Presenting Father Michael Zgonc

June 13, 2014

by Laurie Jasper

Michael Zgonc and Jeffrey Paveglio were ordained to the priesthood by the Most Reverend Bishop Peter Libasci at 10 a.m. at St. Joseph Cathedral in Manchester on Saturday, June 7.  “This is a joyous moment for the Catholic Church in New Hampshire.  These two young men are responding in a most profound way to Christ’s call to take up the cross and follow him,” said Bishop Libasci.

During his homily at the Rite of Ordination, Bishop Libasci addressed the two:  “Impart to everyone the word of God that you receive with joy.  Let what you teach be nourishment for the people of God.  By word and example, you will build up the Church of Christ.  The words of the gospel may bear fruit in human hearts nourished from your altar.”

The candidates then prostrated themselves on the floor of the cathedral, a sign of humility and total self-giving to God, while the congregation prayed and invoked in song the Community of Saints.  Then, the bishop and all the concelebrating priests laid their hands on the heads of the candidates, one at a time, in silence.  Next, the bishop extended his hands and prayed the Prayer of Consecration.  Following that, the newly ordained priests were each vested with the stole and chasuble, vestments of the office of the priesthood.  The Reverend Gary Belliveau vested Father Michael.  The bishop then anointed the hands of both new priests with the sacred chrism.  The bishop received the gifts, brought forth by the new priests’ families, and placed the paten (a metal plate that holds the eucharist) and chalice into the hands of each of the men.  The bishop and the concelebrating priests then exchanged the sign of peace with the newly ordained, welcoming them into the order.

On Sunday, June 8, Fr. Michael Zgonc celebrated his very first Mass on the Solemnity of Pentecost at Immaculate Conception Church of Corpus Christi Parish in Portsmouth at 2 p.m.  Pentecost, which means fifty, occurs 50 days after Easter, and celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Jesus.  It is considered the birthday of the church. Joining Fr. Michael on the altar were Fr. Gary Belliveau, Corpus Christi’s pastor, and several other priests who have been a part of Fr. Michael’s spiritual journey, including Reverend Edward Griswold, from St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, Md.

It is almost impossible to express the palpable jubilation that filled those in attendance at Fr. Michael’s first Mass of Thanksgiving.  Corpus Christi Parish Music Ministry, joined by a trumpet quartet, helped to set the tone of reverence and celebration.  As a special gift to Fr. Michael, the music ministry commissioned a special hymn entitled “If We Speak” by David Haas in honor of Fr. Michael’s ordination.  It was performed for the first time during the preparation at the altar.

In his homily, Fr. Gary spoke of the Holy Spirit being the love of God poured forth in our hearts.  “Yesterday, the Holy Spirit touched our brother, and he accepted that call from God.  God has chosen him for this tremendous destiny of love.  Yesterday, Fr. Michael’s hands were anointed, or set apart.  That anointing fills us with joy.”

Quoting Pope Francis from this year’s Chrism Mass, Fr. Gary said, “All who are called (to the priesthood) should know that genuine and complete joy does exist in this world … it is the joy of being taken from the people we love and then being sent back to them as dispensers of the gifts and counsels of Jesus.”

Continuing with the pope’s words, Fr. Gary further said, “I ask the Lord Jesus to preserve the joy sparkling in the eyes of the recently ordained who go forth to devour the world, to spend themselves fully in the midst of God’s faithful people, rejoicing as they prepare their first homily, their first mass, their first baptism, their first confession …  Preserve, Lord, in your young priests the joy of going forth, of doing everything as if for the first time, the joy of spending their lives fully for you.”

At the conclusion of Mass, a beautiful tradition was shared. Fr. Michael presented his first confessional stole to his father.  He next presented the manutergium, the white cloth he used to cleanse his anointed hands of the sacred chrism, to his mother.  As Fr. Michael presented the gifts, Fr. Gary explained, with emotion, that the priest’s parents, upon their deaths, are buried with the respective gift in their hands, to be presented to the Lord, saying, “My son, too, shared in your priesthood.”

Fr. Michael has close connections to the Hudson area.  He was born February 5, 1983, the third of four children of Thomas and Phyllis Zgonc of Ohio.  After graduating from the University of Toledo in 2005, he accepted a position at BAE in Nashua.  While searching for a parish church to call home, he found St. Kathryn Parish. Fr. Michael distinctly recalls, “I was sitting there and feeling God was calling me to be a priest.”

He introduced himself to Fr. Gary, St. Kathryn’s pastor then, and they began to have conversations.  It was at his brother’s wedding where Michael really felt the need to say, “yes” to God’s calling.  Michael was an active parishioner at St. Kathryn’s for almost seven years, organizing and building a thriving Young Adult Ministry focused on service and fellowship.  After entering St. Mary Seminary in Baltimore, Mike would return to St. Kathryn’s for vacations to assist Fr. Gary and learn more about serving a parish. He was also assigned to other parishes during his summer months.  When Fr. Gary was assigned to Corpus Christi Parish in Portsmouth in 2011, that became Mike’s home base, yet St. Kathryn Parish still holds a special place in his heart.

It was evident on Saturday and Sunday that Fr. Michael holds a special place in many St. Kathryn’s parishioners’ hearts as well.  Indeed, people from all aspects of his life – almost 50 family members and friends from out of state, people who worked with him at BAE, young adults from his ministry at St. Kathryn’s, and many people of all ages whose lives Michael touched during his formation years – all were honored to share in Fr. Michael’s joy as the Sacrament of Holy Orders was conferred upon him.

Fr. Michael will receive his parish assignment by Bishop Libasci within the next couple of weeks.

Reflecting on Fr. Michael, Fr. Gary said, “I think Michael’s most admirable quality is his heart, whether he is speaking from it, praying from it or loving from it.  Fr. Mike could be Pope Francis’ Poster Boy, and I mean that in all sincerity.  I pray that this joy be his for a lifetime. I thank Fr. Mike for his vibrant life among us.”

On Saturday, June 14, Fr. Michael Zgonc will celebrate Mass at 4 p.m. at St. Kathryn Parish.