All eyes fixed on the man now called “Father,” he made his way up the steps to the lectern at the conclusion of the Mass of Ordination. He looked out among the more than 500 friends, family, and fellow Marians, and he took it all in.
Finally, after an expectant pause, he said the one word that couldn’t have been more eloquent for a man who — after years of trials, tragedies, and triumphs — has vowed to give his life fully to Christ and His Church.
“Wow,” he said.
And the crowd erupted in applause.
Deacon Chris Alar, MIC, became “Father Chris Alar, MIC,” on Saturday, May 31, 2014, at St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Lenox, Mass., a location chosen out of necessity. Indeed, as expected, the number of attendees far exceeded the crowd capacity of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, administered by the Marians in nearby Stockbridge, Mass.
“How good the Lord is to us,” said the Rev. Fr. Kaz Chwalek, MIC, the Marians’ provincial superior. By “us,” he meant not only the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, but also the legions of Marian Helpers around the world and, indeed, all people of God to whom Fr. Chris will minister as a vowed member of the sacred priesthood.
And he will minister to them in his singular style. That style can be described as gentle, compassionate, concerned, and loving. But Fr. Chris, 44, is also a man who eschews equivocation. That is to say, he knows well that salvation is found through the sacraments of the Catholic Church, and he won’t let an opportunity go by without stressing that point.
‘Energized’ for Sure
A former wrestler and engineer with a Master’s in Business Administration, Fr. Chris enters the priesthood equipped with an analytic mind and a seemingly bottomless wellspring of zeal to help train laypeople to become apostles of Divine Mercy and speak of how Christ loves all of us, despite our sinfulness.
Several years ago, his fellow Marian, Fr. Ron McBride, MIC, dubbed Fr. Chris the “Energizer Bunny” of the Marians, a moniker drawn from Fr. Chris’ work in Stockbridge, both at the Shrine and the Marian Helpers Center.
Amidst his many commitments — including a full seminary class load — Fr. Chris spent much of the past three years leading Shrine tours, meeting Marian Helpers, helping to plan events and evangelization initiatives, and assisting with administrative duties at the Marian Helpers Center.
Moreover, four years ago, with the blessing of his religious superiors, he formed the Marian Evangelization Team, which has since logged tens of thousands of miles speaking to parishes and youth groups throughout the United States. Father Chris himself has logged many of those miles, along with the Marian Evangelization Team Director Fr. Dan Cambra, MIC.
In the homily during the Mass of Thanksgiving on Sunday, Fr. Dan frequently directed his words to the newly ordained priest and assured him that he’s a shoe-in for holiness because of his exemplary humility. “You will realize that you are not the priest, but that it is Christ in you who is the priest.
“Father Chris, welcome to the cross of Christ,” Fr. Dan said. “Welcome to the widest possible stretch of your arms … embracing everyone — the living as well as the dead, the happy as well as the sorrowful, the rejoicing and the suffering.”
Father Dan’s homily was a gem. Here it is in its entirety:
‘Praise to the Lord, the Almighty’
Despite a full weekend’s worth of kind words and acclaim directed his way, Fr. Chris took every available opportunity to direct all glory to Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Still, he understands his biography bears review since it serves as evidence for two crucial truths that he is spending his religious life proclaiming:
1. the assurance Jesus makes to St. Faustina that “the greater the sinner, the greater the right to My mercy” (Diary, 723); and
2. the life-giving graces that result from Christ’s mercy.
Father Chris struggled with his discernment when he first joined the Marians in 2006. Unsure of his religious calling, he left before renewing his temporary vows to return to his secular life, a life previously defined by a successful career, material wealth, and the love of his former fiancée.
“I made the decision not to renew my vows,” he says. “I returned home to my job and got back together with my former girlfriend. When I thought God was asking me to return to the Marians, I told Him that I couldn’t put her through another round of agonizing decisions. But this time, she heard the message from God that I was meant to be a priest. When she told me to pursue the priesthood, it was as if a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders, and my heart was finally free to pursue my vocation.
“She opened my eyes to true love,” Fr. Chris says.
As far as religious communities were concerned, the Marian Congregation was the perfect fit, he said.
“When I first felt God calling me to the priesthood, I had a very real devotion to Mary,” he said. “I felt a deep connection to the Holy Souls; and I wanted to be of service to the Church in any way that I could be. I couldn’t believe that this turned out to be the exact charism of the Marians. Once I found the Marians, I never looked at another community.”
To underscore the life he has freely chosen, Fr. Chris selected as the entrance hymn for his Mass of Ordination “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” and as the Responsorial Psalm “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want” (Ps 23:1).
