My Early Journey To Priesthood
This past February, 2015 on the 13th, I celebrated my fifteenth anniversary as a Roman Catholic priest. Traditional in doctrine, spirituality and worship but, some would say, non-traditional in polity…especially being a married priest (if you are saying “Catholic priests are NOT married”…you may think you are correct but history proves you wrong…see page on this site called “Married Priests”) with three adult children and five grandchildren. I’m also a practicing healthcare provider.
Anyway, while I began my studies thirty some years ago in 1969 I did not go beyond completion of my degree in Catholic philosophy, known as Thomistic Metaphysics. After Catholic High School, having been somewhat deficient in Latin due to my commercial course of studies, I spent two years in Kentucky at St. Mary’s College Seminary, St. Mary, KY.
It was known then, and had been known for one hundred and forty-nine years before, as the “Latin Seminary” in the Catholic church in the United States. Of course, by the time I arrived at St. Mary’s the study of Latin was loosing it’s significance due to the Church’s intention to abandon the ancient language in favor of the vernacular. While the first year there was traditional Roman Catholic Seminary; in the second year, the only way to describe it is to say:”all hell broke loose”. It became like a male college dorm, cars on campus, Friday nights at the local tavern…it definitely was not a good scene. You’ll note the Seminary celebrated it sesquicentennial (150 years) in 1971 but closed only five years later after what had been a most illustrious history…I would venture to suggest it was due to the lack of a right focus.
The Search Was On
I at that time, being a much-too-much “man of the world” (Scripture says: “a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways“), realized my days were numbered if I had to live under those conditions, I didn’t yet have any firm grasp on becoming the “man of God” I was pursuing; hence, I had to change venue so my second year in Kentucky was searching out a more stable environment. I subsequently applied for, and was accepted to, the Third Order Regular (TOR) Franciscans in Washington, D.C. First it was a year of postulancy and studies at the local community college to keep us busy. Then off to the Monastery Novitiate in Pennsylvania for a full canonical year (one year, two weeks and a day). I professed simple, temporary vows as a Franciscan Friar on June 16th, 1973. I thought I had arrived and I foolishly believed my “vocation” was secure.
The next two years as a simply professed member of the community, I spent back in D.C. completing my undergraduate degree in Philosophy at Oblate College. It was during the latter part of that time, after making my annual retreat, that I made the decision that I was not to continue pursuing the Priesthood, nor religious life, and after my vows expired in June of that year, I did not renew and went my way.
Some Sense of Calm
Over the next several years, I got married and settled in a career as a social worker in Philadelphia, PA. Life was good, work was good and I was essentially content; however, in the spiritual realm I was becoming more and more discontent with the changes in the Church.
Priests acted less like priests, sisters acted and dressed less like religious…the fabric of the leadership was changing and it was most uncomfortable…actually, I hated it. It was not the guitars at mass mine you that brought offense, for in the Monastery I actually played guitar and led the guitar masses, it was the profound loss of reverence. In the Monastery we were sheltered from that loss because our lives were centered around the significance of God. But out in the parishes, reverence, awe, respect for the things of God I found to be seriously lacking.
I spent years trying to find that reverence again and failed, more often than not, for well over a twenty year period. Oh, I was attending churches EVERY Sunday but in my opinion the church had left where I was looking for it. It was discouraging because sometimes I didn’t even realized how discontent I had become…oh, don’t get me wrong, I never stopped praying, never thought God was gone. I just felt His church had slipped away and I kept waiting for it to come back…for the priests to come to there senses, for the sisters to return to their simple, humble, holy lives.
I found myself in 1997 attending a Independent Charismatic church and normally liking it, enjoying it. Then one Sunday, our normally full 300 plus member church, looked like someone had called to tell half the church to stay home. The place was pretty empty. My wife and I learned later that half the church…people we had come to know and love had split and started a “new work”…as they like to say in those kinds of “churches”…with no regard for us and the witness it gave to our children that such behavior engendered.
I was angry. I was hurt. I thought to myself, “What is going on?”, “How do people, who are saying one week that they love each other, just up and walk across the street (figuratively speaking) and cease to walk together any more.” I had experienced my first church split…I had experienced a “Martin Luther” move on me and my family and a subtle form of rage welled up within me and I decided I would find “THE Church” because I was tired of “playing Church” with people who were no more afraid of God that they would fracture His body on a whim.
I began a new journey. If that Sunday someone would have said I would again be a Roman Catholic some day, I would have laughed in their face. I had put all of that behind me. In my new journey, I re-studied the Church, I re-studied the history of the Church, the Fathers, the great Saints and after what felt like a very long time I decided I had to get back to Rome…but WHERE was Rome?
