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Two paths lead to the priesthood

Two young men who first pondered the priesthood as children have seen their early aspirations come to fulfillment.  Father Kevin Upham, originally from Portland, was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Robert Deeley on May 26 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland, and Father Patrick Finn, a Bath native, was ordained at St. John the Baptist Church in Brunswick on June 16.

“I’m walking on air,” says Father Upham. “I know it sounds obvious, but I really am very happy. It’s very surreal.”

“It’s really tremendous,” says Father Patrick Finn. “It has indeed happened. The three-way street of self, Church, and God definitely appeared to have come together, and it’s really just marvelous to have experienced it.”

The newly ordained priests each say it’s hard to capture in words what it was like experiencing the rite of ordination.

“I was just trying to take it all in. I was happy. I was in the moment,” says Father Upham. 

“So much of it is beyond description,” says Father Finn.  “It’s one culmination in service of this big, huge horizon, this horizon of wherever the Lord is going to bring me.”

Father Upham says, for him, one of the most poignant parts was laying prostrate while the congregation joined in singing the Litany of Saints, a prayer of supplication in which the intercession of the saints and the Blessed Mother are sought.  He says he has felt a connection to the saints since his mother bought him picture books about them when he was as child.

“I think just having all the saints, the community of saints, praying for me in that moment is very powerful,” he says.

Father Finn says the Lord was most present to him during the laying on of hands.

“I just had this felt sensation of the Lord being there and the Lord making a really great thing happen for me and making a change, giving me this great gift. It began with the bishop’s laying on of hands and just continued through all the priests imposing hands as well,” he says.

The laying on of hands and the Prayer of Ordination, during which the bishop asks God to “grant us this helper that we need to exercise the priesthood that comes from the Apostles,” are the most solemn parts of the ordination rite.

The bishop stressed to the new priests the importance of always staying close to the Lord, so that they may bring Christ’s love and mercy to those in their care.

“If the priest is to be the person he is called to be, he must unite himself with Jesus in love,” the bishop said during his homily at Father Upham’s ordination. “By so doing, he will ‘hear God’s heartbeat.’ He will know that his work, his ministry, his service, is not his own.  He does the work of the Lord. His care for the people entrusted to him means loving them with the love he has been shown in Jesus Christ, whose minister he is. This is the way the Lord feeds us and invites us to feed those we serve.”

For both men, the invitation from the Lord came early in life. For Father Upham, one of the early influences was accompanying his mother and grandmother to the Fatima Shrine in Holliston, Mass., where his family had moved when he was still an infant.

He says he first thought about the priesthood around age 13. He remembers contemplating possible homilies. When he was in high school, he became a reader at Mass.  He says a priest at the parish, Father Mark Mahoney was very pastoral.

“He gave good homilies. He spoke well and was just very approachable,” Father Upham says.

Father Finn says he first thought about the priesthood when he became a reader at Mass in the fifth grade.  He says he, too, received the encouragement of a priest, Father Joseph McKenna, pastor of St. Mary at the time.

“I just started to see the church as a home, and that this was a very real community,” Father Finn says.

That sense only grew through his participation in youth ministry, the Christian Leadership Institute, and his attendance at the Youth 2000 retreats.

“It was Youth 2000 that really woke me up to the True Presence,” he says. 

Those retreats then drew him to the Steubenville East Youth Conference in Massachusetts.

“My big memory from that was having the sacrament of penance and having a relationship that this really is personal and this is real. Realizing that sin is a serious thing, and yet, the mercy of the Lord is way, way, way beyond that,” he says.

Father Finn began receiving newsletters from the Office of Vocations and became part of a discernment group, which met in Lewiston.

“Those human foundations of friendships are just so, so important,” he says. “Several of the guys have since married, and now their kids are growing up, which is so cool to see. But a number of us have gone on to ordained ministry as well, and many of us have remained friends through the years.”

Both Father Finn and Father Upham chose Catholic colleges. Father Finn attended Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, where he majored in theology, while Father Upham attended Saint Joseph’s College of Maine in Standish, majoring in communications.

