007, he considered whether he should go directly to the seminary, or delay it and enter college. He chose the latter, and earned a degree in engineering physics from Juniata College.
Once again, as graduation approached, he considered his next steps, and was in the process of applying to the Peace Corps.
Still, something was missing.
Then one day, while out for a jog, he told the Lord, “I give up. I’ve got nothing here. What do I do?”
Just then, “God grabbed my soul,” he recalled, “and from there, I was trying to figure out what all of it meant.”
So he went in to the woods. While sitting in tree stand, the idea of seminary resurfaced.
“It was the most peaceful, relaxing moment,” he said. “All the stress and tension of trying to figure out what I was supposed to do just went away.
“Sometimes you don’t even know that you’re wrestling with something. You go on one path until you hit a dead end, and then you move somewhere else. But the Lord get us where we need to be, and it’s always marked by peace.”
He entered Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.
“I can honestly say that the last six years of my life have been the best, bar none,” Father Cavender said of his time there.
“When you have 120-160 guys living in the same building, growing in true fraternity, and striving for holiness, it really is a beautiful thing,” Father Cavender remarked. “When you enter into this life of striving for Christ, you’re really drawn closer together as brothers.”
“My life is more peaceful, more ordered, more stable, more united to Christ, because of my formation,” he observed. “You die to self to let God’s life truly blossom and be shown in you. It seems painful at the time, but unity with Christ is the call of the Christian, and very particularly the call of the priest. There is true happiness in it.”
Father Kevin Coyle says he’s long desired to uncover a truth about the Catholic faith.
Growing up in the southern part of New Jersey, he was involved in a YMCA program for fathers and sons to enjoy nature, and went on countless canoeing and camping trips with his family.
He grew up in the Church – Catholic elementary school, religious education classes, Mass on Sundays and visits with one of his grandmothers to a parish overseen by the Cistercian monks.
In high school he assisted with teaching religious education classes and volunteered at his home parish. Then, he entered Bloomsburg University, participated in Catholic Campus Ministry there, and felt a call to service.
Earning a degree in Cultural Anthropology and Archaeology, he said he thought he would become “the next Indiana Jones in the Middle East, Egypt or the land of the Bible and unearth some of the truths of our faith.”
Although he didn’t set out on an archeologic dig, he did get the revelation he was seeking; albeit in the Lord’s persistent call.
Father Coyle entered St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, Pa., in 2008, but then withdrew after two years. At the time, he wasn’t certain that the priesthood was for him.
“I had really thought back and forth about diocesan priesthood, where my discernment is, what I was doing in life,” Father Coyle said. “And then I left seminary.”
He thought that was it – that he’d pursue a career path, eventually buy a house, maybe get married one day. But priesthood was off the list. Or so he thought.
“Every day that I was out of the seminary, the Lord was saying, ‘Go back. Go back.’”
“I received so much formation in the two years I was out of the seminary, in taking time to step back and think about life and where I was going,” Father Coyle reflected. “I would ask, ‘Lord, what do you want of me?’ and every day, he would say, ‘Go back. Go back.’”
And so he re-entered the diocesan formation program in 2012, and was assigned to St. Charles Seminary, Overbrook.
“There is a big difference starting seminary a second time,” Father Coyle observed. “The first time, I would say, was exploratory: ‘Is this where the Lord is calling me? Am I answering it correctly? Am I discerning it properly?’ Then leaving the seminary and making that decision to come back again really built a lot of confidence. After spending two years out of seminary and working and living on my own and trying to discern life outside of seminary, and then making the decision to go back, I came back with a lot more confidence. Confidence in my vocation, confidence that this is something that I want to pursue, that I want my will to be aligned with the will of God.”
Father Michael Metzgar heard the call to priesthood at rather unassuming times in his life.
The first was shortly after received the Sacrament of Confirmation in eighth grade. He was riding the bus home from school and thought, “Priesthood would be kind of awesome.”
It wasn’t an unheard of idea for him, considering his upbringing in the faith at St. Patrick Parish in Carlisle, and his family’s involvement in the religious education program there.
Another time he heard the call was while he was changing tires at a car dealership where he worked after graduating from a trade school in Texas. In that moment, with tools in hand, he thought, “I wonder what seminary is like?”
Looking back now, Father Metzgar realizes he’d been discerning the call to priesthood quite a bit, but just didn’t fully know it at the time.
“I was more surprised than anybody about my entering seminary,” said Father Metzgar, a 2001 graduate of West Perry High School. “For me, getting to that point of taking a leap of faith and trusting in the Lord was a big deal for me – but my parents especially saw it.”
When he was in his mid 20s, working what he considered his dream job at a Mercedes-Benz dealership, he realized he was happy, but not fulfilled.
“I came to a point where I asked, ‘Lord, what’s next?’” And through prayer, I realized he wanted me to look at seminary.”
“My first thought was, ‘Oh, I kind of don’t want to do that,’” he recalled.
He went to a priest from St. Patrick’s at the time – Father David Hereshko.
“I was terrified when I went into his office because it was the first time I verbalized the fact that I was seriously considering seminary,” Father Metzgar said.
Father Hereshko’s advice – “Pray about it” – allayed his fears, and he was accepted as a diocesan seminarian in 2009. He entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Overbrook.
“Prayer really helped calm my nerves,” Father Metzgar said. “It was very important for me to understand that seminary was a more intense part of discernment…. If I found out in a couple of years that it wasn’t what God was calling me to, that was OK.”
Looking back, he recognizes the joy he found in following God’s call instead of fighting it.
“There were two to three years before seminary of wondering what God wanted me to do,” he said. “There were times when I was trying not to think about it, thinking it would pass. It was in those times that I felt the Lord was really starting to pull me. The Lord kept drawing me, like a pestering…. There is a sense of relief and peace once you make that leap of faith and follow what he’s calling you to.”
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness