The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

From Jewish boy to Protestant minister…to Catholic priest

What a journey! 

It’s the first Catholic ordination in one Pennsylvania community — and it’s one for the history books:
St. Joseph’s Church in York will be the setting on Saturday for an event sure to go down in local religious history, and perhaps more.
Paul Schenck, born into a Jewish family, eventually ordained as a Protestant minister, converting then becoming a Catholic deacon … plus being married and blessed with many children … will be ordained a Catholic priest in solemn ceremonies at St. Joseph’s on Saturday.

This will be the first-ever Catholic ordination in York, and surely, from a ministerial perspective, concludes an extraordinary spiritual journey from Jew, to Protestant, to Catholic.


A married priest? How is that possible?

Under a decree issued by Pope John Paul II in 1980. Since then, some 100 married Episcopal ministers have been ordained Catholic priests in America.

Deacon Schenck told The Catholic Witness: “… I’ve spent nearly my whole adult life in Christian service as a pastor, teacher and chaplain. To be able to express that vocation within the ordained ministry of the Catholic Church is a great blessing.”

Presently, Deacon Schenck, who lives in Manchester Township with his family, is serving in the Harrisburg Catholic Diocese as director of its Office of Respect Life Activities. He has an extensive national record supporting the pro-life movement, a record involving street activities, jail and legal skirmishes reaching the U.S. Supreme Court.


As Rick Kern wrote in World Magazine:

“Schenck’s resume and his accomplishments, while too numerous to list, include a hand in the establishment of more organizations than most of us volunteer to help in throughout our lifetime. The roster is long and distinguished and like the Apostle Paul, includes plenty of jail time.

“A soft-spoken intellectual, the clergyman is passionately dedicated to making others’ lives better and leading broken hearted, disenfranchised people to the One who alone can heal them.”

All the major TV networks have interviewed the deacon at one time or another. He’s been on TV with Larry King, Ted Koppel and Jim Lehrer. Life magazine has featured him, as have USA Today, the Washington Times magazine, World Magazine and others. For several years, he served as executive vice president of the American Center For Law and Justice, an organization frequently defending cultural and religious traditions in the national news.


Deacon Schenck and his wife, high school sweetheart Rebecca, have nine children, “one in heaven and eight on earth,” as he describes it. The family entered into full communion with the Catholic Church in 2004.

You can read more about Deacon Schenck here.

Comments read comments(11)
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timmy baugh

posted June 8, 2010 at 7:35 pm

sounds great, as long as they keep these priests in admin roles then no one, family or parish, suffers. thanks for the story deac. and to father schenck, welcome and thank you for your vocation.

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posted June 9, 2010 at 9:24 am

Truly inspiring story.
I wonder if a Protestant/Catholic has ever become a rabbi? If not…why not?
I have no doubt that Father Schenck will rise to the highest levels of the Catholic Church.

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posted June 9, 2010 at 11:20 am

Father Schenck, as a presbyter, will have risen as high as he can in the hierarchy of the Church.

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posted June 9, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Timmy baugh writes: “sounds great, as long as they keep these priests in admin roles then no one, family or parish, suffers.”
Ouch! What an ugly greeting to new priest! What you’re saying is “Ordain him, brag about him, then lock him away!”
I don’t know what particular talents and strengths Fr. Schenck brings, but I’m certain that being hidden from service to the people of God (even in a parish community) is not one of them.

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posted June 9, 2010 at 2:12 pm

I wonder if a Protestant/Catholic has ever become a rabbi?

There were two somewhat famous 20/c cases of Catholic priests who became Orthodox Jews–Abraham Carmel and John Scalamonti–but neither became a rabbi.

Father Schenck, as a presbyter, will have risen as high as he can in the hierarchy of the Church.

Au contraire. Fr. Schenck could be made a papal chaplain or domestic prelate of the Holy See (a “monsignor”), as was the late and married Msgr. Graham Leonard, former Anglican bishop of London. Indeed, there is nothing barring his being made a cardinal, as he meets the basic requirements of being a priest and his episcopal consecration could be waived.
And if Fr. Schenck were widowed, he could be made a bishop as well–even pope!

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posted June 9, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Had he been born a Catholic and married his highschool sweetheart, we would not be having this conversation. I know of several permanent deacons who would make excellent priest, but unfortunately, they are Catholic! I suspect there are several who are reading this and wondering why the priesthood isn’t opening up to the married Catholic!

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posted June 9, 2010 at 2:47 pm

Nomilk, I intended to write, “I think” before the rest of my post and now wish that I had. Thanks for the info.

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posted June 9, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Congratulations to Deacon Schenck on his upcoming presbyteral ordination! I will certainly keep him and his family in my prayers.

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Viator Catholicus

posted June 10, 2010 at 10:21 pm

George, if as you say, there may be permanent deacons “reading this and wondering why the priesthood isn’t opening up to the married Catholic” then I say those men should not have mocked God by proposing themselves for ordination to the diaconate.
The diaconate is a sacred order!
The permanent diaconate is a specific vocation within the Body of Christ. It is good in itself and not merely a stepping stone.
The deacon is a model of Christ the servant who is humble.
Now, if a man sought to become a permanent deacon hoping that one day things would change and he could become a priest, well then, he is not seeking to model Christ the deacon, but is trying to manipulate Christ’s Bride the Church to seek His own will. This will probably be quite apparent in his unhappy and jaded diaconate.
To all the faithful permanent deacons out there, know you are appreciated because you responded to the call as deacons and desire to serve God the Father as deacons.
What a privilege to be called to the diaconate!

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