The Second Reading was from St. Paul who famously and radically turned away from his old life of seeking the false gods of material riches and power to follow Christ. Triumphantly, St. Paul writes, “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them” (from Rom 12:4-8).
As Fr. Joseph Roesch, MIC, the Marians’ vicar general in Rome, has noted, like St. Paul, Fr. Chris “turned his life upside down” in order to live an “intensely apostolic life.” The Lord wanted him to use his talents and education “to work for Him, and like St. Paul, Fr. Chris said ‘Yes.'”
“Yes,” indeed. It’s a point Fr. Chris made clear through his choice of the Gospel reading from the Book of John in which Christ exhorts his disciples, “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you” (20:21).
Our Lady, Model of Holiness
It was no coincidence that Fr. Chris’ ordination occurred on the Feast of the Visitation, dedicated to the famous occasion when Mary, having learned of her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy, made haste to travel to Elizabeth and minister to her in her hour of need. That outpouring of concern, memorialized in the “Hail Mary” and Our Lady’s “Magnificat”, models the need to love others as God loves us.
In his homily at the Mass of Ordination, the Main Celebrant and Ordaining Bishop, the Most Rev. Martin D. Holley, urged Fr. Chris to allow Mary’s soul to “be in you and to proclaim the greatness of the Lord.”
“Christ has only one mother in the flesh,” Bishop Holley said, “but we all bring forth Christ in faith. Every soul receives the Word of God if only it keeps chaste, remaining pure and free from sin, its modesty undefiled. The soul that succeeds in this proclaims the greatness of the Lord, just as Mary’s soul magnified the Lord and her spirit rejoiced in God her Savior.”
View the bishop’s full homily:
Drawn to Mary Immaculate — a model of trust and obedience — Fr. Chris has developed an unwavering desire to make present the divine reality of God, a desire that reached its culmination when he made his priestly promises before God, family, friends, and fellow Marians. Facing Bishop Holley, the priest-to-be stood up and promised before God to:
• with the help of the Holy Spirit, discharge without fail the office of the priesthood in the presbyteral rank, as a worthy fellow worker with the Order of Bishops in caring for the Lord’s flock;
• exercise the ministry of the Word worthily and wisely, preaching the Gospel and teaching the Catholic faith;
• celebrate faithfully and reverently, in accord with the Church’s tradition, the mysteries of Christ, especially the sacrifice of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, for the glory of God and the sanctification of the Christian people;
• implore God’s mercy upon the people entrusted to his care by observing the command to pray without ceasing; and
• be united more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered Himself for us to the Father as a pure sacrifice, and with Him to consecrate himself to God for the salvation of all.
‘He’s a Blessing’
While he made these promises, Fr. Chris had a crowd of supporters behind him, including his parents, Charles and Rosalie Alar of Michigan, his sister, Pam, and niece, Andrea.
“All of our family and friends and people we hardly even know are so thrilled when they hear that he will become a priest,” said Rosalie before the ordination. “Priests are needed so badly everywhere.”
“To me, today, it’s such a privilege to be here,” said Chris Mutri of Scituate, Mass. “We’ve been praying for him, and we will continue to pray for him. He’s a blessing.”
“We met Fr. Chris several years ago on a pilgrimage to Canada,” said Christine Chlebek of North Attleborough, Mass., who attended the ordination and first Mass with her husband, Robert. “He’s a joy. He’s one of God’s angels.”
“He lights up the room,” says Jen Ryan from Connecticut. “Meeting him for the first time, it was an instant friendship, a bond in Christ.”
On the first page of the ordination program, the future priest acknowledged two of his best friends — Robert Brant and Nicholas Rafko — who had died tragically: one from a car accident and another from heart failure. “They played such a huge role in my life, and I will be forever grateful to them,” said Fr. Chris. Parents of both men were in attendance, having driven 13 hours from Michigan.
On Sunday, Fr. Chris dedicated his first Mass as a priest — called a Mass of Thanksgiving — for all Marian Helpers. In opening remarks, he noted that typically a priest’s first Mass is dedicated to the priest’s parents, “but my parents are Marian Helpers!”
After Mass, he elaborated:
Also, watch Fr. Kaz’s opening remarks at the Mass of Ordination:
Here is Fr. Kaz giving thanks at the close of the Mass of Ordination:
Also, watch Fr. Chris’ address following his ordination:
Father Chris’ first assignment as priest will be announced soon.
Mary Kay Volpone contributed to this story.