ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) – For Father Stephen Hilgendorf, it was a long journey from his role as a priest in the Anglican tradition.
This included a desire to be in full fellowship with the Catholic Church that was so strong that he was ready to give up the ministry altogether.
But God had other plans for him. He and his family were received into the Catholic Church, then a few years later he was accepted to become a Catholic priest.
After studying, working, and ministering in the Twin Cities for the past six years, he was ordained a Houston-based Personal Ordinariate priest of the Chair of St. Peter on June 29. His next posting will be in Omaha, Nebraska.
The ordinariate is equivalent to a diocese for Roman Catholics who have been brought up in the Anglican tradition. Created by the Vatican on January 1, 2012, it serves Catholic parishes and communities in the United States and Canada.
“I had to face the thought, ‘I may never be a priest again,’” Father Hilgendorf, 33, said after his ordination. “After I became a Catholic, I found it very difficult to go to mass. I no longer knew who I was.
When he left the Anglican tradition and was received into the Catholic Church in August 2017, along with his wife, Hannah, 30, he also stepped down from his two-year role as rector of St. Dunstan in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. He didn’t have a job.
His wife was looking after their children, who are now 6, 4 and 2 years old. The couple have a fourth child on the way.
Father Hilgendorf immediately applied to become a Catholic priest in the ordinariate, which is fully Catholic but retains elements of Anglican heritage in his celebration of Mass and his ministries.
Former Anglican priests can apply to become Catholic priests, but the process takes time and special permission from the Pope.
Years of study and service led him to the Catholic Church, said Father Hilgendorf, who grew up in the Ohio, Cleveland area. He and his wife believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, a doctrine that can change among Anglican congregations, he said.
In addition, even as he ministered to the people in St. Dunstan, he turned to Catholic theology and morals found in the early Church Fathers, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the Magisterium.
“I realized that I was more Catholic than I thought I was, especially on moral issues,” Father Hilgendorf told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. “These are the touchstones as I navigated the difficult waters of morality and theology. “
For over a year, Father Hilgendorf heard little beyond the polite acknowledgment of his candidacy for the ordinariate to become a Catholic priest.
Members of St. Dunstan helped with a generous allowance to assist the family in their transition, and members of their Catholic ward, Holy Family in St. Louis Park, were aware of their plight.
“Sometimes a parishioner would ask, ‘How are you?’ and put an envelope with cash or a check in my hand, ”said Father Hilgendorf. “An elderly man said, ‘Here for you and the children at Christmas.’ It was about $ 100 in cash.
After several months without work, Father Hilgendorf learned through members of the Knights of Columbus the possibility of painting for a small business run by a Catholic and his father.
Without any experience as a painter, he was hired in October, his boss acknowledging that he could learn on the job and that he had to take care of his wife and children.
“It was very stressful,” said Father Hilgendorf. “At the same time, I was thinking about becoming a Catholic two or three years before I did. When the time was right, God provided peace. He said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll provide it.’ “
About nine months of painting and several months of part-time work as a sacristan at Good Shepherd Parish in Golden Valley, Minnesota came to an end in August 2018, when Father Hilgendorf was hired full-time as director of training. of faith at St. Paul’s Cathedral. in Saint-Paul.
He was accepted into priestly formation for the ordinariate in 2019, and he studied at Saint Paul Seminary while working at the cathedral.
Father John Ubel, rector of the cathedral, and others at the cathedral were generous in providing him with the flexibility he needed to study, Father Hilgendorf said. Sometimes he would fly to Houston for weeklong training periods with the Ordinariate. Other times he was at Saint Paul’s seminary.
After his ordination, Father Hilgendorf returned to the cathedral on July 4 to celebrate midday mass. His assignments in Omaha will be part-time as Parish Administrator of Saint Barnabas Parish of the Ordinariate and part-time in the Archdiocese of Christ the King Parish of Omaha.