Father of nine to be ordained Catholic priest

Deacon Ian Hellyer with his familyThere can’t be many Catholic priests who have a wife and nine children present at their ordination. But that’s exactly what awaits Deacon Ian Hellyer this week.

“I’m currently experiencing a funny combination of peace and excitement – with just an occasional moment of fear,” says the 44-year-old from Devon in England who, until a few months ago, was the Anglican vicar of five rural parishes.

“Over the past 10 years, though, I’d increasingly felt uncomfortable in the Church of England and found myself questioning more and more of its decisions and the direction it’s going in,” he told CNA.

Just before Lent this year, Hellyer made an announcement to his Anglican parishioners – he was leaving to become a Catholic.

“They were somewhat shocked, not least because my Anglican bishop wouldn’t let me warn people about the announcement beforehand.”

Hellyer is just one of 68 former Anglican clergymen being ordained this month into the Catholic Church’s Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. It was established by Pope Benedict XVI earlier this year as a “Roman home” for Anglican converts within the Catholic Church.

“I was amazed when the personal ordinariate was announced, amazed at its generosity and the respect it gave to the authentic traditions of Anglicans. It came out the blue. So I said to myself, ‘How could I not respond to that?’”

For Hellyer, though, that decision has meant more than simply a change of religion. It also means giving up a salary, a house and a pension plan. The sacrifice of the move is made all the more obvious by the size of his family: he has a 3-month-old baby girl, four other daughters and four sons.

“My wife Margaret has supported me all the way. She’s always said that if this is what God wants, then we’ll be looked after. It’s an attitude that’s amazed many of her friends. They tell her that they simply couldn’t be that brave. But Margaret is a great woman of great faith.”

Recent media reports in the U.K. have suggested that some English Catholic bishops are giving a rather grudging welcome to the Ordinariate clergy. Hellyer, however, says he’s only met with generosity from both his Catholic bishop and even his former Anglican superiors.

“The Church of England is allowing us to stay in our vicarage until the end of August. At present, we’re also looking at moving to a Catholic presbytery in Plymouth. Hopefully it can be adapted for our use – most presbyteries weren’t built with nine children in mind.”

Interestingly, all of Hellyer’s children are already being raised Catholic since his wife is a cradle Catholic.

“So, at domestic level I longed for unity because I longed for unity with my children, so that we could be around the same altar each Sunday,” says Hellyer whose family, in various ways, seemed to have helped him to make up his mind.

“I remember a few months ago over Sunday lunch, it had just dawned on my second daughter, Theresa, that there were some married priests in the Catholic Church. So she turned to me in an instant and said, ‘Well dad, why aren’t you doing that?’”

Pope Benedict’s visit to England last September also played its part in Hellyer’s story of conversion, in particularly the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman.

“Myself and Margaret went to the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman in Birmingham on the Sunday morning. We both really got a sense that the journey Blessed John Henry made was also the way that God was leading us.”

This Friday, June 17, Hellyer will be ordained a Catholic priest at Plymouth’s cathedral. He says he doesn’t know quite how he’ll be put to use after his ordination but mostly likely he’ll end up splitting his time between Ordinariate duties and helping the local diocese, perhaps in chaplaincy work at a school or hospital.

“I think that the new Ordinariate is very much part of the ‘new evangelization’ of the western world that Blessed Pope John Paul II outlined. And I think the Catholic Church is waking up to the need to reach out to people and re-evangelize in a way that’s most appropriate in our age.”

Despite the fact that he’s leaving, Hellyer is receiving good wishes from his former Anglican parishioners, many of whom “are watching what happens very closely.” That includes keeping an eye on Hellyer’s online blog where he’s been charting his conversion story.

“So our work is quite missionary, really,” he says.

“And it’s the mission that I find most exciting!”

