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Letter to Parishioners

A Married Priest? – Part IV

 Being Received into Full Communion with the Catholic Church
            In the early summer of 2006, I communicated to my Lutheran Bishop my intentions to resign my pastorate and to enter the Roman Catholic Church. “If I thought I could talk you out of this, I would try,” he said. We prayed together for the unity of the Church. And he asked that I remain at my post for several weeks so that we might have time to gently prepare the people of my parish. On a Sunday in August, Janet and I bade farewell to the people of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Jersey City, where I had served as pastor for 19 years. It was a difficult and moving farewell. In a deeply ecumenical gesture, the parish presented us with a crucifix (now on the wall in my office) that had been brought from Rome several years before by a priest who had attended the Second Vatican Council.
            Janet and I traveled to Greenville, South Carolina, to St. Mary's Catholic Church. We spent a week in retreat, in conversation with the pastor there, Fr. Jay Scott Newman. On Saturday, we made our “plenary” confessions. At the Solemn Mass on Sunday, August 20, we stood before the altar with our sponsor (Fr. Samuel Weber, O.S.B.) to profess the Faith and to be confirmed in the Catholic Church. At the Holy Eucharist we then received our first Holy Communion.
            Yes, it is that simple. Any one who has been baptized and who has been well catechized in the Faith may be received in this way, at any Mass: first confession, profession of faith, first reception of Holy Communion. The extended preparation in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) is a wonderful catechetical tool. But it is for those who have never been baptized, or for those who, having been baptized, have never received adequate teaching.
            Within a week I was in Washington, DC, beginning further theological studies at the John Paul II Pontifical Institute at Catholic University of America. In some ways it was a near perfect environment for the intellectual and spiritual formation of a new Catholic. Learning and prayer, theology and doxology, daily study and daily Mass were deeply interrelated. During the week, I lived, ate, and prayed with the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception at their study house on campus. In my work at the J.P. II Institute – first as a student and later as a teacher – I explored the philosophical, biblical, and theological foundations of the Church's teaching about sexual love, marriage, and the nature of the human person.
            My graduate studies were not formal preparation for the priesthood. At that moment, I was trying not to allow myself to hope that I might be a priest. However, only a few weeks into my new routine, the question was suddenly raised very directly. While strolling across campus the ring of my cell phone startled me out of my theological musings. “This is Father Terry Odien from the Diocese of Camden,” the voice explained. “Bishop Galante has asked me to phone you, to see if you might be interested in exploring the possibility of becoming a candidate for ordination to the priesthood.” So began my connection to the Diocese of Camden in October of 2006. I soon learned that Fr. Newman had sent a packet of information to several Bishops, graciously recommending me. After conversations with Bp. Galante, Msgr. McGrath and Fr. Odien, and after a time of discernment with Janet and our children, I requested that the bishop take me under his pastoral care and “tell me what to do.” I was to continue my studies while we began the long process of petitioning Rome for permission to proceed.

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