By Jeff Graham
The B.C. Catholic
September 24, 2007
Photo: Father Dean Henderson blesses his son Dominic after his ordination at St. Andrew’s Cathedral.
"How can you be a married man and a Catholic priest?" is a question Father Dean Henderson is asked frequently. Father Henderson, ordained this summer by Bishop Richard Gagnon for the Diocese of Victoria, is married to wife Linda and has four children, and is a former Anglican minister.
"It's exceptional," said Father Henderson about being a married priest. "It's complicated, and it's impossible apart from the grace of God and the approval of both the bishop and the Holy Father."
For Father Henderson, complicated has been the best word to describe the process of becoming a married Catholic priest. His application had to go all the way to Rome for evaluation, and in it was a 13-piece dossier of information to demonstrate satisfactory theological and liturgical knowledge, along with a comprehensive psychological assessment.
There are important conditions placed on Father Henderson, the most notable being that he is excluded from "the ordinary care of souls," which he says essentially means that he is "not meant to be a parish pastor."
Instead of being the pastor of a parish, Father Henderson is an assistant at St. Andrew's Cathedral and the Pastoral Care Co-ordinator at Mount St. Mary Hospital. He said those two postings have kept him on his toes so far, and he explained he is "both busier and happier than I can express."
Father Henderson's ordination is just another plot twist in God's plan for his life and the life of his family.
"In 1999, after a lengthy process of thought, prayer, study, and discussion, my family and I were received into full communion with the Catholic Church at Christ the King Parish in Courtenay. What makes my story of ongoing Christian conversion somewhat different from the other candidates and catechumens in RCIA programs throughout the diocese is that I was an ordained Anglican minister in active ministry on Vancouver Island."
The precedent for ordaining married former Anglican ministers goes back to 1980, when Pope John Paul II granted the bishops of the United States approval to ordain married former Anglican ministers who had entered into full communion with the Catholic Church. In 1986 Canadian bishops were given similar permission.
Although he is married, Father Henderson has deep admiration and reverence for priestly celibacy. "I would like to especially acknowledge the diocesan priests whom I join in a unique way," he told his brother priests after his ordination in Victoria. "Thank you for your example of holy self-offering in a society that needs your Christ-like witness of joyful and sacrificial celibate life."
Father Henderson also recognizes the role his wife and children will play in his priestly ministry, and is thankful for the role they played in helping him get to where he is today.
"My own family obviously shares in this exceptional sacrament in a special way," he said. "Without the support of Linda, with whom I share the sacrament of marriage, I would not be here."