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Meet Vermont's newest priest

Father Joseph J. Sanderson grew up in Orwell, two houses down the hill from St. Paul Church. The church was open throughout the day and into the early evening hours, so after long bus rides home from Fair Haven Union High School and cross country practice, he would go up to the church before dinner and homework.
 
At first his visits were brief – maybe five minutes – but over time those visits lengthened. The parish also had Eucharistic adoration on First Fridays that helped him to encounter Christ on a deeper level.
 
It was during these quiet times of prayer at his parish church that he first heard the call to the priesthood.
 
Father Sanderson was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Burlington on June 17 at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Burlington.
 
Born in Middlebury on Sept. 18, 1990, he is the eldest of the three children of Jennifer and John Sanderson. “Reciting the rosary together as a family played the biggest role in my journey to the priesthood,” he commented.
 
During high school, he worked at the bottle redemption center in Orwell, a job he enjoyed. “I can't help it, its corny, but now my work will be of another sort of ‘redemption,’” he quipped.
 
As a priest, he hopes that as Christ's instrument, he can bring others to Chris, “that they may experience His deep, abiding, eternal love for them, and in return that they may love Him,” he said. “To be loved by God and to love God in return is our destiny and gives us purpose and ultimate fulfillment.”
 
Father Sanderson entered the seminary after his graduation from high school, having given only slight consideration to a career working for Lego, maker of the toy building bricks he collects.
 
“Christ was the center of my life,” he said. “Through the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist and Sacrament of Reconciliation, I received Christ's peace, joy and mercy. Once I had encountered Christ, I had a burning desire to share Him not only with those closest to me but with everyone.”
 
Father Sanderson attended Our Lady of Providence Seminary and Providence College, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. He is finishing his major seminary training at St. John's Seminary in Boston.
 
During summer breaks, he helped with the Totus Tuus summer program for children in Vermont, served in the Bishop’s Fund office and assisted at parishes in Williston, Richmond, South Burlington and Highgate Center.
 
A man who enjoys helping people and making them laugh, Father Sanderson is especially close to St. Therese of Lisieux and St. John the Baptist. “John was quite the character and brought many to Jesus through his voice and humility,” Father Sanderson said. "’I must decrease you must increase’ is a prayer I often say during Mass.”
 
St. Therese has shown him how easy it is to give back to God. “Love Him by giving Him everything, the small things, the everyday things. Any act we do can be an act of love,” he commented.
 
In addition to his Lego hobby, he enjoys biking, hiking cross-country skiing and going to the movies.
 
Father Sanderson tries to emulate the example of goodness and faith his parents have given him and the good example of the priests of the Diocese of Burlington.
 
His advice to those discerning a vocation to the priesthood is to find some quiet time to be with the Lord, to hear His voice. “Be patient with Christ. Find a priest to talk to and ask questions,” he said. “Finally, step out of the boat, as Peter did. Seminary is a time to discover who you are and how Christ may be calling you to love Him and His people.”
 
After his ordination to the priesthood, he looks most forward to celebrating Mass and hearing confessions.
 
“I chose to be a priest for the Diocese of Burlington because Vermont has always been and will always be my home,” Father Sanderson said. “It will be a great honor, privilege and joy for me to serve the people of this great State of Vermont, to labor for souls in this little corner of our Lord's vineyard.”
 
Originally published in the July 1, 2017, The Inland Sea.
 
 
 

Raising a priest

As Jennifer J. (Dundon) and John H. Sanderson look forward to the June ordination to the priesthood of their son, Joseph J., they feel blessed with gratitude and joy.
 
And they pray for him: that his heart and soul are open to the grace and gifts that will be given to him.
 
Now a transitional deacon, he will be ordained to the priesthood by Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne on Saturday, June 17, at 10 a.m. at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Burlington.
 
The eldest of three siblings, Deacon Sanderson always was placed under Our Lady’s mantle; his parents also placed him in the care of The Holy Family, St. Theresa and his guardian angel.
 
“I started to practice and understand my faith when Joseph was in middle school,” his mother said. “John was given the grace to join the Catholic Church after going through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Making a commitment to God we have tried to live out the faith daily.”
 
Through the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima, the Sandersons began praying the rosary and other devotions together with their family. “We also began going on small pilgrimages with others. Mass, adoration and sacraments have been the most important,” Mrs. Sanderson explained.
 
Residents of Chester who own a house in Orwell, Mrs. and Mrs. Sanderson attend St. Joseph the Worker Church in Chester.
 
They have supported their son on his journey to priesthood through prayer and love and also by being with him throughout his formation including the Rite of Candidacy, ministry of lector, ministry of acolyte and transitional diaconate.
 
