WINNIPEG — A Roman Catholic priest is a rare enough individual, but a married Roman Catholic priest is rarer still.
Rev. Colin Peterson, a married former United Church minister, was ordained to the Catholic priesthood by Winnipeg Archbishop Richard Gagnon June 10 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Winnipeg.
“Colin, you have taken the path of United Church minister, of husband and father and now the path to holy priesthood,” said Gagnon. “Now you and your wife Sandy look forward to a new life, to serve Christ, to advance the kingdom of God.”
Peterson, father of three adult children, with two grandchildren (and another due in August), was ordained under a pastoral provision set up in 1980 by Pope St. John Paul II to enable married, former Protestant and Anglican ministers to receive a dispensation from the vow of celibacy, allowing them to be ordained as Catholic priests.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops was unable to provide figures for the number of married men in Canada who have become Catholic priests since the pastoral provision was established, but the California-based Pastoral Provision Office reports it is over 100 for the United States.
In an interview, Peterson, who was ordained to the transitional diaconate in May 2013, said as a young member of the United Church of Canada he developed an appreciation for the liturgical and sacramental life of the Roman Catholic Church. He was ordained as a United Church minister in 1978.
In 2001 he became chaplain at the Manitoba Youth Centre, a detention facility for minors, and in that role attended worship in a variety of churches. “My love for good liturgy and the importance of the sacraments, especially the eucharist, led me into the Roman Catholic Church where I felt very much at home,” he said.
“This came at a time when the demands of working with incarcerated youth began to have a profound spiritual impact. I grieved for many young people who were dying tragic and violent deaths and I lamented the depth of evil that pervaded their lives and the system that tried to support them. I came to realize that what St. Paul called the ‘principalities and powers’ were at work in our world and it seemed to me that the Catholic Church was one of the few churches that understood evil and took it seriously.”
Peterson said the Catholic Church provided the spiritual strength and healing he needed at the time. “The spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, the life of prayer practised by the monks at the Trappist Monastery (in Holland, Man.) and the guidance of several spiritual directors, helped me get through this very difficult stage in my life as a minister,” he said.
Peterson became a Catholic at the Easter Vigil in 2011.
Peterson said “the call to a ministry of word and sacrament not only persisted but became focused in a particular way on sacramental life. I wanted not only to proclaim God’s word, but to be able to care for God’s people through the beauty, mystery and the power of all the sacraments. In consultation with (past) Archbishop of Winnipeg James Weisgerber and with permission from the Holy See, a process of formation was begun. I had the support of Archbishop Richard Gagnon and many tutors and teachers who have helped me prepare for the unique requirements of the ministerial priesthood. My internship at St. Gianna Beretta Molla Parish, with Pastor Darrin Gurr and a host of truly amazing parishioners, has been a rich and wonderful experience. The ongoing friendship and support of Deacon Rudy LeMaitre of St. Mary’s Cathedral continues to be a great blessing.”
Peterson said the demands of husband and father “can sometimes conflict with the demands of pastoral ministry. However, unmarried priests face some of these same challenges as they care for aging parents and respond to the needs of family members. Being married means that I must be a good steward of my time and energy. But it has not, in any way, diminished the strength or validity of the call to the ministerial priesthood. I thank my wife for her patient love and support as well as the ongoing support of my family and friends.”