Father Upham was active in campus ministry and says one of his most rewarding experiences was participating in the Spring Break Workfest program. It took him to the Passamaquoddy Indian Township Reservation, where he helped out at the daycare and elder center during the day and spent time with schoolchildren in the afternoon.

“It was just hanging out, talking to them. I would draw pictures of superheroes and things like that,” he says. “We would listen to music that was popular at the time, and they had some basketball games, and we went to their basketball games.”

After getting his degree, not finding a job in the communications field, he went into banking, a job that he says gave him an appreciation for deadlines and working collaboratively. Although he says he loved those with whom he worked, he didn’t feel totally content.

“I kind of told myself, ‘This is the way it’s going to be, I guess. This is how life is,” he says.

Yet, his faith and a call to serve remained strong.  He recalls organizing morale boosting activities at the bank. He became a reader at St. Maximilian Kolbe Church in Scarborough. He did ministry at the Cumberland County Jail and then led Communion services and brought the Eucharist to those at the Maine Veterans’ Home in Scarborough, experiences he says provided a window to the ministry of the priesthood.

“I always knew deep down that the Church was going to be a big part of my life, no matter what I did, because that is a big part of who I am,” he says. “The priesthood was not really at the forefront. It was there but in the background.”

That changed when his job was phased out.  Having free time allowed him to begin attending daily Mass. He also remembers a parishioner mentioning the priesthood to him.

“She said to me one day, ‘Oh Kevin, you might want to think about being a priest,’” he recalls. “That kind of brought it back to the forefront.”

Although still a bit unsure, he called the Office of Vocations.

“It was very risky at the time to make that call,” he says. “I thought you just had to know.  I didn’t realize you could just kind of go to these discernment groups.”

Even then, he delayed further, waiting until he got another job to be sure he was making the move for the right reason.

He entered St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore in 2012 and then continued his studies at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Mass.

Father Finn also hesitated before deciding to go down the path towards the priesthood. Although he long believed it was his call, he delayed signing up for the priestly discernment program at Steubenville.  He says it was a comment by a student during a Bible study group that got him to join.

“It was just one of those simple, little things that one guy said: ‘I just think the Lord is inviting us to trust in him.’ I still remember who it was, where he was in the room, which room we were in, but that really busted through my apprehension,” Father Finn says.

While initially considering the diocesan priesthood, he says a reflection on the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience, led him instead to enter formation with the Franciscan Friars of the Third Order Regular, who ran the university. He professed first vows in 2008 and then continued formation at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

During his time with the friars, he says he had many enriching experiences, such as serving at an inner-city parish, receiving clinical pastoral education at a hospital in Tampa, Fla., and working on the Yankton Sioux Reservation in South Dakota.

“It was one of the first, sustained experiences of what we could call poverty that I think I have ever seen,” he says.

He earned a master of divinity degree but also came to the realization that his call was not to that community.  He left formation and took a job as communications director for the Black and Indian Mission Office in Washington, D.C., traveling to different communities across the country to promote the work being done.

At the same time, he says he was going through a time of personal discernment.

“It was, ‘OK, what do I want to do and what do I need to do to move forward?’” he says.

He found the answer back in Maine. After 11 years away, he was hired in 2013 as the director of faith formation at Prince of Peace Parish in Lewiston.  Being back in his home state, surrounded by several longtime priest friends, he thought again of the priesthood.

“Father Nathan March mentioned one strong common bond among all the priests of the Diocese of Portland. They have an almost visceral connection to the people and places of Maine. That really got me thinking that I had that and had it for a long time,” he says.

Finn also participated in discernment retreats where he saw that same camaraderie he had experienced years ago. It moved him to apply to become a diocesan seminarian.

“It really felt like a real breakthrough,” he says, “that what I felt so long invited to by the Lord finally has a pathway again.”

He entered St. John’s Seminary in 2017 for two additional years of theological study.

Both Father Finn and Father Upham say seminary was a valuable time of learning and building relationships.

“The growth has been very strong, I think, when I look back at that I was like in my understanding of things, being very quiet and not knowing the diocese that well,” Father Upham.

