The Catholic priest with 9 children

The Catholic priest with 9 children December 16, 2011

Last spring, I posted an item about an Anglican priest’s leap of faith — joining the Catholic Church and having no job prospects.  A UK paper this weekend has an update:

Father Ian Hellyer is a Roman Catholic priest – but far from being celibate, he’s a father. Not just to a couple of children, either: in true Roman Catholic fashion, Father Ian has lots of them – nine, in fact, ranging from 18-year-old Clare to seven-month-old Rose – taking in Teresa (17), Angela (15), Martha (11), John (nine), Luke (seven), Simeon (four) and Gregory (two) in between.

Ian (45) hasn’t done all this on his own, naturally: his wife Margaret (43) has been heavily involved too. And yes, he agrees genially over a cup of tea at his cluttered family home, his lifestyle does surprise a lot of people. Just the other day he was wheeling Rose’s buggy into a church before a service, clerical collar visible, when a whole row of elderly Catholic ladies turned to stare at him. “They had this mixture of delight and horror on their faces – delight at the baby, and horror that she belonged to me,” he says.

This time last year, Ian was an Anglican priest, and he and Margaret and their children lived in a large Victorian vicarage in Devon. The house, and the life, seemed to have been made for them: they had six bedrooms and two staircases. There was a huge garden and plenty of friends for the children in the surrounding villages.

It all seemed rosy, but it wasn’t: because deep inside, Ian – who was ordained into the Anglican priesthood in 1995 – was having doubts about whether he was in the right church. “I felt like a fish out of water,” he explains.

The article goes on to explain how Hellyer converted this past Easter — and the impact that had on his family:

Ian and Margaret worried about the effect on their children. “They loved the vicarage, they had friends nearby, and suddenly there was all this uncertainty,” says Margaret. “Where would we live? What would we live on? It was very unsettling for them.”…

…By last spring Ian had converted and was studying for the Catholic priesthood, travelling to London one day a week to study at Allen Hall seminary in Chelsea. But one day in May, he couldn’t make it. “I had to phone and explain that my wife had gone into labour,” he says. “I don’t think there can have been many calls like that to a Catholic seminary through the years!”

A few weeks later, with newborn Rose joining all the other Hellyers for the occasion, Ian was ordained – and told that a job had been found for him as chaplain at the University of Plymouth. What is more, the bishop gave him the happy news that a five-bedroom house beside a church in central Plymouth was being made available – and that they could move in right away.

Read it all. God bless him.

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20 responses to “The Catholic priest with 9 children”

  1. I don’t get it. If he was an Anglican priest, then he was never a priest in a true sense, so why does converting to Catholicism automatically procure him a spot in the clergy?

    If we believe– as we’re supposed to– that only Catholics have the true sacraments, then why isn’t he joining the True Church as a lay member? An Anglican priest is no more a Catholic priest than an Anglican layman.

    I’m genuinely curious. I’m sedevacantist and am not always up to date with Rome.

  2. Hi, Sarah…

    I’m not an expert, but I think this methodology follows closely on that followed by the “Pastoral Provision,” by which married clergy from other Christian faiths can, under certain circumstances, become Catholic priests.

    Typically, they make a profession of faith, are confirmed, take additional studies and are then ordained transitional deacons. After that — sometimes very soon after, often just a matter of days — they are ordained priests.

    There’s a good overview of how the Pastoral Provision works at this link. I know the ordinariate established for Anglicans operates differently, but I think the basic steps for ordination are roughly the same. There’s more about that here.

    Dcn. G.

  3. The Apollo Creed of married priests is not going to beat down the Rocky of unmarried clergy. we are in the 14th round maybe.

  4. Sarah:

    Some variation of this protocol has been in place for a number of years. Back in the early 1970’s (sorry, I do not have a date), Pope Paul VI allowed the first exceptions here when four married Lutheran clergy were accepted into the Catholic Church and after some time in formation and preparation were ordained as Roman Catholic priests.

    That continued to happen in isolated cases — all of which were individually approved by the respective popes.

    In October 2007, I was present when a group of about 60 mixed Lutheran and Roman Catholic clergy and lay leaders met in the Vatican for over an hour with the Secretary of the Pontifical Council on Promoting Christian Union — Irish Bishop Brian Farrell. One of the questions then was how soon a formal articulation process would be created so that married Lutheran pastors could — upon being accepted as Roman Catholics — become Roman Catholic priests.

