- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 28, 2005

The path that led Mark Smith from buff fitness-company owner to ordained Roman Catholic priest is indeed unusual, but not uncommon. He began to understand a higher calling while, like many people, volunteering at a local church.

“I would sit down and talk with young people for hours, and they all just wanted to feel good,” Mr. Smith, 40, of Rockville said yesterday.

“Fitness helps people feel good, but faith hits on a deeper level. Our faith and relationship with Christ — that’s the real source. Getting into a size 4 doesn’t always do the job. There’s something bigger at stake. The Gospel is the good news that changes lives. That’s the real source that people are searching for.”

Mr. Smith was among five deacons ordained yesterday during a solemn, two-hour Mass of Priesthood Ordination at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast. About 1,600 family members, friends, seminarians and well-wishers watched as the candidates were presented to Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the principal celebrant of the ceremony.

Another of the deacons was Thomas Woods, 39, an avid surfer, stand-up comedian and salesman who had it all — jobs, houses and girlfriends. Yet he lacked repose.

“The Lord promises a peace that the world cannot offer,” he said. “His ways aren’t our ways. If you listen and cooperate, it’s a very humbling experience. God never gives up on us.”

He says the life-change will only enhance, not interfere, with his surfing.

“I can continue in my sport, but with a whole new dimension of soul searching,” he said with a smile.

Mr. Woods, of Bowie, said he could not have joined the priesthood in his 20s. He had some hard lessons to learn, and now his life makes a lot more sense.

“He meets you where you are. His providence is very clear.”

The three other deacons ordained yesterday were Emanuele De Nigris, 29; Kyle Ingels, 27; and Adam Park, 25.

The Archdiocese of Washington noticed an increase in vocations in the area about eight or nine years ago. The trend continues under Cardinal McCarrick, who has reopened Redemptoris Mater Seminary and talks about vocations whenever possible. He also has mandated Catholic churches pray for vocations at every Mass held in the Archdiocese of Washington, said Susan Gibbs, an archdiocese spokeswoman.

The number of seminarians in the Washington Archdiocese declined from 46 in 1980 to 37 in 2000. However, the number last year was 63.

“Dear sons, you are to be raised to the order of the priesthood,” Cardinal McCarrick said during the homily. “You will exercise the sacred duty of teaching in the name of Christ the Teacher. Impart to everyone the word of God, which you have received with joy. Mediating on the law of God, see that you believe what you read, that you teach what you believe and that you practice what you teach.”

In closing, the cardinal and the group of newly ordained priests asked the assembly to pray for them.

“You know, these are five wonderful men. I wish there were 55,” Cardinal McCarrick said. “You must pray for them.”

Mr. Smith’s sister, Bernadette, of Gaithersburg said she was proud of her brother, and that, in many ways, his calling has strengthened her faith. “I’m filled with so much love, and I’m so proud of him,” she said. “While my mother couldn’t be here in body, I know she’s here in spirit.”

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