John Kopson, who will be ordained a priest today, prays in the Eucharistic Chapel at New Baltimore's St. Mary Queen of Creation. (Steve Perez / The Detroit News)
Like other 25-year-olds, Bryan Shackett is pursuing a career.
But the Marine City native chose a profession decidedly different from those of his high school classmates or many others nationwide. Today, he is among six men being ordained as Catholic priests in the Archdiocese of Detroit.
Long devoted to spiritual service, Shackett considered the priesthood just what the Latin root for the term “vocation” suggests: a calling.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else, really,” said Shackett, who expects to be assigned to an area parish next year, after completing studies in Rome. “It’s very important to me. It’s who I am. I know this is the purpose of my life. … I know that’s what the Lord wants for me and I know that’s what I need to do.”
Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron is to ordain Shackett and five others during a liturgy at the city’s Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament: Ryan Adams, 33, of Detroit; Jeffrey Allan, 35, of Redford Township; John Kopson, 32, of New Baltimore; Gregory Piatt, 55, of Warren; and Joe Tuskiewicz, 59, of Detroit.
Another, the Rev. Joseph Kirkconnell, 30, was ordained last month at his home parish in the Grand Cayman Islands.
It’s the largest class since 2004, when nine men were ordained, according to the archdiocese, which this week reported 390 active priests — a drop from 485 a decade earlier.
Metro Detroit Catholics cited a shortage of priests among their chief concerns in a recent survey of more than 41,000 Catholics. The “Perceptions of the Faithful” survey was part of initiatives Vigneron launched to stabilize the archdiocese’s finances, reshape parishes and address issues while reinforcing core missions.
Drawing more to the cloth is “absolutely critical,” said Msgr. Todd Lajiness, rector/president of Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, which is responsible for the formation and preparation of priesthood candidates in the archdiocese.
“We can never underestimate the value even of one. ... We should be grateful, we should be pleased, but we’ve got to keep praying for more ordinations,” he said.
The new priests, he added, “are going to touch the lives of thousands of people.”
Helping others pushed Piatt, who had considered the path as far back as second grade and even attended a high school seminary before becoming a journalist.
He maintained a spiritual guide throughout his career, which led him to stints at The Detroit News as well as a correspondent in foreign war zones. An urge to help others on a deeper level continued “moving in my heart,” he said, and intensified after he returned home to care for his ailing father.
Inspired by a retreat at Sacred Heart, Piatt attended the Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass.
His life experience aided parish internships and could enhance associate pastor duties at St. James in Novi starting in July.
“I’m looking forward to serving people and helping them with their faith,” Piatt said. “It helps people in the faith to see others in their faith journey. It might also inspire older men who have given up this idea of the priesthood.”
For Kopson, the path to priesthood wound through job changes and bouts of uncertainty about committing to a role in the religious realm. A series of eye-opening encounters, as well as others in the field who noted his compassion, convinced him to follow through.
Now, he’s focused on what Pope Francis and Catholics around the globe call “the new evangelization.”
Once ordained, “I’m looking forward to reaching those who have lost the faith… and those who are seeking greater things in life,” said Kopson, who is assigned to Church of the Divine Child in Dearborn. “I’m really looking forward to sharing the Gospel’s message with those who need it.”