(CNA/EWTN News)

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21 Responses to Father of nine to be ordained Catholic priest

  1. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Deacon Hellyer says that he experiences a “moment of fear”. Well I do too, and I fear that this cosying up to the Anglicans means that we will die the death of a thousand cuts of which this is the second; the first being playing guitars after/during the Mass. But then I never liked abandoning the Latin Mass either. Perhaps I am just a grumpy old chap. Pope Pius V on your right seems to be indicating he agrees with me, if his friendly wave and pained look in my direction is a guide.

    Mr., or Father (!) Hellyer ends by saying “it’s the mission I find the most exciting”. Harrumph! I’m so sorry, but this sounds to me like so much “managementspeak”.

  2. Mimi says:

    Sounds like “blue sky thinking” to me! 🙂

  3. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Yes Mimi, you cast a cynical eye on this kind of talk. Bless you.

    On these Anglicans – look – I wish them no harm and all the best, but I cannot forget that it was they who left the Church of Rome. They aligned themselves with a temporal king in preference to the Holy Father. Did they not also have the Destruction of the Monasteries at that time in Perfidious Albion?

    So yes, let’s kiss and make up, but they must do all the running and all the concessions. They are Prodigal sons who we should welcome home – but on our terms, (he thundered).

  4. The Raven says:

    Dear me, this is a terribly grouchy reaction to the good news that Anglicans are giving up their centuries of schism and seeking reunion with Peter! The Holy Father’s Ordinariate project is a thoroughly Catholic approach to ecumenism, rather than the Vichy ecumenism of ARCIC.

  5. joyfulpapist says:

    I cannot forget that it was they who left the Church of Rome. They aligned themselves with a temporal king in preference to the Holy Father. Did they not also have the Destruction of the Monasteries at that time in Perfidious Albion?

    Holding me, a cradle Anglican, responsible for the actions of my remote ancestors in the time of King Henry makes about as much sense as holding me, a Catholic convert, responsible for the more extreme actions of one of the Inquisitions.
    Welcome home, Deacon Hellyer.

  6. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Thank you Joyful Papist – your name is one which attracted me as bees to a honeypot, as did the noble name of Toadspittle – a name to roll round the tongue, so to speak.

    My father was a Catholic convert and you may, if you wish, hold him responsible for raising me; then I am hoist with my own petard, and I accede to your assertion. You know that “the sins of the fathers will be visited on the children”. This is why I am faulty goods – as are Anglicans.

    But you’re getting off lightly – look what happened to the Jews; 2000 years of wandering before they made the Palestinians pay a high price for the Holocaust. Anglicans are welcome home – but should they set conditions on that? I say no. They should humbly apologise and quietly come home to Mother. You know that Anglicans even now will not permit a Catholic to acceed to the throne of the UK ; after this, they wish to be forgiven? The headlines surrounding the Anglicans at the moment are horrific, with all the shenanigans about gender, sexuality and relationships. They have not behaved well in their absense from home.

  7. joyfulpapist says:

    Yes, I agree that those who come home need to come home indeed. But – as alluded to in the article above – the Ordinariate is not a concession to a demand, but a generous response to a need. The prodigals return. The Father rejoices. The elder son can stay on the sidelines or stop sulking and join the feast.

  8. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Thank you Joyful

    After reading your helpful post, I thought of the name of this fine website. Then I thought – and I’m sure you’ll advise me further- how many priests (since mediaeval times anyway ) do you know who had a wife and nine children? Just asking of course.

    As you say, a generous response to a need. But is it Catholicism without compromise? Dunno, myself.

  9. joyfulpapist says:

    Over twenty Eastern Rite Catholic Churches have married clergy. Their priests are fully Catholic and fully married.

    I understand that the marriage must take place before ordination. Those who are ordained single must stay single. And only celibate men can be consecrated as bishops.

    And, of course, the Ordinariate priests are in a separate rite, so akin to the Eastern Rite churches, in that way.

    Do I want to see the celibacy requirements in the Western branch of the church done away with wholesale? No, I don’t, not just for the clear symbolic reasons, but also for a whole heap of practical reasons based in part on my experience growing up Anglican.