“In thanksgiving, we try to live prayerfully and faithfully along with [Joseph] on his journey,” Mr. Sanderson said.
 
“Joseph is our joy. He is joyful, loving, kind, obedient, faithful, non-judgmental and patient,” his mother said. “He has an openness to all, those who are both close to and far from God, always taking people where they are at. Joseph is self-giving to others and their needs. He loves the little things in life. He is a hockey lover. He loves to be outside, hiking and biking.”
 
When they discuss their son, the Sandersons think of the Gospel of John when Jesus said, "Peace be with you.”
 
“I believe Joseph possesses this peace, not a peace of the world, but an inner peace... the certainty of knowing Jesus Christ is Lord and the acceptance and knowledge that we are loved unconditionally by God,” Mrs. Sanderson said.
 
The Sandersons’ advice for parents who have a child considering a vocation to the priesthood or religious life is to understand that they have been blessed with their children's openness to be called to that life and to pray unceasingly for all graces for them.
 
--Originally published in the July 1, 2017 The Inland See.
 

Father Sanderson's ordination

Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne ordained the Vermont Catholic community’s newest priest at a special Mass June 17 at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Burlington.

The newly ordained Father Joseph J. Sanderson has been assigned to serve as parochial vicar at Christ the King-St. Anthony Parish in Burlington.
           
“The call to be a Christian is a call to a life of self-emptying sacrifice, which is deepened even further in the priestly ministry when through ordination one is configured even more deeply into the person of Christ as the great High Priest,” Bishop Coyne said during the ordination Mass.
 
Born in Middlebury in 1990, Father Sanderson is the eldest of the three children of Jennifer and John Sanderson. He grew up in Orwell and attended Fair Haven Union High School, Our Lady of Providence Seminary, Providence College and St. John's Seminary in Boston.
 
“I chose to be a priest for the Diocese of Burlington because Vermont has always been and will always be my home,” Father Sanderson said. “It will be a great honor, privilege and joy for me to serve the people of this great State of Vermont, to labor for souls in this little corner of our Lord's vineyard.”
 
Read more in an upcoming issue of The Inland See.
 
 

As Ordination Day nears seminarians share their journey

After earning a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Christendom College in 2011, Matthew J. Rensch was trying to decide whether to enter the seminary or to get a job. "I wasn't clinched in the idea of answering the call [to priesthood] immediately," he said.

So he called the vocations director for the Diocese of Burlington who told him that there is always a logical, sensible reason to delay attending seminary and that answering the call will never make complete sense according to the logic of the world so delay can always be justified. "And so, given that I was thinking about it, he encouraged me to jump in, to take the plunge, to cast out into the deep," he said.

So he did.

Now a transitional deacon, he will be ordained to the priesthood at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Burlington on June 18 along with Deacon Curtis A. Miller.

Seminarian Joseph J. Sanderson will be ordained to the transitional deaconate.

In anticipation of their ordinations, the three men shared some of their thoughts and experiences with Vermont Catholic magazine.

Deacon Miller was born in St. Johnsbury, the younger of the two children of Edward and Judy Miller.

When he was young, the family moved to Colchester where he grew up and attended public schools and Our Lady of Grace Church.

He heard the call to priesthood when he was in high school on a retreat with the opportunity to spend time with the Lord in prayer, especially in Eucharistic adoration. He said yes to the call because he believes it is what God is asking him to do and trusts that He is leading him on the path on which he can best serve Him and the Church and be truly fulfilled.

"In retrospect, I can also see how God was preparing me for this vocation throughout my life," he said. "My parents instilled the importance of the faith in my sister and me from an early age. As an altar server, I was also able to see my pastor's priestly ministry up close in his celebration of the Mass and other sacraments and his other acts of service to God and the people of our parish. My parents, sister, and my parish priests have all been very supportive of me."

After he graduated from high school in 2008, he entered seminary, spending the first four years of seminary formation in Rhode Island at the Seminary of Our Lady of Providence with classes at Providence College; he graduated in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in philosophy.

He spent the past four years in formation at St. John's Seminary in Brighton, Mass., and had summer assignments as a custodian at the diocesan offices in South Burlington, helping lead the Totus Tuus summer catechetical program throughout the diocese and at parishes in Castleton, Orwell, Williston, Richmond and Brattleboro.

Deacon Rensch was born in Binghamton, N.Y., one of the six children of William and Margaret Rensch.

The family moved to Vermont when he was five; his home parish is Immaculate Heart of Mary in Williston.

