STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — Deacon Drake McCalister, a former Pentecostal minister, has been given approval by the Vatican to be ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Steubenville.

Steubenville Bishop Jeffrey M. Monforton received the letter of approval Nov. 6 and will ordain McCalister Dec. 19 at Holy Family Church in Steubenville.

“Thanks be to God! And a strong sense, a sobering sense of the increased responsibility and accountability that comes with ordination to the priesthood,” said McCalister when he received the news from Rome.

McCalister, a husband and father of five, will become the first married priest to be ordained in the Steubenville Diocese.

Since St. Paul VI’s 1967 encyclical Sacerdotalis caelibatus (“Of priestly celibacy”), the Catholic Church has allowed on a case-by-case basis married men who enter the Catholic Church from other traditions to be ordained as priests. However, the pope affirmed clerical celibacy as a general law in the Catholic Church and emphasized these cases must not be understood as a relaxation of the law.

The former minister said he is not an advocate for ending celibacy in the priesthood, adding: “While I joyfully take this next step, there is a strong awareness that saying yes to Jesus in the priesthood is also saying yes to taking up my cross in a deeper way. I don’t know that anyone is ever excited for the cross, but it is joyfully embraced when viewed through the eyes of the saving work of Jesus.”

The letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to Monforton said that Pope Francis granted the dispensation for McCalister Sept. 26 and he was subject to the following conditions:

“With regard to the Church’s traditional discipline of priestly celibacy, it must be ensured that clergy and faithful are helped to understand this exception to the traditional discipline; the candidate must be informed of and agree to the condition that remarriage, in the case of his wife’s death, will not be possible after ordination; and the candidate will not be permitted to transfer to another country to take up priestly duties without the approval of the Holy See.”

McCalister was part of the first diaconate class in the Diocese of Steubenville in 2010, when Bishop R. Daniel Conlon, now bishop of Joliet, Illinois, was shepherd of the diocese. McCalister said he “felt the Lord calling him to inquire about a dispensation for the priesthood,” and Conlon agreed with the idea. The process continued with Monforton.

He had been scheduled to be ordained this summer, but Steubenville diocesan officials discovered they had not submitted the final materials requesting this dispensation to the doctrinal congregation. The materials were sent as soon as the discovery was made.

“The brief delay served to help me grow in patience and to reinforce in me that when it comes to priesthood, I cannot say I ‘should’ have received something at a certain time,” said McCalister. “The Lord’s timing is perfect. The call to holy orders is from the Lord and granted by the Church. It is not mine to take, but to receive.”

While being the first married priest to be ordained in the diocese, he will not be the first married priest to serve in the diocese. Father Raymond Ryland, a former Episcopal priest who joined the Catholic Church, was ordained in the Diocese of San Diego and moved to Steubenville with his wife in 1998. He served at Holy Family and St. Peter parishes from 1998 until his death in 2014.

McCalister’s first assignment as a priest will be as parochial vicar to Msgr. Gerald E. Calovini, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Steubenville, as well as assisting with hospital and nursing home ministries. He also will continue in his position as coordinator of the catechetical practicum at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

When asked what he’s most excited about in his priesthood, McCalister said: “Mass and mission — life in the spirit and engagement in the mission.”

Orsatti is editor of The Steubenville Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Steubenville.

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