The divorced Protestant who became one of California’s most popular priests

A California paper recently took a long look at one of the region’s most colorful and popular priests in the Diocese of San Bernardino:

When the Rev. Howard Lincoln addresses the 6,000-plus faithful who will attend Masses at Sacred Heart Church this morning, the popular and charismatic Catholic priest will share a message that reflects the hope that Easter brings.

But the theme of Lincoln’s homilies is not always easy to anticipate.

On a recent Sunday, he walked through the standing-room-only sanctuary preaching about the myriad gifts that God gave each of them to make humans different from his other creations.

In an effort to protect “the sacredness of human life,” Lincoln concluded his sermon by encouraging the captivated crowd to sign two ballot initiative petitions available on their way out of the church.

“The Catholic Church teaches that our participation in the political process is a moral obligation,” he said later.

“Responsible citizenship is a virtue. Just to kind of shrug cynically and walk away is not a proper response.”

During nearly 11 years under Lincoln’s leadership, Sacred Heart has prospered into one of the region’s most high-profile and influential congregations.

The parish has donated millions of dollars to stock food banks, provide medical care to migrant families and to ensure that poor schools had books.

Amid this social outreach — made possible by the deep pockets of some of its parishioners — Lincoln has also worked to establish Sacred Heart as a politically involved church that encourages engagement in local and national issues.

Whether through the influence of those prominent parishioners or through his own connections — Lincoln won’t say — Sacred Heart has also managed to snag A-list political celebrities, former President George W. Bush and presidential contender Rick Santorum, to attend the parish’s fundraising galas.

(Just as impressive, he landed legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully to headline this year’s event).

“We just got very, very lucky,” Lincoln said in a recent interview…

…An engaging and witty speaker, Lincoln appeals even to those faithful who may not be entirely comfortable with his emphasis on civic and political action.

Thanks mainly to Lincoln, Sacred Heart’s budget has quadrupled over the past decade, allowing the school and church to operate on $8.7 million a year.

During the season, an estimated 10,000 people flock to the church at the corner of Fred Waring Drive and Deep Canyon Road. Snowbirds sometimes line up 90 minutes before Mass to make sure they get a good seat.

The church has become so popular that police often have to help direct traffic.

Fr. Lincoln’s own story may surprise a few people, too:

Lincoln, 65, is an anomaly among Roman Catholic clergy.

He was raised as a Protestant in Washington state and attended the Trinity Episcopal School of Ministry.

He was married and later divorced. And he worked in a variety of jobs, including time at a bank and an Irish pub, that provide a deep well of life lessons that he weaves into homilies and the Bible classes he teaches.

Twenty-one years ago, after converting to Catholicism and attending a Catholic seminary, he was ordained a priest.

His life experience has allowed Lincoln to relate to the people in the pews and in his modest office, where he works behind a plain, worn desk that’s missing a drawer.

Read it all.


  1. Deacon Jim says:

    When I lived in Palm Desert, I attended Sacred Heart. It’s a wonderful parish filled with wonderful people. I never had the opportunity to meet Fr. Lincoln, but kudos to him for inspiring his flock. I sometimes think we need more charism in our clergy; yet it’s a fine line. Our clergy need to remain men of God, but it is clear that personable clergy are better received. At the same time, we need to avoid the rock-star syndrom (ala Rev. Alberto Cutié from Miami who let ‘celebrity’ get the better of him). I could deal with the “grumpy old men” clergy better if they were more loyal to the Magesterium, yet that is rarely the case. The grumpy old clergy are also the ones “making it up” and doing things their own way — and we can do without that.

    Oh, what a conundrum. :-)

  2. Sounds a little too Hollywood. Charisma makes me nervous. I personally don’t go to Mass for the “show”. But what do I know? Maybe he’ll bring in converts. Father Corapi sure opened my eyes to the faith notwithstanding his issues. Dunno.

  3. midwestlady says:

    Catholics have an interesting relationship with clergy, on average. Perhaps it’s simply because of the exalted place that clergy hold now post-Vatican II, but it’s odd anyway, and kind of counter-productive, if you want to know the truth.

