NASHVILLE - Nine new priests have been ordained to serve Roman Catholics across 38 counties in Middle Tennessee.
The Tennessean reports the men were ordained last weekend at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville in a ceremony that marked the largest single ordination in the state. There were also nine priests ordained in 1970, but the ceremonies were spread out across the state.
The newspaper reports that will help the 67 priests already in place minister to one of the nation's fastest-growing Catholic populations. According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, Nashville ranked eighth in the U.S. earlier this year for its rate of converts.
Middle Tennessee has at least 70,000 registered Catholics.
Newly ordained Father Daniel Reehil said he awoke the morning of the ceremony in tears because he was so close to reaching his goal, for which he spent 12 years in preparation.
"I just feel like God is hugging my soul," Reehil said. "It's a great day for Nashville and the church."
Diocese of Nashville Bishop David Choby is credited by many with increasing the number of priests in Middle Tennessee while there are declines at the national level. Choby recruits priests using a personal touch that isn't common -- he brings potential candidates from throughout the world to Nashville.
Choby flew Reehil in last year from his seminary in Connecticut. After talks and prayers, Reehil decided he should serve in Music City.
The Diocese of Nashville is "in a situation that's very much countercultural to what's happening in the rest of the country," Reehil said. "That's a good thing."
Only one priest ordained in the ceremony is from Middle Tennessee. Five are from outside the country.
Iva McGavock, a member of St. Matthew Church in Franklin, gave Choby credit for helping bring the new priests to Nashville.
"I'm glad he's done this -- to call out to young men everywhere and say, 'Come!' " she said. "We need more shepherds."