He was homeschooled until 11th grade and then attended Vermont Technical College at the Williston campus for a bridge year. After a year there studying electrical engineering, he went to Christendom College then to seminary at Our Lady of Providence Seminary and North American College in Rome. From 2012-2015 he studied at the Opus Dei University of the Holy Cross, earning a sacred theology bachelor's degree and now at the University of St. Thomas for a Licentiate in moral theology.

During his seminarian summers he worked with at the Diocesan Bishop's Fund Offices, studied Italian at Middlebury College and worked at parishes in Richford, Brattleboro and Barre.

His call to priesthood was influenced by the close relationship of his family to their parish and the former pastor, Father Donald Ravey, and attending daily Mass. "Another key moment was reading C. S. Lewis' 'Mere Christianity' in high school; he was a true witness of Christ to me," Deacon Rensch said. "Then in college the witness of the professors and the continued spiritual life helped to clarify the call."

Sanderson, born in Middlebury, is the son of John and Jennifer Sanderson of Conversion of Saint Paul Church in Orwell. He attended Orwell Village School, Fair Haven Union High School and Providence College. He has completed the spring semester of Third Theology year at St. John's Seminary in Boston.

He had not given serious thought to another vocation. "I have always had a desire to serve and to bring others to Christ," he said. "I have experienced the love and mercy that only comes from God. Now, I wish, and want to give my life, so that all may come to know this love and mercy."

Pope Francis inspires him to get out of his comfort zone and to seek out those who are suffering, lost or estranged from Christ and His Church in any way. "I look the example of the pope and pray for the courage to take up this task," he said.

This summer he will be assigned to parish work in Swanton and Highgate Center.

As he anticipated his ordination to the transitional diaconate, Sanderson experienced feelings of deep peace, certitude and excitement. "However, as acting on and freely choosing any lifelong and life changing choice, I have naturally experienced the full gamut of emotions," he said. "Vermont has always been my home, and I look forward to living my life in service of its people."

Contemplating the influence Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI has had on him, Deacon Miller said the latter helped him understand the beauty of the liturgy and the truths of our faith and how to explain them clearly. "Pope Francis has highlighted the necessity that we seek God's mercy and show that same mercy to others, especially through acts of charity that reveal God's love," he added.

Deacon Rensch has seen popes in person, including the last Angelus of Pope Benedict and the election of Pope Francis. "What has struck me deeply about both is their profound humility," he said. "The humility of Pope Benedict was forcibly displayed in his willingness to resign and retire to a quiet, hidden life, forever relinquishing his desire to teach as a professor. The humility of Pope Francis has been similarly displayed, very notably in his request to us in St. Peter's Square after his election to pray for God's blessing over him. Both popes, then, are fantastic witnesses to the Christian life."

One of Deacon Rensch's favorite saints is St. Francis de Sales, mainly because of his combination of burning missionary zeal with brilliant apologetics. St. Therese of Liseux, St. Catherine of Siena and St. Francis of Assisi are also favorites.

Deacon Miller identifies with St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, who though he was not as intelligent or talented as other priests brought many souls to know and love God by his personal faithfulness to God and his devoted service to his parishioners.

As a priest, Deacon Miller most looks forward celebrating Mass and reconciling people to God in confession; Deacon Rensch looks forward to offering Mass, celebrating all the sacraments and encouraging or confirming the role that the priest plays as a father. Both deacons hope to emulate the good priests they have known.

Asked to give advice to young men discerning a call to the priesthood, Deacon Miller encouraged them to spend quiet time with God in prayer every day at a regular time – even if only for a few minutes. "Ask Him to reveal to you His plan for your life and ask Him for the grace to be able to respond positively to that plan," he said. "Maintain this relationship by attending Mass every Sunday (or more often), by regular Eucharistic adoration and by seeking God's forgiveness often in confession. Talk to your family and a trusted, holy priest. Have good friends who challenge you to live a holy life. Try to serve others every day, especially by being involved in your parish. If you do all these things, you will more easily be able to hear God's call, whatever vocation He has planned for you, and thus live a truly happy and holy life." Deacon Miller's hobbies include reading – especially American history and literature – and spending time outdoors, hiking and camping.

Deacon Rensch enjoys playing basketball, Irish music on the guitar, listening to musicals, reading and watching movies.

All three men to be ordained expressed gratitude to their families for their support. "I find it hard to imagine how a man can arrive at the altar without serious support from his family," Deacon Rensch said. "They're that crucial."

His advice for those contemplating priesthood: "Pray, seek the Lord. Cast out into the deep."

Article written by Cori Fugere Urban, Vermont Catholic staff writer.

Ordained to the Priesthood and Transitional Diaconate

Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne ordained two men to the priesthood and one to the transitional diaconate at a special Mass June 18 at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Burlington.

