Years after Lilia Lim's son had established a career in medicine, he asked her to accompany him to Mass at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. There, Roque G. Lim told his mother that he wanted to be a priest.
"I just put my head on his shoulder and said, 'I am blessed,'" she recalled yesterday after Cardinal William H. Keeler ordained her son and six others to the priesthood before a crowd of 1,700 at the same cathedral on North Charles Street in Baltimore. "He is 42 years old and knows what he wants to do, and I know he will be an ideal priest."
Standing in the sanctuary where he was just ordained, the Rev. Roque Lim blessed his mother and many others in his extended family, praying they would "be filled with spiritual peace."
"I always felt a calling," said Lim, of Baltimore, who holds a master's degree in molecular biology.
Several other of the candidates, who ranged in age from 27 to 42, had taken a similarly circuitous route to their new calling, including a florist, an Army intelligence officer and an accountant.
Two entered the seminary immediately after graduating from high school, and another transferred from UMBC. They bring to 200 the number of active priests in the archdiocese.
The cardinal, several prelates, including Bishop Jose C. Sorra, who traveled from the Philippines for his nephew James Sorra's ordination, and more than 100 priests participated in the archdiocese' largest ordination since 2003. The number of priest candidates is likely to increase now that St. Mary's Seminary and University in Roland Park has its largest enrollment in several decades, with nine new candidates set to arrive this fall.
"I think there is a return on the part of our young people to seeing that the real values of life are worth pursuing," Keeler said after the ceremony.
The three-hour service was filled with solemnity, tradition and ritual, with a nod to the diversity of the candidates. Readers gave the scriptural selections in English, Spanish and a Filipino dialect.
In his sermon, Keeler thanked the candidates' families for "sowing the seeds of faith" in their sons.
"God knows we need priests," said Sharon Bialek of Baltimore, whose only child, Mark Bialek, was ordained yesterday. "I knew when he was an altar boy in third grade that Mark had a calling from God."
The Rev. Mark Bialek entered the seminary after graduating from Archbishop Curley High School and has studied 10 years for his new role.
"It was just a decade and worth every moment," he said.
The cardinal thanked the parishes that nurtured the candidates throughout their studies. A busload of St. Ignatius parishioners from Ijamsville came to honor the Rev. Silvester Kim, their deacon for the past two years. Kim, a graduate of Archbishop Spalding High School in Severn, was studying history at UMBC before entering the seminary.
"He will be a wonderful priest because he speaks from his heart," said Peggy Crichton.
Finally, Keeler thanked the men, whom he called "dear sons," for "their great gift of example to all of us." He challenged them to exercise their sacred duty to teach, to believe and to practice what they teach.
While a choir softly intoned a Latin hymn, each priest in attendance laid his hands in prayer on the bowed heads of the candidates for ordination. The congregation beseeched a litany of saints on behalf of the new priests and the cardinal anointed their hands with oil.
"I feel I have received an overwhelming gift today from God," said the Rev. D. Patrick Peach of Towson, a Calvert Hall graduate who will continue his religious studies at the North American College in Rome this fall. "This is something I have wanted all my life, and today is like being embraced by a large family."
At the end of the service, the cardinal knelt before each new priest and accepted their individual blessings. Then the newly ordained beamed as they walked down the aisle to thunderous applause.
"I hope nobody is getting married today because all the priests are here," said Marcia Pollard, a cousin of Mark Bialek. She said he was "the first in our family to become a priest."
The seven new priests will celebrate their first Masses today at parishes throughout the area and then move to their first assignments.
The Rev. Patrick Besel, 36, of Glen Burnie, who came to the priesthood after a career in criminal justice and Army intelligence, might face the most daunting task - associate pastor at six parishes and one mission church in Western Maryland.
"We know he is up to it," Keeler said.