“I really appreciated that it was a regional seminary,” says Father Finn. “It was very positive to get to know guys from New England who were on this path towards diocesan priesthood.”

Father Finn says St. John’s gave him a deeper appreciation for the richness of the liturgy.

“Just to have the liturgy done so really beautifully really kind of took me another step deeper into really just loving the Lord,” he says. “There is so much depth to it that the Lord and His Church have given to us.”

Father Upham says he especially loved the Scripture classes, most especially diving into those stories we first heard as children. As an example, he uses the story of Jonah.

“It was about a guy who was swallowed up by a whale. That’s so weird. But there is so much more to that story. It’s about forgiveness. It’s about God reaching out to all people,” he says. “For me, I think, the challenge is going to be getting people to a more mature understanding of these things.”

Both men have overcome difficulties in their journeys.  For Father Finn, it was the uncertainty he carried with him into seminary, knowing that his time of formation with the Franciscans didn’t end as he thought it would.

For Father Upham, it included a time of questioning and distress following a 2013 car crash that killed a beloved cousin, for whom he offered his first Mass. It caused him to consider leaving formation.

“That was the worst thing in my life,” he says. “It was awful. It was a sense of hopelessness.”

He credits Father Bob Vaillancourt, his spiritual director, and Father Greg Dube, with whom he was serving at the time, with helping him through it.

“I got over that through prayer, returning to prayer, because prayer is a communication with God. God is present to you when you’re reaching out to God,” he says.

The experience led Father Upham to choose Father Dube to vest him with the stole and chasuble at his ordination, while Father Finn chose Father Antony Tinker, FHS, one of the friends with whom he made first vows with the Franciscans 10 years ago.

“The vesting is an act which is symbolic of what happens in priesthood. In this gesture, the new priest is reminded that he acts in the name and person of Jesus,” the bishop said during his homily at Father Finn’s ordination Mass. “Being vested by someone else in the Church reminds the new priest of his new life. He is to be at the disposal of the Lord. He is to belong to him. He is to bring him to others.”

After the newly ordained were vested, the bishop anointed their hands with sacred chrism. Their parents then carried a chalice and paten to the bishop, who in turn presented them to the new priests.  Father Finn’s chalice and paten were a gift from Father R. Michael McGarrigle, now deceased, who served at St. Mary Parish when Father Finn was a child.

The new priests were then greeted with the fraternal kiss of peace by the bishop and the priests present, after which they joined the bishop for the celebration of the Eucharist.

“I could see a difference in Father Patrick after he was ordained, as he was walking up into the sanctuary. There was a definite aura with him and a reassurance with all the grace that he’s been given,” says Joann Finn, Father Finn’s mother. “I am just so totally overwhelmed.”

“There is no joy to match looking out to see 600 people, and they’re all there for God and for Patrick,” says Jim Finn, Father Finn’s father.  “That’s amazing, so glad, so thankful. It’s just awesome.“

“This was the most joyful time of my life,” says Father Upham’s mother, Maureen. “I couldn’t even cry I was so happy. It’s the thing I’ve been praying for all my life.

Father Upham calls his ordination “humbling,” saying that he is full of gratitude.

“I just hope that I’m able to do what God wants me to do and do that effectively,” he says. “I just have to trust in God.”

He is currently participating in a Spanish immersion program in Mexico City and then will serve at the Portland Peninsula & Island Parishes, which will include Hispanic ministry at Sacred Heart / St. Dominic Parish, a ministry he loves.

“I am so happy,” he says.

Father Finn has been assigned to Corpus Christi Parish in Waterville.

“I’m just so blessed, so blessed to know wherever I go, the sacramental presence of the Lord can go too,” he says. “It’s just a gift.”

Reflecting on his ordination, Father Finn says the song “Closing Time” comes to mind, because of the line “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

“Only the Lord know all the places I’ll go and the people I’ll meet and will have some influence over, hopefully for the Lord, and hopefully for good,” he says. “One old thing ending, being in formation, and a whole new thing beginning. It’s really quite profound.”