By PAUL A. BARRA
NEW ORLEANS The Diocese of Charleston may be experiencing a shortage in the quantity of priests available to minister to the people of God, but the events of June 26 will demonstrate that quality, at least, is not a problem.
Among the three transitional deacons who will be ordained to the priesthood in a gala ceremony in the diocesan cathedral that day will be C. Thomas Miles. People who know him, including the bishop who runs his seminary, think that Rev. Mr. Miles is just what the presbyterate ordered.
“Thomas is an intelligent man who knows and is able to articulate the teachings of the Church and the Gospel message,” said Auxiliary Bishop Gregory M. Aymond of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, rector president of Notre Dame Seminary. “He is a man of very deep faith … generous … unassuming. His ability to unite people in the faith is a real gift.”
Bishop Aymond, who has been a bishop for two and a half years and in charge of Notre Dame for 13, said that Miles has been a leader among the seminarians and was the student director of the school’s music program, in addition to being an honors graduate and the elected Faith Life representative for his class.
Although Deacon Miles knew that God “had a call on my life” since the age of 5, he converted to Catholicism 23 years later, in 1992.
By the time he was welcomed into the faith community of Holy Cross Parish in Pickens, he was already an accomplished scholar. He had graduated summa cum laude from a junior college with an associate degree in accounting and, a year later, graduated from Limestone College in Gaffney, summa again, with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. His degree from Notre Dame is a master’s in divinity.
Although he considered a vocation in a teaching order, he came to realize that God’s call was to diocesan ministry. He said that his goal is to become a pastor in the Diocese of Charleston and to minister to the people here.
“My hope and prayer is that I may be able to empower God’s people so that they might experience God in a more fulfilled way. I see myself as being among the people, leading through service to them,” Miles said.
On the deacon’s prayer card for his ordination is the formal expression of that prayer, to be “an ardent but gentle servant of Christ’s gospel and his sacraments.”
Miles served at St. Mary Help of Christians in Aiken for the summer of 1996 and completed the Clinical Pastoral Education program at Bon Secours-St. Francis Xavier Hospital in Charleston in 1997.
Last year, he spent five months ministering at Nativity Parish on James Island.
He taught the parish vacation Bible school and adult education sessions, baptized babies, trained altar servers and lectors, witnessed marriages and funerals, preached at weekend Masses, designed liturgies and generally immersed himself in the sacramental life of the parish.
The experience was part of his seminary’s Pastoral Field Education program and included an elaborate evaluation of his gifts and challenges by a team of lay parishioners. One of those was Lisa Horner, who is also the administrative assistant of the diocesan Vocations Office. She sees a lot of seminarians and candidates; she was impressed by C. Thomas Miles.
“He has a wonderful personality and is a brilliant guy. He’s really gifted,” Horner said.
One of his gifts is music. He sings beautifully and is an expert pianist. Musical ability is not an essential ingredient for priesthood, Bishop Aymond said, but it is one more talent that Miles brings to the table. Other gifts that were noted by his evaluation team were homiletics, communications, accessibility and openness.
The new Father Miles will celebrate his first Mass at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, June 27. He has asked Bishop Aymond to preach at that liturgy, and the bishop said that he was honored to accept.
He wanted to be there, he said, when C. Thomas Miles was “doing what he was called to do.”