I knew from my seminary training that the Church I had studied, that the Church represented by the Fathers, the Saints, etc. was under a full attack from within. I knew the Vatican Church was changing so much it no longer looked like the Church I had grown up in and I knew what she was now teaching and what her priest and nuns were now doing and I couldn’t bring my family back into that kind of circumstance. Now, please don’t get me wrong, I am not indicting every Roman Catholic priest and sister. I am sure there are scores of well-intentioned men and women in their ranks but what I was experiencing was just unacceptable and those I had met were without the courage to really deal with the issues that they should have known were inconsistent with the historic traditions of the Roman Catholic Church…I guess a real problem arises when your pay, health insurance and retirement plans all come through the local Diocese.
So my journey began again in 1997 with the Charismatic Episcopal Church (CEC) where I re-initiated my seminary studies in theology but after 15 months and the abandonment of two priest-pastors, I was forced to move my family elsewhere. We found a bishop in the Catholic Charismatic Church (CCC), who allowed our local church, Christ Our King…abandoned by the CEC, to remain together with me as their lay pastor. After the completion of their spirituality program and their eight month review of my education and training, I was approved for ordination and received the Deaconate in November 1999 and Priesthood in February 2000. For about two years things were relatively stable. But even there, I recognized I could not sense the same reverence for the Mass I had known as a youngster even though I was the one celebrating the Mass.
A turn of events in 2002, forced us as a parish to reconsider our affiliation with the CCC and after meeting with the Archbishop of the Old Catholic Church of the United States (OCCUS) in Rhode Island, we once again changed our affiliation. It was with the OCCUS that I was at least permitted to find a liturgical calmness I hadn’t found in the other groups I had encountered…I put aside the “charismatic” manifestations of the gifts all Confirmed Catholics receive and began minimizing the “Vatican II fanfare” at Mass…and liturgy was much, much better…but I still knew something was missing.
During this time the OCCUS was in a significant period of flux trying to put in writing the essence of their beliefs as they understood them. Receiving a draft of their new catechism, I found I could not agree with their positions regarding Papal Infallibility and some teachings regarding Our Lady; hence, the search was on once again. Over the years I had developed relationships with several bishops and I put the word out that I was looking for a “traditional Catholic bishop”, one seasoned in the historical, ancient ways of Catholicism. Of course, they all pointed to themselves, like Blake Shelton on The Voice, and I laughed and repeated a “traditional Catholic bishop”.
By one of my bishop friends, I was given the names of three bishops considered very conservative and very Catholic. I already knew one of them and took a pass. Another one of them I knew nothing about but I really didn’t want a bishop from the other side of the country, so I took another pass. That left the last one. Problem was he was unassuming and was said to live a quiet life, running a nice size parish “somewhere” in Florida…oh, yes and he was known to hate “internet churches”; hence, after searching for this last bishop-option for over six months, I just about gave up.
Then one Sunday afternoon while researching something with one of our young men at after church, by accident, I saw the bishop’s name in one of the listings on the search page…halleluiah! The process of making contact was anything but easy and the trips to visit with him somewhat gruesome but I finally found the “traditional Catholic bishop” for whom I had been searching. He was consecrated some thirty five years before, had never been exposed to the New Order (Novus Ordo) in the Conciliar Church of Rome or to anything other than the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church in his decorum, manner and worship. I found him as Primate of the Old Roman Catholic Church (ORCC) and it was here, in the ORCC, that I could finally perceive all of the marks, all of the traditions, all of the respect and reverence that I remember witnessing as a young man…it was here that I knew I was finally home.
Now, some might say, “Don’t you believe Rome is the center of the Roman Catholic Church?” Yes, I do, I believe it is supposed to be. They might add, “Then how can you not be under the jurisdiction of the Pope?” Well, I am in intention…I am just not under his direct jurisdiction.
I might posit: A son (me) is required to love and obey his father and recognize his father as his father (the Pope) but a son (me) is not required to obey his father (the Pope) if his father (the Pope) directs him to do that which is contrary to the ancient, historic teaching of the Roman Catholic Church or to his own well-formed and informed conscience. Of course, the Holy Father has not directed me to do anything; however, the Bishops under his charge have taken stands relating to liturgy, religious freedom, ecumenism, marriage, etc. contrary in my understanding to the historic teaching of the church.
I do not understand how the Conciliar Church of Rome can be doing what it is doing. I do not understand how the present Holy Father can be saying some of the things he is saying. I have found a Bishop who desires with all his heart to return to the Apostolic See of Rome, as do I…as soon as we find out where the Apostolic See of Rome has gone, we will make haste to follow.
Beloved, there is a Deposit of Faith handed down to us from the Apostles from Our Lord Himself and there are some things that no Ecumenical Counsel, Pope, Bishop, Priest, Deacon, Divine, Theologian, Saint or Scripture Scholar can change…some things just can never change or be changed, period!
I am open to your charitable insights.