Celebrating 30 Years

Fr Chris Ponnet

As I ponder the thirtieth anniversary of my ordination I am filled with wonder and gratitude for my life so far along with feeling hopeful and filled with excitement of what is before me.  The story of my thirty years of priesthood actually began 42 years ago when I entered the seminary.  My life as a priest is all about trusting and living in God’s embrace. I was loved into life by my parents: Frank Joseph and Mary Louise.  In the early years of my seminary I was mentored by all of my family, but, especially by my brother, Frank, who was ahead of me in the seminary.  Now he and Dawn continue to be role models for me through their own pastoral ministry.  I live in constant awareness that I am now one of the elders in our Ponnet clan.  I am no longer a “young priest.” Since my ordination a whole generation of small children who are my nieces and nephews have become amazing adults and now have given me grand nieces and nephews who are delightful to be around.  PRESENTE!

As I remember my ordination on December 3, 1983 I am aware of all who have died since then and whom I daily trust to support us with heavenly prayers.  My Dad’s and my brother, Pat’s, deaths preceded my ordination and have been part of our family experience.  A whole generation of my family who were at my ordination and first mass are gone: Mom, my sister Jeanne & her husband Raul, Uncle Ken and Aunt Evelyn, Sr. Mary Kevin, OP, Uncle Bill and Aunt Emma, cousins Margaret and Fr. Joe, Bessie, close priest friends like Msgr. John Birch, and Msgr. Bill Barry. They are part of the company of witnesses.  PRESENTE!

Since ordination, I spent time in parish ministry in Canoga Park, Pomona and Claremont and in 1995 I was named as pastor of St. Camillus. When I arrived at St. Camillus I immediately took Clinical Pastoral Education training classes for chaplains and I have worked as part of a team to bring full time CPE training to St. Camillus at LAC USC.  My family’s regular visits to the grave sites of my father and my brother along with my mother and sister being nurses prepared me for my hospital ministry.  I have been blessed with the supervisors and APCE/APC/NACC national colleagues along with each of the interns we have trained and with whom we have shared life. The students have come from every part of the globe with a richness of diversity in spirituality, cultures, languages and orientations.  They have come to learn and we have learned much from them.  Our outreach ministries at St. Camillus have also added to my life and ministry: Pax Christi, Gay and Lesbian Ministry, Death Penalty Focus/Catholics against the Death Penalty, HIV/AIDS Ministry and our newest, The Associates of St. Camillus.  I constantly learn from my fellow chaplains and interns along with the patients, families, and staff.  The chaplains I have lived with at St. Camillus and served with have been a daily source of joy and growth.  Five years ago LAC USC moved from the old 1920 hospital into the new hospital.  I am honored to serve as part time Director of Spiritual Care at that hospital. In June of this year, I received word that I have been renewed as pastor of St. Camillus for six more years. I pray I can continue for many years to be chaplain: “catcher of the stories.” PRESENTE!

My personal love for family has led me to the hobby of family genealogy where I “catch stories” from the living and dead members of our family. My trips to Belgium getting family information back to 1645 and my trip to Ireland have been a pilgrimage of self-reflection and “catching the story of our family”: Breen/Ryan/Ponnet/Van Der Linden.  When I was in Belgium I visited our family church and walked through countless cemeteries in Ireland and recently visited churches and cemeteries here in this country where members of my family were baptized, married and or buried.  I have learned the gift of friendship from so many of you but especially from Gino and his family and even had the privilege of traveling to the Philippines.   We are clearly all part of a larger picture of humanity.    PRESENTE!

I have been blessed with friendships with people from around the globe, with people of various spiritual traditions and backgrounds who are so different from growing up in Temple City.   I have been blessed to travel to El Salvador during its war and to DC to witness the Spiritual unveiling of the AIDS Quilt along with speaking at various chaplains conferences on AIDS, Spiritual Assessments and the link between Disney stories and sacred texts. The many actions of Civil Disobedience that I have participated in are based on my annual Pax Christi Vow of Non-Violence and have put me in places that I would not have imagined when I lay on the floor at St. Vibiana’s 30 years ago.  Those actions of Civil Disobedience were against war and nuclear weapons, specifically against the wars in El Salvador, the Persian Gulf and Iraq/Afghanistan, along with actions for more hospital beds and health care for all.   PRESENTE!

What have I learned?  I have learned that God/the Sacred One is ever present and ever loving; that service or ministry or ordination comes from a passion to love and to be an instrument of peace internally and also globally.  “Connecting the dots” between the local and global world and affirming a Consistent Life Ethics demands reflection, research and action.  When I was about to be ordained, I completed my MA Thesis on the Divine Indwelling and how music reflects that theological truth. My years of being a priest so far have affirmed the divine in everyone and everything. I thank all who are in my life—the challenges and pains along with the joy and the awe.   I continue to daily pray my ordination/first mass song: “Only this I want: but to know the Lord, and to bear his cross, so to wear the crown he wore.”  I celebrate the words and theology and vision of ALL ARE WELCOME:  “Let us build a house where love can dwell… where prophets speak… where love is found…where hands will reach… where all are named… their songs and visions heard. And loved and treasured, taught and claimed. As words within the Word, built of tears and cries and laughter, prayers of faith and songs of grace. Let this house proclaim from floor to rafter, ALL ARE WELCOME, ALL ARE WELCOME, ALL ARE WELCOME IN THIS PLACE.“ PRESENTE!

We will celebrate my 30th anniversary on Dec 3rd during the Noon mass at St. Camillus and at our St Camillus Advent celebration on December 15, 2013 at the 4pm Mass and reception to following. Both will be held at St. Camillus Center.