BY SHARON ROZNIK
Rev. Don Wright of Campbellsport likes to recite the adage “once a Roman Catholic priest always a Roman Catholic priest.”
The resigned priest lives in Campbellsport with his wife, Ann, and serves as one of the clergy at Jesus our Shepherd Community Church in Allenton.
While Wright calls living the life of a married priest “beautiful” and “unbelievably fulfilling,” he still feels the stigma the Catholic church has put on married priests for “breaking a promise and committing an unforgivable sin.” The result is a shunning by “faithful” Catholics, and an inability to serve the church unless the ordination is annulled by being laicized.
“What gives us great joy is to serve those people the official Roman Catholic Church has turned away or turned off,” he said. “This includes people who are divorced and remarried, homosexuals, as well as those horrified by the Church’s handling of sexual abuse by the ordained.”
Some time back, his wife Ann told him: “I pray all day.”
“That conversation with God takes many forms but without the usual ‘includes,’ as it did while I was in active ministry, praying the Liturgy of the Hours. My morning prayer is usually prayed with one of my sons over the phone and I pray my evening prayer with my wife before we turn in,” Wright said.
It was 1970 when Father John Schmitz, formerly of St. Peter, burned his “Roman collar” and left the Catholic priesthood. In the prior decade he had served at St. Mary’s Parish and School in Fond du Lac
“I was very unhappy. I was on the cutting edge of theology, being a campus priest, but I felt like I was being used. It took 30 years to get over the pain and write about it,” he said.
His book “A Funny Thing Happened on My Way Out of Church,” published by Caritas Communications in Mequon, tells how he married a former nun named Jo Ann, raised a family and never looked back.
In the early church, celibacy was not required, Schmitz points out in the book. Some of the Apostles were married. The gospels speak of Peter’s mother-in-law. Paul’s advice to Timothy, on the qualities of the bishop, mentions that he be married but once. Some of the early popes were married. Schmitz said the “Eastern” churches never required celibacy as a condition for ordination, a tradition held to the present.
Schmitz said his biggest fear in leaving the priesthood was how he was going to make a living.
“The seminary education certainly didn’t prepare you to make a living outside the church. We had scant income, maybe $50 a month, and even scanter savings,” Schmitz said.
These days Schmitz lives in Brookfield with his second wife (Jo Ann passed away of cancer), officiates at about 20 weddings a year, and helps feed the poor through the Knights of Columbus in West Allis. He is retired from his second career in the insurance business.
“I have never regretted it, in fact someone just told me the other day ‘John, you’ve done more good since you turned your collar around and put a necktie on,” Schmitz said.