    When a priest is charismatic or effective, it sways the people so much that they keep having to be reminded that the Gospel message is the message that they should be attending to. Celebrity is everything for some people – many people – and it appears that this is also the case inside the Church and that’s too bad. Celebrity is not the point, however, and effective priests should be an asset to us, not a drawback. This is perhaps part of the reason that many Catholics almost prefer the ineffective or muted approach.

    On the other hand, added to this effect, is another scenario–where the less effective priest with a “soft” message is preferred because he’s easier to follow. He doesn’t ask much and settles for even less than he asks for. Some Catholics aren’t in the market for a rigorous, or even effective, presentation.

  4. Spelling poke — a “divorcee” is a woman who is divorced (it’s transliterated from French, and often spelled in the French way, divorcée). So it would be Fr. Lincoln’s ex-wife who would be the divorcee, not Fr. Lincoln. As far as I know English has no one-word term for a divorced man.

    (Isn’t English fun and quirky?)

  5. Yes, this made me smile – for a second there I thought the Church had changed the rules on women priests without me noticing. A Protestant divorcée priest would sure create a stir. I think we can blame the French for this quirk!

  6. The last thing the mass should be used for is to process people from the communion line to card tables signing ballot initiatives. The Church should bring justice within the church in its treatment of women, married clergy, etc. before telling the rest of socirty that the catholics have all the answers for them.

  7. midwestlady says:

    I’m a woman, Peter, and I can tell you that I have no idea what you’re talking about. The Church requires that marriages only be between a man and a woman, once contracted they last til death, and the children born within are not to be used against the woman politically and economically, with the death of the child used as a threat. This is respect of the most real, human and enduring kind. Moreover, the greatest saint the world has ever seen, the Blessed Virgin Mary, was a woman.
    Nowhere on earth–in any other religion or any other sort of government–will you see this much respect for women. Men may not realize it, but we do.

  8. Manny Gonzales says:

    Fr. Lincoln obviously has a special charismatic gift that results in the uplifting of his congregation. To the Apostles Jesus said : ” I will ask the Father and He will give you another Paraclet….. the spirit of Truth….. whom the WORLD CANNOT ACCEPT. (1 Pt. 5;10-11 ) ALL charisms, like Graces are gifts from God. The Second Vatican Council stated in the DOGMATIC CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH, Lumen Gentium says: ” It is not only through the Sacraments and administration of the Church that the Holy Spirit make the people holy….. and enriches them , He ( Holy Spirit) distributes special graces/gifts for the renewaL and building up of the Church. THEY ARE TO BE RECEIVED WITH THNKSGIVING since they are useful for the needs of the Church. I support wholeheartedly what he doing in his parish.

  9. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    Okay, okay…fixed it. Thanks :-)

  10. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    “The exalted place that clergy hold now post-Vatican II”…

    Are you being ironic?

    As someone who is a member of the clergy, I can tell you that ain’t true. I know priests who don’t like to wear collars in public because they don’t want to be spit on. Many Catholics view clergy and the hierarchy with skepticism, if not suspicion. As a bishop told my class before ordination: “Don’t fool yourselves if you think people will look up to you after you’re ordained, or if you think becoming clergy will win you respect. That doesn’t happen anymore.”

    Dcn. G.

  11. Decon Greg..
    I’m sorry but you’re a deacon and you say priests don’t wear the collar because they don’t want to be spit on? I’m shocked you actually wrote that, I really hope that you’re a child or not who you say you are. Jesus Christ was beaten, spit on, given a crown of thorns, and hung on a piece of wood with nails in his hands and feet to die? Are you and these priests you speak of better than him? They are representation of Christ and this is EXACTLY what this person meant when they made that comment you have in your post. How you can make that comment is just shocking to me, just terrible and AIN’T true? Slang? I guess priests shouldn’t stand up for who they are, VICARS of Christ and show others their strength in light of this messed up world and follow in the steps of their master. If this really is a deacon SHAME ON YOU.

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