  10. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Sorry, Joyful, …..looks like a bit of ducking, diving and body swerving here, if I may use some footie metaphors for ‘compromise’.

    Yet I sigh for myself, knowing I am out of step with the modern appeasers. If I may coin a phrase from Seamus Heaney, I am in ” a torchlight procession of one”.

    Seemingly.

  11. Willow8 says:

    Oh, common, Wall Eyed Mr. Whippy, you grumpy ol’, duck. Give ’em a hug and let’s be done with it. You know you want to! 🙂

  12. allotmentgirl says:

    I was studying Galatians recently when Paul describes the “acts of the flesh.” Among other things he warns against hatred, discord, fits of rage and creating factions.

    The fruits of the Spirit however are love, joy peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self control.

    Can’t think why this reminded me of that reading.

    Btw “mission” is the word used by lots of Christians to mean “making disciples” as in Jesus’ commission at the end of Matthew. It isn’t management speak.

  13. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Can’t think why vinegar and faction-making came into my mind . But I can heartily recommend the fruits of the spirit to you.

    Never did rate flesh deniers like Paul, though. Christ didn’t either, come to think of it.

  14. manus says:

    Is this an illustration of Cafeteria Catholicism – being sniffy about vegetarians?

  15. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Thank you Willow.

    I am indeed a grumpy old duck. Quack.

    You want to hug (a very Anglican thing to do) the very people who refuse to let a Catholic inherit the throne of the UK.. That’s you and me kicked into touch isn’t it? Under the Discrimination Act, shouldn’t happen. Illegal innit?

    But we know the Crown is a risible institution, so I jest a little. The real point is the Angs are not repentant. They have also encouraged the practice of playing guitars during the Mass.

    But I’ll concede this; I’d happily hug some of the very good looking women in their ranks.

    There’ll be tears……

  16. The Raven says:

    I suspect that Mr Whippy has spent the last year sharing a cave with Elvis and Osama: the Anglicans that are converting to the True Faith as part of the Holy Father’s Ordinariate plan have merely suffered from a bad case of Anglican ecclesiology, not heresy or any of the other afflictions that can infest protestant groups. These Anglicans would be well placed to teach many Catholics that the true place of the guitar in the liturgy is in the fire-grate.

  17. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Thanks Raven

    I’m pleased you share my emotions about guitars in the liturgy.

    I note your register and lexicon when speaking of the “afflictions that can infest protestant groups”. Kinda harsh? They can’t help it.

    Incidentally, Elvis was never in a cave but died on the toilet, bereft of benediction. Osama bin Laden severed his links with the Bush family and left this life in a tacky house in Pakistan, not in a cave.

    I did not accuse the Anglicans of heresy but something worse; those pesky guitars in church. It would have been tolerable except that those who ‘play’ them seem to have boxing gloves on both hands.

    Pax vobiscum.

  18. The Raven says:

    And with your spirit.

    I doubt that you can justly accuse any of the Anglicans currently foresaking apostasy for communion with Peter in the Ordinariate of the infamous use of strumming in the liturgy.

  19. The Raven says:

    I note your register and lexicon when speaking of the “afflictions that can infest protestant groups”. Kinda harsh? They can’t help it.

    Why? Do you prefer a bit more compromise with your Catholicism? 😉

  20. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Raven, that is a most delightful riposte, if I may say so.
    I love “the infamous use of strumming in the liturgy”.
    I am hoist with my own petard.
    As I should be.
    Probably.

    Et cum spiritu tuo.

  21. toadspittle says:

    .
    “Elvis was never in a cave but died on the toilet, bereft of benediction. “

    …And is laid to rest in the ‘garden’ of his strikingly decorated house, ‘Graceland.’ Where Toad saw a bit of graffito which read, “If Elvis was so great, how come he’s buried in the backyard, like a gerbil?”

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