Gulf Pine Catholic

P ine C atholic Gulf AUGUST 20, 2021 > VOLUME 38, NO. 26 > WWW.BILOXIDIOCESE.ORG THE NEWSPAPER OF THE CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF BILOXI Father Craig Spence ordained to priesthood for the Salesians of Don Bosco BY FATHER MICHAEL MENDL, SDB Father Charles Craig Spence, SDB, was ordained a priest on Saturday, July 31, by Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans. The ordination was celebrated at St. John Bosco Church in Harvey, LA, with 14 priests and two deacons concelebrating. The congregation, including Salesians and members of the local Salesian Family, gave Archbishop Aymond a hearty welcome at the beginning of Mass, and the arch- bishop reciprocated with warm words of appreciation for the Salesians, who have served the New Orleans Archdiocese since 1933 and, with the Salesian Sisters, currently staff two archdiocesan high schools, two par- ishes, and three parochial elementary schools. Father Spence joined the formation program of the Salesians of Don Bosco in 2011. He first came to know the Salesians through their lay missioner program. Serving on the youth ministry team at Don Bosco Technical High School in Paterson, N.J., in 2001-2002, he was quickly dubbed “Missionary Craig” by the stu- dents and then by the Salesians too. He showed a talent for youth ministry and easily won the respect and affec- tion of students and staff. When the school was closed at the end of that school year, Craig decided to do a second volunteer year as a “missionary” and moved to the Salesian parish of Mary Help of Christians on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Together with the Salesians, he developed a thriving youth ministry program, and at the end of the 2003 pas- toral year was hired as the parish’s full-time youth min- ister. He remained there until the New York Archdiocese closed the parish in June 2007. Father Spence was born to Marsha Bickford and Chuck Spence in 1976 in Jackson and raised in Mobile, AL. He has a younger sister, Maggie, and a younger brother, Patrick. Bickford now lives in Pearl and Spence in Prairieville, LA. After attending local public schools in Mobile, Craig went to the University of Southern Mississippi, where he graduated with a B.S. in economic development and tourism. He moved to Pass Christian and belonged to Holy Family Parish. Following the closure of the Salesians’ Manhattan parish, Craig spent four years discerning his life’s course, including the possibility of marrying and starting a family. He continued parish youth ministry in the Biloxi Diocese. His discernment brought him back to the Salesians in Orange, N.J. He did further studies at Seton Hall University, was admitted to the novitiate in Rosemead, Calif., in 2012, and professed first religious vows on August 16, 2013, becoming Brother Craig Spence. Six years later he was admitted to perpetual vows. Meanwhile, in 2015 Brother Spence was assigned as a religion teacher and campus minister at Salesian High School in New Rochelle, N.Y. Besides teaching, his min- istry included midnight run (a program to provide basic necessities to the homeless while introducing students to the needs of others), weekly trips to the soup kitchen at Holy Rosary Parish in Port Chester, N.Y., and a variety of monthly oratory-types of experiences for the students. After the customary two years of this “practical train- ing,” he began theological studies in the fall of 2017 at the Studium Theologicum Salesianum in Jerusalem, commonly called the Ratisbonne Institute -- a branch of the Salesian Pontifical University, Rome. His favorite area of study was the sacred Scriptures. His pastoral work as a student was mainly among Filipino immi- grants in Jerusalem. Brother Spence earned a Bachelor’s degree in theol- ogy, writing a thesis entitled “Shepherding at the Heart of the Church for the Good of All Humanity.” In June 2020 he was ordained a deacon in Jerusalem. Father Spence’s first assignment as a priest is to Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, Md. He’ll teach eshman religion and serve in campus minis- try. During the ordination rite, Deacon Spence was called forward for priestly ordination by Father Stephen Ryan, the local Salesian superior; the provincial superior, Father Timothy Zak, asked the archbishop to ordain him a priest. Father Spence’s priestly vestments were pre- sented at the appropriate time by his parents, and Father Mark Hyde, the local pastor and a longtime mentor of Father Spence, assisted him in putting the vestments on. The archbishop’s 15-minute homily began with a comparison of our human lives with fingerprints: every- one’s are unique. Everyone’s call and everyone’s rela- tionships are unique. om conversation with Deacon Spence, he had learned that there were three main influ- ences on Craig’s life: his family, seeing and hearing St. John Paul II at World Youth Day in 1994, and the exam- ple of the Salesians he had lived and ministered with. Archbishop Aymond identified Father Spence’s first calling as the one he received in Baptism. That calling has been lived out through Salesian life and will be fol- lowed further in the priesthood. According to the archbishop, Father Spence has said he is grateful to many people, beginning with his parents, extending to his many relatives, and to male and female Salesians. Many people have supported him and encour- aged him for years. SEE FATHER CRAIG SPENCE, PAGE 7 Salesian Father Craig Spence, right, elevates a paten containing the Body of Christ and Deacon Bill Vrazel elevates the chalice containing the Precious Blood during the concluding doxology of Father Spence’s first Mass on August 1 at Holy Family Catholic Church in Pass Christian. Archbishop Gregory Aymond, of New Orleans, ordained Father Spence the previous day at St. John Bosco Catholic Church in Harvey, Louisiana. Photo/Terry Dickson Photo/ Terrance Dickson/ Gulf Pine Catholic