From Iowa family man to Catholic priest

From Iowa family man to Catholic priest January 18, 2013

And, along the way, he was also a permanent deacon.

Details, from the Gazette:

The Rev. Steve Witt has been a husband and a father.

Now he’s a father, as in black shirt and white collar.

Newly ordained in the Davenport Diocese of the Catholic Church, Witt’s experiences with marriage, parenting and losing a spouse are unusual in a field where most priests choose the celibate vocation earlier in life.

“I’ve been around the block a lot,” said Witt, 64.

While “second-career” priests are a small portion of the 39,000 Catholic priests serving in the United States in 2012, they have a higher retention rate than younger priests. This is important in a nation where the number of priests has declined 33 percent since 1965 and 9 percent since 2005.

Witt serves at St. Mary’s Catholic Church and the Newman Catholic Student Center, both in Iowa City, where his oldest daughter, Courtney Vassiliades, lives with her family. Witt has two other children and three grandchildren.

Witt considered not having that family.

As one of nine children in a Catholic family from Clinton, Witt enrolled in the undergraduate seminary at St. Ambrose University when he was 18. But three years into his priest preparation, Witt dropped out of seminary and completed just his undergraduate degree.

“I realized that I couldn’t handle the celibate lifestyle,” Witt said with a grin. “I was attracted to girls too much.”

Witt met his wife, Patti, on a blind date. He was running the Governor’s Youth Opportunity Program for disadvantaged youths in Davenport and Patti was a nurse. They married six months later, in 1974.

Witt earned his master’s degree in public administration from the University of Iowa before running his father’s sheet metal contracting business in Clinton. The family moved in 1985 to Grinnell, where Witt managed the United McGill Corporation.

He became a permanent deacon in 1982, which allowed him to serve the church, hold down another job and still have a family.

But in 2001, Patti Witt died in her sleep.

“We think she just stopped breathing,” Witt said. “She had sleep apnea, but the autopsy didn’t really indicate what caused her death.”

Witt felt like he was slugged in the gut with a baseball bat. He walked around in a fog for three years before Vassiliades convinced him to seek counseling.

Finding a new path

In 2008, Witt decided he was ready to give the priesthood another try.

Read what happened. 

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!