    As I have talked to colleagues of both side of that 2007 discussion over the past four years, all of us are genuinely surprised that the connections with Anglicanism happened first.

    To answer your specific questions:

    –Just because you are a Lutheran pastor or an Anglican priest, does not mean that when you convert to Roman Catholicism, your movement to Roman Catholic priesthood is automatic. It is not. They are required to participate in a formation program and have to be accepted by a Bishop as a member of the secular clergy of his diocese.

    –As hard as I try, I cannot get a handle on how many have traveled this extraordinary path. One Midwestern Bishop, within the homily at the ordination of a Lutheran Pastor who went through all the loops, placed the total count at 500 but that seems a bit high.

  5. I guess what I meant is, what are the justifications under which that happens? Again, an Anglican priest is in a true sense, a layman.

    It makes me very uncomfortable. For one thing, as in the case of the old women talke about in the article, it might cause scandal for some. In fact, I can vouch for this myself. For me, a traditionalist, this is one more nail in the coffin. Trust me, I circulate through periods of doubt about whether or not my position is the correct one, but then I read something like this. Not that things like this make up the body of my belief system, but they certainly set in motion my “what is wrong in the conciliar church and why I’m glad to have nothing to do with it” train of thought.

    Also, I see it as a slippery slope of people saying, “Well, these formerly-Anglican priests do not practice celibacy and they’re doing just fine, so why should any of us practice it?”

    Maybe nothing like that is happening now, but I’m sure there are some seminarians or discerning men out there wondering that same thing, and it seems like just a matter of time before that gets put on the table as an option. That would be tragic as a priest’s independence from the responsibilities of family life is crucial to good pastoral work.

    There’s some quote I saw on a priest’s ordination invitation that said something along the lines of, “a priest belongs to every family and yet belongs to no one.” An unmarried priest can leave in the middle of the night and not feel distracted by thinking of his colicky wife and baby at home. A priest can uproot and move quickly if a new mission/parish needs him. He will feel less pressured to shill parishioners for money if he doesn’t have a family to feed. He won’t have personal interest in parish family disputes.

    I’m sure there are more theological reasons why married priests are a bad idea– like the lack of that important aspect of sexual self-denial that can strengthen the will and provide you with graces– but these are just the practical reasons I can think of off the top of my head. Maybe these issues aren’t coming up for THIS priest, but once the conversation happens that asks why ALL priests can’t be married, as I believe it will, I think all this will ultimately have led to more trouble than it should have just to ordain a lay man who had already picked his vocation as a father.

    But thank you both, Deacon Greg and Deacon Norb, for responding so informatively. 🙂

  6. I’m not comfortable with the Anglican fast tracking. It may be a worthwhile thing but we just wont know until decades have passed. Novelty chasing hasn’t done the Church much good.

  7. Thank YOU, Sarah, for your valuable perspective.

    I’m sure you know that celibacy is a discipline, not a dogma, and that the deposit of faith doesn’t rise or fall on whether priests are married. Indeed, the Oriental churches and the Orthodox have a rich history of married clergy, and they have found a way to make it work. It remains to be seen how the Holy Spirit will sort all this out. But He will! 🙂

    Dcn. G.

  8. You make good points Sarah but perhaps another way to look at it is that there will be times and situations, when a husband and father of nine will have a bit of wisdom even beyond what God offers to his celibate priests.

    To me, it speaks of even greater authenticity, that God always provides to us, through His church, what we need, and puts it where and when we need it most.

    I agree that it would probably not be good if the “norm” in Roman Catholicism was married priests with big families. On the other hand, in the age of the destruction of family and marriage, what could be a finer witness than the occassional devout Catholic Priest living along side of us with the same struggles of marriage and family?

  9. I think this goes back to the early missions of the Church and the way the Church would often recruit priests: they would find those who were the priestly equivalent from the region and make them priests; and even in the West, this included married men. In this way, it is a very traditional practice.

  10. I’m afraid this is just one more divisive issue being introduced into the RCC at a time when we need to be drawing together. The laity (as well as the clergy) are going to have opinions about who are the ‘real’ priests and which churches they will or will not attend. Big mistake I think. I think the converts should remain deacons.

