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Louvain helps shape new priest’s views

NCR Staff
Tucson, Ariz.

Part of Fr. Christopher M. Orndorff’s preparation for the priesthood was at the American College in Louvain, Belgium, an institution he termed “a wonderful place to form priests because it’s rather balanced and looks to the church of the future rather than to the church of the past.”

In the acknowledgments on the back cover of the ordination program Orndorff paid tribute to his classmates there.

Orndorff, a dark-haired young man with a ready smile, was born in New Jersey and raised in Arizona. He attended American College in part because Tucson’s Bishop Manuel D. Moreno was on its board and there were scholarships available.

Louvain, he said, is “proud of Vatican II [1962-65] and should be. Some of the profs were students of some of the people who wrote the documents for the council.

“They were able to tell us, ‘Okay, this is what he was thinking and doing before [the council] and this is how it played out at the council,’ ” Orndorff said.

“Then, looking back,” he explained, “they evaluated how the council has been implemented. ‘Okay, here are some shortcomings, here’s what we haven’t done’ or ‘This is what’s come and we’ve done wonders.’ ”

Orndorff said he was able to appreciate, after attending liturgies in Europe, how well by comparison American Catholics worship, with “a feeling of joy and life when you go to Mass.”

What’s it like being a new priest? “I look around and I’m the youngest priest in the diocese,” said the 27-year-old, “and there aren’t many priests under 30 anywhere.”

He said one of his classmates ordained last year told him the most difficult adjustment at the beginning was losing identity, that “he was no longer Doug, he was Father. But you adjust to that. I’m still learning,” he said, in a follow-up interview from St. Francis de Sales parish in Tucson.

“I like people. I think I’m pretty good at preaching -- not wonderful but pretty good. I think I can make people feel welcome. Priests should have a love of God and want to share that with others -- perhaps that’s the most important thing we do.”

What about Bishop Francis Quinn’s homily at the ordination? “Incredible, I called the chancery this morning trying to get copies, so many people asked me for one,” said Orndorff. “A lot of friends -- some who are not Catholic -- were amazed by the ceremony and especially by the homily.”

Of Quinn’s point about the priest’s sharing leadership, Orndorff said, “That’s the church I was formed in.” Of the bishop’s comments on celibacy, the new priest added, “I thought he was extremely honest. It wasn’t sugarcoated. ‘This is it. It won’t be easy. Don’t fool yourself.’ ”

The golf-playing and dove-hunting Orndorff is an optimist about the church. “We know it’s difficult right now, but we know that things are changing and for the good.”

Finally, what does one think about prostrate, face down, before an altar in a very public place? “You feel very alone or, if not alone, isolated,” said Orndorff. “You can’t see anybody. You’re in a position that one isn’t normally in when there’s a whole bunch of people around you. Just being with myself.

“Also,” he said with a laugh, “I wondered if they’d vacuumed the carpet.”

Had they?

“It wasn’t too bad,” he said.

National Catholic Reporter, September 12, 1997