JOHNS ISLAND—The Diocese of Charleston gained two new priests and their gifts of ministry as Father Michael Cellars and Father Will Frei were ordained by Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone on July 10 at Holy Spirit Church on Johns Island.
The ceremony took place against the backdrop of heavy downpours outside, but Bishop Guglielmone said the occasion was a beacon of hope during a difficult year marred by the coronavirus pandemic and social and racial upheaval nationwide.
“We gather in these difficult times with a sense of hope and God’s presence in our lives, and we praise God for the gift of priesthood and the generosity of these two men in following God’s call,” he said.
More than 40 priests from the diocese attended, a moving show of support for their new brothers. Fellow seminarians for the diocese, the ordinands’ family and friends from around the country, deacons and members of the laity also filled the church. All sat in pews marked for social distancing, but that did not interrupt the joyful atmosphere in the church.
The ordination was held at Holy Spirit Church because the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in downtown Charleston is undergoing renovations.
In his homily, Bishop Guglielmone told the two men how their lives would be transformed by ordination.
“This is a wonderful day of great rejoicing — this day God changes you and you commit yourselves to God in a unique way,” he said. “You are called to lead God’s people to a deeper sense of Him in their lives. Seek out those who are lost. Get to know your people and empathize with their struggles. Recognize and accept all the graces the Lord will offer you.”
Bishop Guglielmone also thanked the new priests’ families for supporting them in their vocations.
Father Frei grew up in Aiken and studied at the University of Dallas and Catholic University in Washington, D.C. before journeying overseas to study at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. His years as a seminarian included time spent volunteering in Kolkata, India with the Missionaries of Charity, the order of women religious started by St. Teresa of Calcutta.
He said he felt an overwhelming sense of peace during his ordination, a fulfillment of nine years of study and a long spiritual journey that started in middle school when he first felt he might be called to the priesthood.
“After all these years, I felt a great grace with ordination, a sense that I can begin doing what the Lord has called me to do,” Father Frei said.
Father Frei celebrated his first Mass at 5 p.m. on June 12 at his home parish, St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken. His parents Dr. Wayne and Mary Frei both felt overwhelming happiness at the ordination.
“There were so many wonderful graces during the ceremony and truly my heart was just bursting,” Mrs. Frei said. “As a mom, it’s so comforting and wonderful to see your child doing exactly what he was meant to be doing.”
Dr. Frei said he is proud that his son has taken on a vocation that demands so much dedication and sacrifice.
“You hope for your children that they get a passionate love for the work they do, and I think he’s very well suited for the priesthood — he’s found his calling,” Dr. Frei said.
For the rest of the summer, Father Frei will be assigned as a parochial vicar at St. Joseph Church in Columbia and will fill in at parishes around the state as needed.
Father Cellars said he was “awestruck” and filled with emotion during his ordination, especially lying prostrate in front of the altar during the Litany of the Saints.
“You can never truly comprehend the impact of that moment until you actually do it,” Father Cellars said. “That was a special moment of grace for me, as was seeing all the priests who came to the ordination to show their support.
His parents Mike and Karen Cellars of Charleston both said they “could not be happier or more proud” of their son, whose road to the priesthood was a long one. He started seminary in 2004 but then took time off to work in sales. Years of discernment led him back to his vocation, and he completed his studies at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston.
“It’s been a long journey for him and a lot of people have been praying for him,” Mrs. Cellars said. “Seeing him become a priest brings so many blessings for our family.”
Father Cellars celebrated his first Mass June 11 at St. Mary of the Annunciation in downtown Charleston, his home parish. He said that was an emotional experience as well because it was both a chance for him to thank fellow parishioners who supported him for so long and also an opportunity to say goodbye as he moves on to his new assignment as parochial vicar at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Simpsonville.