  11. First: I think our modern laity have not quite caught on that deacons — whether married or celibate — are clergy and as are priests. They are clergy regardless whether they are married or celibate. Like Deacon Greg says, celibacy of clergy in Roman Catholicism is not “Divine Law” but “Church Law.” That was decided at that very famous sixteenth century Council of Trent so many “sede-vacantists” so admire.

    Now, speaking as a married deacon, our modern church also has a “PW/PK — Preacher’s Wife/ Preacher’s Kids” problem (as was demonstrated in the original posting). Our Protestant “Separated Brethren” know all about that difficulty. IF you are a married clergy-person (whether Catholic or not), your family lives in a glass fish-bowl. You are criticized fiercely if you and your family do not live up to some laypersons preconceived idea of an exemplary life. It is very difficult to raise your family normally in cases like that.

    Finally. Those pre-conceived stereotypes we all carry die hard. In that previous group I mentioned that met with Bishop Farrell were two Lutheran women who were pastors in their own denominations and wore clerical collars while they were in Rome. That REALLY caused some “double-takes” by the Swiss Guard as we proceeded to our special seats on the podium for the Wednesday Papal audience!

  12. I do not agree with married priests. Another recently converted Catholic priest talks about cutting back on his responsibilities due to lack of time – and I am confident the family is part of the reason. So the priest who is strolling over to Mass with his daughter – obviously he couldn’t have had quiet prayer time, nor be present for the parshioners… as he is tending to the family.
    Why don’t we quit recruiting for priests and allow everyone to get married then apply for priesthood? ANd who is supporting the families – food, school tuitions, cars??? Looks like the priesthood is portrayed as a job.

  13. IMO, the Church could use more married priests. Glad the Church welcomed Father Ian and his entire really large family into the fold!

  14. I cannot believe all the negativity being voiced. I could say so much against the positions of Sarah the Sedevecantist, Daisy the uncomfortable, Oregon Catholic and Dante the (I’m presuming) ultra-conservatives, but i won’t. It doesn’t matter to them that they are voicing opinions against the Holy Father the Pope, the Bishop of Rome and the history of the Church. These are not new things. Just because you were never taught about them do not think it is done lightly or in ignorance by the Church and especially Pope Benedict XVI the Magnificent!

  15. Matthew:

    Isn’t that what makes this BLOG so fascinating ? Yes, all those folks exist and their comments are welcomed PROVIDING they follow Deacon Greg’s rules. AND there have been commentators who have been banned because they refused to follow the rules. But — so far — none of the ones you listed have been banned.


  16. Dante, IF I am correct (and if not, I’m sure Deacon Kandra or someone else will correct me) there was a time that priests in the Church were allowed to be married. Far past to be sure. And as I’m sure you are aware there are branches of the Church that still allow married priests. A married priest just has more family—his biological family and his church family.

  17. Dante:

    I’ll take up “pagansister’s” challenge below.

    –For the first centuries of the existence of Christianity, married clergy were the norm. In fact, modern historians, noting that insight, insist that the first 33 of the men known as “Bishops of Rome” (who we now call Popes) were not only married but have also been declared Saints!

    –That part of Catholic clergy that are called “secular” are those connected to a local bishop and a diocese and they serve a local congregation of everyday lay Christians. Secular clergy were not forced into universally-mandated clerical celibacy until around AD 1070.

    –Celibacy was originally only a part of monastic life. Saint Anthony of Egypt (around AD251 – around AD331) is generally considered the first monastic leader although there were celibate hermits before then (remember St. John the Baptist).

    –As the monastery system grew all through the Middle Ages, more and more local bishops were being consecrated from the ranks of celibate monks even though they did supervise married secular priests and deacons. That led to more and more of them mandating in their own local dioceses that priests had to be celibate.

    –Then, as I mentioned in another blog-stream, it was the Council of Trent (mid 1500’s) that took up this issue officially. They decided, and had it published as one of its rulings, that clerical celibacy was “Church Law” and not “Divine Law.” What they were saying is that since this issue is “Church Law,” celibacy could be changed in future generations because the Lord High God had not mandated it at all.

    –Honestly, they had little choice here. They knew the historical reality of the first 1,000 years of Catholic Christianity far better than we do. They also realized, far better than a lot of the commentators here on this blog, that Eastern Christianity NEVER lost the charism of married clergy — be they deacons or priests.

  18. Thank you Deacon Norb for that brief but very clear history. I knew someone would certainly know more about the specifics.

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