Journey to the Priesthood

Seven Sacraments Altarpiece Triptych by Rogier van der Weyden

Drake McCalister was ordained to the transitional Diaconate on June 29, 2018 at Holy Family Church, Steubenville and was ordained to the Priesthood on December 19, 2019.

First, a couple of clarifying points

  1. I am not an activist or actively campaigning for the end of celibacy of the priesthood. Do not contact me regarding this topic.
  2. Married priests are not the answer to the priest shortage. The shortage is due to a lack of deep conversion to Jesus and a lack of understanding of the gospel, the need for evangelism, the role of the Church and the power of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.
  3. I am here to serve Jesus Christ, to the fullest extent possible allowed by His Church, so as to lead people to a transformative relationship with Jesus Christ. Do contact me if you would like to talk about evangelism,  how to revive Catholics and bringing Christian Unity.
  4. The Catholic Church has always (in various ways) maintained the possibility of married priests. Namely, Eastern Catholic Churches (Byzantine and others) have allowed married men to be ordained to the priesthood from the beginning of the Church, and it is still so to this day (CCC 1580). The Latin Rite (western) Catholics made celibacy the norm for priesthood, following the examples of Jesus and Paul. Celibacy of the priesthood is a discipline (changeable) and not a doctrine (unchangeable) of the Catholic Church and she has the authority to make modifications as she sees fit (CCC 83).

Background on the Process

The dispensation from clerical celibacy for a priest is a dispensation from an ecclesiastical law, nor a moral or doctrinal law. The Catholic Church has specific Canons in the Code of Canon Law that govern dispensations.

  • Can. 85 A dispensation, that is, the relaxation of a merely ecclesiastical law in a particular case, can be granted, within the limits of their competence, by those who have executive power, and by those who either explicitly or implicitly have the power of dispensing, whether by virtue of the law itself or by lawful delegation.

In the case of clerical celibacy, this dispensation can only come from the pope himself.

Beginning in 1967 Pope Paul VI, after the Second Vatican Council, writes in his encyclical On the Celibacy of the Priest (#43, 44),

  • a study may be allowed of the particular circumstances of married sacred ministers of Churches or other Christian communities separated from the Catholic communion, and of the possibility of admitting to priestly functions those who desire to adhere to the fullness of this communion and to continue to exercise the sacred ministry… And that the authority of the Church does not hesitate to exercise her power in this matter can be seen from the recent Ecumenical Council, which foresaw the possibility of conferring the holy diaconate on men of mature age who are already married (cf. Lumen Gentium 29).

    All this, however, does not signify a relaxation of the existing law, and must not be interpreted as a prelude to its abolition. There are better things to do than to promote this hypothesis…”

In 1980 Pope John Paul II established a pastoral provision to make the process more structured and easier for Episcopalian/Anglican clergy, who have entered into full communion with the Catholic Church, to receive a dispensation from celibacy and be ordained to the Catholic priesthood.

In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI, building on what had begun in the pastoral provision, allowed entire Anglican parishes to enter the Catholic Church, along with their priests (even if married). These provisions are only for Episcopalian and Anglican clergy who enter the Catholic Church. Clergy from other denominations who seek a dispensation from celibacy are handled on a case-by-case basis with a personal process of formation tailored to the needs of the individual.

Since Pope Paul VI, the Catholic Church, on a case by case basis, has granted some Protestant clergy converts a dispensation from the discipline of celibacy.

The intention is to allow men who received a genuine call from God to ordained ministry and were recognized by their overseers, to continue in that ministry after becoming Catholic. These men are not of those who left the Catholic Church, but were simply raised outside of the Church.

Once these men heard the full proclamation of the gospel in the Catholic Church, they responded by resigning from their ministry, often at great personal cost, and entered the Catholic Church knowing they might never return to ministry as they knew it. Had these men been Catholic at the time of their call to ministry, they would have entered the priesthood.

Each case must be personally approved by Rome and each pope since Pope Paul VI (John Paul II, Benedict XVI, Francis) has granted some dispensations.

While the majority of married priests are from an Episcopalian or Anglican background, there have been men ordained to the Catholic priesthood from many denominations: Lutheran, Presbyterian, United Methodist, Charismatic Episcopal, Disciples of Christ, Southern Baptist, Foursquare, and more.

My Process

This process began for me in 2010 when I presented myself for the permanent diaconate in my diocese. During the first year of aspirancy (preparation) the Holy Spirit kept prompting me in my prayer time that I should ask the question as to whether or not I would qualify for a dispensation from celibacy and pursue the Catholic priesthood. I put this off for a couple of months until I could ignore it no longer. I brought the subject up to my spiritual director and, in consultation with him, I took the issue to my bishop at the time, Bishop Daniel Conlon.

Bishop Conlon was amenable to the idea and had me withdraw from formation for the permanent diaconate and enter a time of prayer and discernment for the priesthood. To aid in my discernment, he connected me with a couple of married priests which I found very fruitful. In 2016, under Bishop Jeffrey Monforton, I finally received approval and a time frame from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in Rome, which put my final ordination in 2019.

This has been a very long process, but it has continued to build my trust in the Lord and His Church. I know that the Lord’s timing is perfect and I continue to reflect on His Word:

  • Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.
    Proverbs 3:5, 6

Further Reading:

  1. Here is a great article on why as a married priest, the writer is not advocating for an end to priestly celibacy. I agree with him.
  2. Here is a brief, but good article from EWTN on how the dispensation from celibacy works within the norm of priestly celibacy.
  3. Here is a good article by Fr. Thomas Loya, a Byzantine Catholic priest and host of the EWTN radio program called "Light of the East", on the nature of priesthood in relation to marriage as understood in by Eastern Catholics.