Jesuit Father Phillip Ganir consecrates the wine and Communion hosts during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, June 23. (HCH photo by Darlene Dela Cruz)
It was a joyful “local style” homecoming for Jesuit Father Phillip Alcon Ganir who returned to the Islands for a brief visit last month and celebrated a special thanksgiving Mass June 23 for hundreds of his family, friends and fellow religious.
Father Ganir was ordained to the priesthood June 8 in California, the culmination of a 14-year journey in Jesuit formation. The 36-year-old Damien Memorial School alum left Hawaii in 1999 to join the order, and has since been traveling abroad for ministry and studies.
He last visited the Islands in January as a transitional deacon. This time, he returned to his home parish of St. Elizabeth Church in Aiea as a priest, bedecked with lei and sharing the fruits of a vocation matured.
“The consolation overflows,” Father Ganir told the Hawaii Catholic Herald at the June 23 Mass. “Gratitude only deepens. The shape of gratitude really takes on the faces of the people in the parish.”
More than 500 people packed into St. Elizabeth for Father Ganir’s Sunday evening liturgy. The jovial Jesuit greeted his earliest-arriving well-wishers — some of whom came almost two hours before the Mass — with his trademark gleaming smile and witty humor. He also spent a few personal minutes with the St. Elizabeth choir, offering words which brought laughter and some tears to its members.
During the Mass, Father Ganir was joined at the altar by several Island and Mainland clergy. Franciscan Capuchin Fathers Paulo Kosaka and Gordon Combs, both of whom formerly served at St. Elizabeth, were among them. Concelebrating as well was current St. Elizabeth parochial vicar, Oblates of St. Joseph Father Arnold Ortiz. Deacon Fred Carahasen of Immaculate Conception Church in Ewa, a close friend of Father Ganir, assisted.
Three of his Jesuit colleagues — Fathers Anthony SooHoo, Radmar Agana Jao and Joe Palmisano — traveled from the Mainland for the Mass.
The liturgy began with rousing praise and worship, the choir’s drums, bass and robust voices reverberating throughout the church. Father Ganir showed his roots in St. Elizabeth’s music ministry as he clapped and sang along.
In his homily, Father Ganir reminisced about the original St. Elizabeth church layout. The altar, he recalled, used to be at the opposite end of the church, prior to the church’s renovation several years ago. What a reversal to see the structure flipped, he said. He also joked about the “reversal” of now being a priest at the front of the church, when as a child, he used to hide in the back.
Connecting his memories to a scholarly reflection on the day’s readings, Father Ganir said God, too, works “in reversals.” The epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians contradicted a long-held notion that salvation was only for a select few. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus introduced the counterintuitive logic of losing one’s life to save it.
Yet “living in reversal,” Father Ganir said, “is not living backwards.”
“Sometimes it’s a way for God to get our attention, to shake us up, so that we focus on the things that matter,” he said. “To know that God is God, and that we are not.”
Father Ganir’s parents, Brigido and Lourdes, offered the gifts for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. In poignant tradition, the newly ordained priest gave Communion first to his father and mother.
Later speaking to the Herald, Lourdes Ganir said she was “overwhelmed” with emotion from her son’s celebration of the Mass.
“I am very thankful to the Lord,” she said. “His dreams came true.”
At the end of the Mass, Father Ganir took about 20 minutes to thank the people and organizations that fostered his vocation. Among them were the Filipino Catholic Club, Knights of Columbus, St. Elizabeth Young Christian Life and religious sisters from various orders.
“Priesthood is nourished and sustained by community,” he said.
Father Ganir gave his parents a special gift of gratitude. A koa box, inscribed with the Jesuit seal, contained the priestly stole he wore at his first confession, as well as the cloths that were used to wrap his hands as the bishop anointed them at ordination. Tradition, he explained, holds that his parents will one day present these items to God.
The Ganir family gifted Mass attendees with wooden rosaries. The rosaries paid homage to the Franciscans, Jesuits and Dominicans — religious who inspired Father Ganir’s vocation. Brown beads symbolized the Capuchin cassocks, the rosary’s papal cross honored the current Jesuit pope, and the Marian medal referenced the Dominicans’ devotion.
St. Elizabeth parishioner Williette Wong said Father Ganir’s celebration “was beautiful.” She called his commitment to the priesthood “inspirational” and hoped his example would encourage one of the youth at the parish to follow in his footsteps.
“I am so proud that we have a local (Jesuit) priest,” Wong said.
Father Ganir will be heading back to California to serve as associate pastor of St. Ignatius Loyola Church in Sacramento.
Note: a story in the June 7 Hawaii Catholic Herald mistakenly listed Father Ganir’s birthplace as Hawaii. He was born in Seattle and grew up in Hawaii.