by Jennifer Garza
Saturday, Jun. 4, 2011 - 10:33 am
This morning, in an elaborate ordination ceremony at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in downtown Sacramento, Jeff Henry will make diocesan history.
With his wife and daughter watching, Henry will become the first married man in the region ordained as a Roman Catholic priest.
A former Lutheran minister, Henry felt called to the Catholic priesthood seven years ago.
"I decided to pursue it until God said no, and God never shut the door," Henry said.
The door was opened by church leaders. Since 1980, the Roman Catholic Church has had a special provision for married ministers of other faiths to become Catholic priests after converting.
Henry, 51, will join a brotherhood of about 100 married men across the country who are now Catholic priests, according to Mary Gautier, senior research associate of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. "Most are former Episcopalians, but there are a few Lutherans and one Baptist that I know of," she said.
Henry is not the only man who will be ordained at the cathedral today. Jose Beltran and Brian Soliven will also become priests. In front of a packed church, they will promise chastity and obedience.
Henry will promise fidelity to God and to his marriage and obedience to the bishop. He and his wife, Peg, have been married 26 years.
"I'm very proud of him," said Peg Henry. "This is a real gift for us all to share this together."
Peg Henry and daughter Teresa, 21, will participate in the two-hour ceremony. They will help Jeff Henry don his vestments, a job typically done by other priests and close friends.
"At first it caught me off guard because I didn't know he could do this," she said. "But it's his calling."
The Catholic Church already has married priests in its Eastern rite, which never prohibited a married clergy. But the Latin-rite church has made celibacy a condition for ordination for centuries.
Those pushing for change in the church say ordination should be open to anyone called to serve.
"What about the lifelong Catholic men who had to leave? It's painful for some of them to see married priests being accepted when they had to leave simply because they fell in love," said Sister Chris Schenck, executive director of FutureChurch, a coalition of Catholics working toward full participation in the church.
She cites the priest shortage and its impact on parishes around the country as one reason for the church to change its celibacy requirement. "There are many married Catholic men, good men, who would be willing to serve again," she said.
Sacramento Catholic Bishop Jaime Soto said "every priest brings richness of his own experience and uniqueness to the priesthood." He is impressed with the Henry family. "Jeff's marriage will bring an added quality to his preaching ministry as well as his pastoral ministry."
He said the priests in the diocese are supportive of Henry. "Priests will laugh and say that the church is a very jealous spouse and Jeff Henry now has two of them," said Soto.
Peg Henry said that, as the only wife of a Catholic priest in the diocese, she will "take it slow and see what God has in store for me." The couple will not live in a church rectory, as most priests do. They will continue to reside in their Vacaville home.
For now, Henry will continue working at St. Patrick-St. Vincent High School in Vallejo and will celebrate Mass on weekends at St. Vincent Ferrer in Vallejo. He has not been assigned a parish.
"People are supportive and willing to give me a chance," Henry said. "I have faith that God's spirit will work in the way it's supposed to."