The celebration was part of the diocesan commemoration of the Year of Mercy and its Jubilee for Priests and Seminarians.

During the more-than-2-hour Mass, the bishop ordained Fathers Curtis Miller and Matthew Rensch and Deacon Joseph Sanderson.

"These three men – Joseph as a transitional deacon and Curtis and Matthew as priests – have been chosen by God through his holy Church to go forth, appointed and anointed through the sacrament of Holy Orders to spread the Good News that Jesus Christ is Lord of all and the bearer of salvation to [the] entirety of creation," the bishop said in his homily. "You are called forth from the community to serve that same community and the wider Church as servants of the Church. What an honor and what a responsibility."

He told the men that they were taking on an awesome responsibility and he encouraged them and the members of the congregation that filled the co-cathedral: "In all Christian vocations – marriage, the single life, parenthood, widowhood, consecrated and religious life – if we do not place ourselves in God's hands and rely on his mercy and love, we shall fail. But when we do [fail], he shall lift us up on eagle's wings."

Bishop Coyne emphasized that all things are possible with God. "When we rely on God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – when we say 'it is not about me' but about him and his people, then our lives – but most especially the life of deacon or priest – are built on a solid foundation," he said. "This foundation is built of the bricks of daily prayer, especially intercessory prayer for the needs of others, the Liturgy of the Hours, the reading of Scripture and the celebration of the sacraments, the font and summit of which is the Eucharist, all of this being centered on Christ, relying on him who alone is our rock and our fortress."

The Rite of Ordination included a Litany of Supplication in which the Church invokes the intercession of the saints and martyrs in heaven to intercede for the candidates and the entire pilgrim Church on earth, asking for God to pour forth his grace and mercy. During the litany, the candidates lay prostrate at the foot of the steps in front of the altar.

The bishop then placed his hands on the head of each candidate. Through this Laying on of Hands by the bishop and the prayer of ordination, the gift of the Holy Spirit for the diaconal office was conferred on Deacon Sanderson and the gift of the Holy Spirit for the priestly office was conferred on Fathers Miller and Rensch.

Deacon Sanderson received the diaconal stole and dalmatic, signs of the office of deacon, and Fathers Miller and Rensch received the stole and chasuble, signs of the office of the ministerial priesthood.

In the Handing on of the Book of the Gospels, Deacon Sanderson knelt in front of the bishop who prayed, "Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach."

The bishop anointed the new priests' hands with sacred chrism and later placed in their hands the bread and wine – on a paten and in a chalice, respectively – pointing to their duty of presiding at the Celebration of the Eucharist and of following Christ crucified.

Father Miller was born in St. Johnsbury, the son of Edward and Judy Miller.

"We're ecstatic," Mr. Miller said, adding that his son will be a "great priest because he's a great person."

Father Miller's first priestly assignment will be as parochial vicar of Corpus Christi Parish in St. Johnsbury, Lyndonville and Danville.

When he was young, the family moved to Colchester where he grew up and attended public schools and Our Lady of Grace Church.

He heard the call to priesthood when he was in high school on a retreat with the opportunity to spend time with the Lord in prayer, especially in Eucharistic adoration. He said yes to the call because he believes it is what God is asking him to do and trusts that God is leading him on the path on which he can best serve God and the Church and be truly fulfilled.

Father Rensch was born in Binghamton, N.Y., the son of William and Margaret Rensch.

"This is the proudest day in my life," Mrs. Rensch said before the Mass. "It's so joyful. I'm so grateful."

The Rensch family moved to Vermont when he was five; his home parish is Immaculate Heart of Mary in Williston.

His call to priesthood was influenced by the close relationship of his family to their parish and the former pastor, Father Donald Ravey, and attending daily Mass. "Another key moment was reading C.S. Lewis' 'Mere Christianity' in high school; he was a true witness of Christ to me," Father Rensch has said. "Then in college the witness of the professors and the continued spiritual life helped to clarify the call."

He has been appointed temporary parochial vicar of St. Monica Parish in Barre.

Deacon Sanderson, born in Middlebury, is the son of John and Jennifer Sanderson of Conversion of St. Paul Church in Orwell.

"I feel blessed," Mrs. Sanderson said after the ordination, adding that she thinks what her son is doing in becoming a priest is "beautiful."

Pope Francis inspires Deacon Sanderson to get out of his comfort zone and to seek out those who are suffering, lost or estranged from Christ and his Church in any way. "I look to the example of the pope and pray for the courage to take up this task," he said.

This summer he will be assigned to parish work in Swanton and Highgate Center.

Article written by Cori Fugere Urban Vermont Catholic staff writer.

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