Bishop Soto to ordain former Lutheran minister as a Catholic priest in June at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament
Bishop Jaime Soto has announced that the Vatican has given its permission for him to ordain Jeff Henry, a former Lutheran minister, for service as a priest in the Diocese of Sacramento. The ordination will take place June 4 in the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Sacramento, under a special provision that allows Protestant ministers from certain Christian denominations to become Catholic priests.
“It is with joy that I announce the Holy See has granted me permission to ordain Mr. Jeffery Henry, a parishioner of St. Joseph Church, Vacaville, to the priesthood in the Catholic Church,” said Bishop Soto in a letter to clergy and religious of the diocese.
Henry, 51, previously served as an ordained minister in the Lutheran Church and is a convert to Roman Catholicism. He has been married to his wife, Peg, for 26 years and an adult daughter, Teresa.
Bishop Soto said in the letter that after prayerful discernment following his reception in the Catholic Church, Henry petitioned then Bishop William K. Weigand for ordination to the priesthood. Bishop Weigand, in accord with the special provisions provided for such by the Holy See, requested permission to ordain Henry after proper preparation. The decision was granted last month.
In a news release to the media, Bishop Soto said he was grateful to the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “for their help in getting this permission – the first of its kind for our diocese. I look forward to having Jeff as a member of our presbyterate and I know my fellow priests feel the same.”
Under a special pastoral provision approved by the Vatican in 1980, former clergy who have become Catholic have been allowed to be ordained to the priesthood. According to Vatican rules, a priest ordained under the special provision can perform the same ministry as a celibate priest. He cannot be assigned as a pastor or parochial vicar, but he can assist in parish ministry as well as collaborate in other pastoral areas of the church.
Henry is currently dean of students at St. Patrick-St. Vincent High School in Vallejo and will continue in that service.
According to the news release from the diocese, Henry resigned as pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Fairfield in 2004 to become a Catholic. He had served as pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran for about 18 months, and had previously been pastor of a Lutheran church in West Virginia.
“During all of his time as a Lutheran minister however, he had been studying the early church fathers and for years wrestled with the question of conversion,” according to the news release.
Henry was received into the Catholic Church by Bishop Weigand during the Easter Vigil service at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in 2005 after completing the sacraments of initiation, according to the news release. Shortly after his conversion, he applied for the priesthood with Bishop Weigand’s encouragement, and was provisionally accepted for priesthood studies.
While waiting for his petition to be approved by the Vatican, he took up a three-year reading course of studies in theology, under the direction of Father Fred Cwiekowski, a member of the faculty at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park.
Henry has been a member of St. Joseph Parish in Vacaville, where he will be ordained to the transitional diaconate by Bishop Soto on Jan. 25 during a 10 a.m. Mass. Henry has served as a team member with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults at the parish and as the leader of a Bible study group.
Henry said two priests in the diocese have been major influences in his journey to Catholicism. Father Stephen Borlang, pastor of St. Vincent Ferrer Parish in Vallejo, co-directed an ecumenical study group with him while he was still a Lutheran minister. Abbot Paul Mark Schwan of the Abbey of New Clairvaux in Vina (Cisterican Order of the Strict Observance – Trappist) has been his spiritual director since before he converted to Catholicism.