God and His Church have accepted Father Derek Hooper’s offer to lay down his life in priestly service.
“I give thanks to God for the gift of a priestly vocation,” Fr. Hooper said on June 5, the day of his ordination as a priest of the Jefferson City diocese. “Through His grace and love, I was able to persevere in formation, and I know with His continued grace I will be the priest He desires me to be.”
Hundreds of people gathered in the Cathedral of St. Joseph for the ordination of the first new priest of the diocese since 2019.
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight presided and preached the homily.
Joining him at the altar were Bishop Emeritus John R. Gaydos; Fr. Hooper’s brother, Father Gabriel Greer, a priest of the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas; Father Edward Pelrine, representing Mundelein Seminary in Chicago, where Fr. Hooper attended seminary; and numerous priests of the Jefferson City and Wichita dioceses, many of whom had a hand in Fr. Hooper’s discernment.
Bishop McKnight told Fr. Hooper that God has great things planned for him.
“Your joyful service as a priest will help the whole Church witness Christ’s resurrection in our day,” the bishop said in his homily.
“By your fruitful ministry exercised in the key of pastoral charity, with a spirit and mindset of co-responsibility with the lay faithful, you will be an effective leader in faith,” he said.
“Gratitude and generosity”
Fr. Hooper is a new link in an unbroken priestly lineage leading back to Jesus and His Apostles.
“Your personal history is blended, joined and yoked in God’s providence with the History of Salvation, as narrated in Sacred Scripture and lived out in the Church from one generation to the next until the end of time,” the bishop reminded Fr. Hooper.
He implored the new priest to help heal the wounds of the Church and assist in rebuilding and strengthening people’s confidence, trust and belief in the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
“You shall lay down your life for Christ and His Church to minister in the person of Christ, the Head of the Church, as a spiritual shepherd and coworker with the bishop, his priests and deacons,” he said.
Bishop McKnight said that “with a supreme calculus and the skill of a divine mathematician,” God is happy to use the experience Fr. Hooper acquired along his indirect path to Priesthood.
“You bring your personal history as a son and brother,” the bishop noted, “as well as your varied professional experiences before your entrance into the seminary as an infantryman in the U.S. Army, an insurance clerk at a hospital, and as a graduate with a master’s degree in business administration.
“And after moving to the Diocese of Jefferson City, you taught at Helias Catholic High School and served in the Cathedral Parish and the Parishes of St. George in Hermann and Church of the Risen Savior in Rhineland.”
Bishop McKnight urged Fr. Hooper to remain humble and avoid any tendency toward clericalism.
“Always be alert to any sense of entitlement,” the bishop instructed, “and preserve the spirit of gratitude and generosity that you feel in your heart today as the motive for being a priest for Christ and His Church.
“Have as your aim always the salvation of souls, and the active engagement of the laity in the life and mission of the Church,” he said.
“Rich and unfailing gifts”
Fr. Hooper publicly promised to carry-out the duties of a priest as a minister of Scripture and sacraments, to pray without ceasing, to work obediently and respectfully with the bishop, and to imitate Jesus, Who offered Himself up as servant and sacrifice.
In a gesture of humility, obedience, total dependence on God and total self-giving, the new priest prostrated himself before the altar as the choir, priests and congregation chanted the Litany of Saints.
“Pour out on this, Your servant,” the bishop prayed, “the blessing of the Holy Spirit and the power of priestly grace, that he whom in the sight of Your Mercy we offer to be consecrated, may be surrounded by Your rich and unfailing gifts.”
Fr. Hooper then knelt before the bishop, who silently laid hands on his head in the biblical act of bestowing the gift of the Holy Spirit.
One by one, the other priests also placed their hands on the new priest’s head, signifying their prayers for strength and grace.
Fr. Greer, Fr. Hooper’s younger brother, ceremonially helped Fr. Hooper put on his priestly vestments.
Bishop McKnight anointed Fr. Hooper’s hands with the Oil of Sacred Chrism, symbolizing the power of the priest to sanctify, with the words: “The Lord Jesus Christ, Whom the Father anointed with the Holy Spirit and power, guard and preserve you, that you may sanctify the Christian people and offer sacrifice to God.”
To the altar of the Lord
At the Offertory, after members of Fr. Hooper’s family presented the bread and wine for the Mass, the bishop handed it to the new priest.
Kneeling before Bishop McKnight, Fr. Hooper accepted it as a symbol of his most important duty: celebration of the Eucharist.
Following a sign of peace from the bishop and the other priests, Fr. Hooper remained in the sanctuary as a concelebrant and spoke part of the Eucharistic Prayer.
A schola of the Cathedral of St. Joseph, directed by Tom Halpin and accompanied by organist Annette Kehner, led the music for the Mass.
Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus served as the honor guard. Members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem took part in the procession.
Deacons John Schwartze and Christopher Baker assisted at the Mass.
Barry Greer, Fr. Hooper’s uncle and godfather, and Mark Rehagen, a fellow teacher from Helias Catholic, proclaimed the readings.
Seminarians of the diocese assisted as altar servers.
Litany of thanks
Immediately after Mass, Fr. Hooper gave his first blessing to Bishop McKnight, then to Bishop Emeritus Gaydos; then to Mrs. Greer, his mother; and then to Fr. Greer, his brother.
In written remarks, Fr. Hooper thanked:
“I am thankful for everyone who has had an influence, been kind or prayed and supported me in any way during my years of formation,” Fr. Hooper wrote.
“Please continue to pray that I become the priest that God wills me to be, and I will continue to pray for you all.”
Bishop McKnight appointed him associate pastor of Ss. Peter and Paul parish in Boonville; St. Joseph parish in Pilot Grove, with St. John the Baptist Chapel in Clear Creek and St. Joseph Chapel in Clifton City, effective July 1.
He has also begun serving as assistant master of ceremonies to the bishop.