Married man ordained as Milwaukee priest

The Rev. Russell Arnett is married, and he’s a Catholic priest.

Arnett became the first married man to be ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee on March 19. The ceremony took place at St. Jerome Parish in Oconomowoc.

From 1999-’06, he served as a minister in the Episcopalian Church. However, he became fascinated with Catholic doctrine and dogma, prompting him to convert and pursue the Catholic priesthood, according to an article in the Milwaukee Catholic Herald.

“Catholicism had solid and set beliefs that are consistent with the history and traditions of the church,” Arnett said.

In accordance with a pastoral provision created by Pope John Paul II in 1980, married Episcopal ministers are allowed to convert and become Catholic priests.

Because Arnett’s path to the priesthood was so different, he knew it would be difficult. But he and his wife remained hopeful God would make it possible.

Bishop William Callahan and the Rev. Don Hying, rector of St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee, were both very helpful throughout the process, he said.

After the Vatican gave its approval for Arnett to become a priest, Hying worked with him regularly, discussing what he needed to read to prepare for his tests, which he took in March 2010.

“It was a learning process for us – we were all learning together,” Hying said.

Arnett’s experience and prior training as an Episcopal pastor helped smooth the transition.

Arnett was ordained a deacon in October 2007 and continued to work at both St. Francis Xavier and St. John the Baptist in the Union Grove/Kansasville area in southeastern Wisconsin.

He will now serve both parishes as a priest.

Dan Maguire, a professor of theology, said in an e-mail Father Arnett’s ordination shows there are no theological objections to the ordination of married men.

“Only optional celibacy for priests makes any practical or theological sense,” he said. “Mandatory celibacy for all priests makes no more sense than mandatory celibacy for all engineers, or all journalists or all doctors. It is simply not job-related.”

The Rev. John Laurance, an associate professor of theology, said there are about 100 married men in the country who are Catholic priests.

Arnett said he has run into some opposition being a married man and a Catholic priest.

“It’s a transition period,” he said. “It is a difficult change, but in time people understand.”

Hying said reactions have been positive and people have been supportive.

“It has been an educational process,” he said. “People are unaware of the pastoral provision, so it has been a learning process.”