Married Father Of Three To Become Catholic Priest | News
ALMOND, NY - "You'd better call me Deacon until Saturday," said John Cornelius with a laugh, during an interview Wednesday at the Rectory of St. Brendan Church in this small, Allegany County community, where he has served as a pastoral associate.
On Saturday in a ceremony in nearby Wellsville, Cornelius, 64, will become a Catholic priest when Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo ordains him.
What sets Cornelius' ordination apart, however, is that he is entering the priesthood as a married man, with three grown daughters.
For 20 years, Cornelius had been an Episcopal priest, but left the church two years ago...although he feels in a greater sense that the church left him.
"I would say that's absolutely true," he told WGRZ-TV, when recalling some of the changes which he found too radical for his taste.
"No one thing really drove me out of the church...there was the ordination of the homosexual priest in New England, ...then it came time for women's ordination...It may have been okay for other people, but it was just too much for me."
Cornelius and his wife of 33 years, Sharyl, decided to become Catholics instead.
"I needed someplace where there was order," he said.
Though he loved being a Catholic, he missed being a priest.
"It was a very difficult couple of years... not being able to celebrate mass, which is a very important part of my life, was very tough for me."
His opportunity to do so again came one year ago, When Pope Benedict XVI issued an order that allows married former priests from the Episcopal and Anglican religions to become Catholic priests.
"When they did that, I just jumped," said Cornelius, who wasted no time in applying.
"It wasn't easy. We had one dossier that went to Rome where they did research on us, and I had to go see the shrink, the psychologist, and other people. But even that only determined that you didn't have really bad things in your background that prevents you from being a priest...and then there was 14 weeks of intense instruction over the internet which was taught by St. Mary's Seminary in Houston, Texas."
Following his ordination, Cornelius will lead the Fellowship of Saint Alban in Henrietta (Diocese of Rochester), a small community of former Anglicans who have joined the Catholic Church. When available, he will also assist with ministry at parishes in Allegany County.
Changing churches is nothing new to Cornelius, who before becoming an Episcopal priest had also practiced many other faiths.
"I started out as a fundamentalist Baptist. We were so conservative we thought the Southern Baptists would be going to hell," he laughed. "I've been a Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist...messed around with Bahá'í, Harikrishna...I was almost an Anarchist in college...so it's been a search, and it's really been a search for order."
He is also confident that search will end with Catholicism.
When asked if someone like himself, who has practiced so many faiths, might not be expected to move on to yet another, he replied, "No, because I do not believe the Roman Catholic Church will change that much...and if it does, by then I'll be dead and gone to whatever reward I get. Let's face it, in the Roman Catholic Church it takes 200 years to change a light bulb."
While the vows of the priesthood are many, there is one, which might be a conundrum for a priest who has already been-and still is-married.
The vow of celibacy.
"We don't have to take that particular vow," explained Cornelius, noting an exception from the Pope for former Episcopal priests who are already married.
However, he and his wife have decided celibacy will become a part of their married life nonetheless.
"We have decided to do that voluntarily," Cornelius said. "I have always had friends that are Roman Catholic priests and I appreciate what they've given up to serve god and the priesthood. You're probably the first people outside of the Catholic Church that I've told this to, but I have such appreciation and affection for these guys, that it's just part of my own spirituality to do this...out of respect for them really."
Cornelius will be in some rare company when his ordination at Immaculate Conception Church in Wellsville is complete.
Of the more than 100 former Anglican and Episcopal priests who have applied to become Catholic Priests, he will be among the first 30 in the nation to be ordained and the first in Western New York.
Click on the video player to watch our story from Two On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Chief Photojournalist Andy DeSantis. Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveMcKinley2