Vatican names Houston as hub for first U.S. Ordinariate

January 10, 2012

HOUSTON — Pope Benedict XVI announced Jan. 1 the creation of an ordinariate — similar to a diocese, but national in scope — for Anglican groups and clergy across the United States who wish to become Catholic. The ordinariate will be based in Houston. The Pope also named Father Jeffrey Steenson, a Catholic priest serving in Houston since 2009, to lead the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. 

Married and the father of three children, Father Steenson was an Episcopal bishop before becoming Catholic in 2007. He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in 2009, the same year he came to Houston to teach patristics (the study of the Church fathers) at St. Mary’s Seminary.

“What propels a person to leave his or her ecclesial home and make this journey into the Catholic Church is a desire to be in full communion with everything that the Catholic Church teaches is true,” Father Steenson said at a press conference in Houston, Jan. 2. “One of those things is to be in communion with the Pope. It is that desire to connect with that apostolic rock that will make a person make sacrifices.”

Father Steenson will be installed as the ordinary on Feb. 12 in Houston.

“He is a wise and prudent administrator who will bring a vibrant intellect and humility to his role as head of the ordinariate,” Daniel Cardinal DiNardo said at the press conference at Our Lady of Walsingham Catholic Church, which will be the principal church for the new ordinariate. 

“On behalf of the U.S. bishops, I pledge our personal support for the success of this ordinariate,” Cardinal DiNardo said. “Today’s announcement is the culmination of much prayer and discernment of those who have longed for reconciliation with the Catholic Church.”

The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter is the first structure of its kind in the U.S. and the second in the world. The other ordinariate is Our Lady of Walsingham, which was established in 2011 to serve England and Wales. 

The ordinariates are the result of repeated appeals from Anglican groups to become Catholic as groups. In November 2009, Pope Benedict XVI issued an apostolic constitution, “Anglicanorum coetibus,” which authorized the ordinariates.

The U.S. ordinariate will include parishes, groups and individuals of Anglican heritage. Parishes will be fully Roman Catholic, while retaining elements of the Anglican tradition in terms of music, liturgy, structure and prayers. 

“Particularly in the area of worship and liturgy, Anglicans have a goodly heritage and the Catholic Church has always understood and appreciated that Anglican heritage,” Father Steenson said. “We hope the personal ordinariate can bring this Anglican literary culture into the life of the Church.”
Cardinal DiNardo said the diversity of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston — where Mass is celebrated in 14 languages weekly — is multiplied by the ordinariate and its traditions, which should enhance the Church. 

“This is going to be good for us all as Roman Catholics. I hope the diversity of cultures we already have in our Catholic Church will be of help and interest to those Anglicans who come in full communion. I think it is a win-win situation,” Cardinal DiNardo said.

Bishop Kevin Vann of the Diocese of Fort Worth, who also spoke at the press conference, added, “I’ve had a lot of conversations with bishops and their perspective is the same: it is a further enrichment of the whole Body of Christ ... The ordinariate here is another juridical reality that brings its history, its patrimony and way of worship and prayer to the whole Body of Christ in communion with the See of Peter.”

St. Mary’s Seminary
Cardinal DiNardo and Father Steenson said Houston was selected as the hub for the ordinariate in part because of St. Mary’s Seminary. Father Steenson was a key player in the establishment of a formation program for Anglican priests applying for the Catholic priesthood at the seminary in Houston. St. Mary’s has developed and the Vatican has approved a nine-month program of priestly formation for Anglican clergy who wish to become Catholic priests. 

More than 100 former Anglican priests have applied to become Catholic priests for the U.S. ordinariate. To date, 47 have been accepted for the second stage of a multi-stage process to become Catholic priests. Most of them will begin their formation at St. Mary’s Seminary at the end of January.

In addition to clergy, nearly 1,400 individuals from 22 communities have expressed interest in entering the ordinariate. Two former Episcopal parishes — St. Peter of the Rock in Fort Worth and St. Luke’s in Bladensburg, Md. — already converted in Fall 2011, with the intention of joining the ordinariate once it was established. 

“This is the culmination and the beginning of something new and exciting, and the ending of a lot of hard work, sacrifice and prayer on the part of many people,” said Cassandra D’Antoni, a parishioner at Our Lady of Walsingham for 10 years. 

Anglicanorum coetibus
In September 2010, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith appointed Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, as its delegate for the implementation of “Anglicanorum coetibus” in the U.S. He, along with Bishop Kevin Vann of Fort Worth and Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, Mass., were assisted by Father Scott Hurd, a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, and a former Anglican priest. Over the next year, they were contacted by clergy, groups and individuals nationwide, leading to the establishment of the new ordinariate.

Parishes will use the Book of Divine Worship, a Vatican-approved Catholic liturgical book that is based upon Anglican liturgies, with the prayers adapted to fully reflect Catholic belief. Both the Book of Divine Worship and the Roman Missal will be authorized for use in the ordinariate.
Bishop Vann was on the ad hoc committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for the implementation of “Anglicanorum coetibus” and is ecclesiastical advisor for the Pastoral Provision, which Pope John Paul II had created to permit former Anglican clergy who were married to become diocesan priests.

“I have been a member of the ‘Anglicanorum coetibus’ commission and am now the Ecclesiastical Delegate for the Pastoral Provision,” Bishop Vann said. “Both of these are distinct, yet complementary expressions in the contemporary life of the Church of the will of the Lord that ‘All may be one.’ ”

Groups seeking to be part of the ordinariate will undergo catechesis involving the use of the United States Catechism for Adults that was approved by the ad hoc committee on the implementation of “Anglicanorum coetibus.”

“It is like excavating a buried treasure that we have all known about and cherished with love and prayer,” said Clint Brand, a long-time parishioner at Our Lady of Walsingham. “To have the opportunity to share this with the local Church, with the nation and the world, and to feel that we are participating and acting with the wider Church and the Holy Father, is spectacular, and the evangelistic opportunities are absolutely incredible.”

Father Steenson
Ordained an Anglican priest in 1980, Father Steenson served Episcopal parishes in suburban Philadelphia and Fort Worth before becoming the chief pastoral assistant for the ordinary of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande (which serves New Mexico and far west Texas). In 2004, he was elected bishop of that diocese, based in Albuquerque, N.M. 

He grew up on a family farm in North Dakota and received his theological training at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School near Chicago, Harvard Divinity School and the University of Oxford, where he received his doctorate in theology.