When Deacon Anthony “Tony” Cecil is ordained this weekend, he will join the presbyterate as the youngest priest in the Archdiocese of Louisville.
Though young, at age 26 Deacon Cecil has already discerned for more than a decade about a vocation to the priesthood. Now he’s eager to give back to the church that has provided so much joy in his life, he said in an interview last week.
Deacon Cecil and two other seminarians will be ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz on May 25 at 11 a.m. at the Cathedral of the Assumption, 433 S. Fifth St. The other two ordinands are Deacons Steven Reeves and Kirby Rust. All are welcome to attend.
Deacon Cecil said he first understood the importance of his faith through his father’s, Anthony Cecil, devotion and sacrifice.
“Growing up, my dad made it very evident that our faith mattered. He worked very hard to send me to Catholic schools. There were four years where I wasn’t able to go and he worked very hard to get me back in,” he said.
Though his parents were divorced and his mom wasn’t Catholic, Deacon Cecil’s faith life was central to both of his parents. His mom, Violet Vincent, insisted he attend Mass even when he spent the weekend with her.
As soon as he was old enough, he became an altar server and later in high school he became an extraordinary minister of holy Communion and a lector.
The idea of becoming a priest came at an early age and took root when he was at Mass watching the priest, he said.
“It was something I thought about as a kid but my friends thought it was weird so I didn’t
talk about it,” he said.
While attending Bethlehem High School in Bardstown, Ky., he said he started taking his faith more seriously and finding opportunities to explore a vocation.
He attended the Ignite Your Torch youth conference at St. Catharine College and there encountered young priests for the first time. Back at school, he met Father Michael Wimsatt, who was assigned as chaplain at Bethlehem.
“I got used to seeing priests more than just at Mass. To see they were young and normal, I thought ‘maybe this is a possibility for me,’ ” he said.
After encouragement from Father Wimsatt, who would later become his vocation director, Deacon Cecil applied for seminary when he was just 17.
“My first thought was ‘Yeah, I’m really young but eight years (of seminary) is a long time to discern if it’s right for me and if it’s not then I have nothing to lose,’ ” he said.
He noted St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who entered the monastery as a teenager and had to receive special permission from the pope.
“If the Lord calls, you go. And he happened to call me when I was 17,” he said.
After graduating from Bethlehem, he attended Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary at Marian University in Indianapolis, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Catholic studies.
This month, he earned a master’s in divinity from St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad, Ind.
Now, he said, he’s ready to commit his life to aiding others in their spiritual journeys.
“For me the priest was present in those big moments in life, especially those moments when you didn’t know what to say or do. I was impressed that a priest can come and do something,” he said.
Deacon Cecil hopes that through his ministry people will feel God’s love for them.
“A lot of people feel unworthy of love. I think you can’t be told enough that God loves you,” he said.
For some time now, Deacon Cecil has felt a tug at his heart to ask his mom to become Catholic. But he was also afraid to push her. Following a trip to Rome last summer, he felt God calling him to broach the subject with her.
She responded, he said: “ ‘I’ve been waiting for you to ask me.’ ”
She will receive her first holy Communion at her son’s first Mass of Thanksgiving. Archbishop Kurtz also has given Deacon Cecil special permission to confirm his mother at the Mass.
“I’ll have the joy of receiving my mother into full communion with the Catholic Church and giving her the Eucharist for the first time,” he said. “What a blessing.”
He will celebrate his first Mass of Thanksgiving May 26 at 12:15 p.m. at St. James Church in Elizabethtown, Ky.
He has been assigned associate pastor of Epiphany Church and St. Martin de Porres Church.