Sunday, June 6, 2010

Fr. and Mrs. Johnson...

Although Johnson is the second married priest in its history (the Rev. George McCormick, a former Episcopal priest, served from 1984 until his death in 2000), the Camden Diocese is still learning how to fit the couple in. "The insurance forms for priests don't have a line for 'wife,' " Janet Johnson said. "I told them I'm his 'preexisting condition.' "
The priest - and his Mrs. Philadelphia Inquirer

A rare ordination in N.J. diocese.
By David O'Reilly

Inquirer Staff Writer

After 19 years as a Lutheran pastor, the Rev. Philip Johnson had grown disenchanted with Protestantism.

"There comes a time, if you're Catholic, to be Catholic," the newest priest of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Camden said Wednesday at his home in Sewell.

Dressed in his 11-day-old Roman collar and black clerical garb, Johnson, 59, was explaining the appeal of Catholicism's traditionalist ways when a middle-aged woman emerged from the kitchen.

"Here you go, Hon," said Johnson's wife, Janet, handing him a glass of Coke.

"Thanks," said the priest, smiling as she eased down next to him on their living room sofa.

It was a familiar scene for the Johnsons. Married 38 years, with four grown children and four grandchildren, they spent nearly two decades in a Lutheran parsonage in Jersey City, N.J., before converting to Catholicism four years ago.

Men sporting both Roman collars and wedding rings are a rarity in the Catholic Church; it banned married clergy eight centuries ago. In 1951 it made an exception for married clergy who convert, but on a case-by-case basis.

The church has ordained only a few hundred since. "Mr. Johnson's ordination does not indicate a change of celibacy norms for Latin Rite priests," the Camden Diocese noted when it announced his May 22 ordination.

In fact, the Johnsons had no clue he would be accepted for ordination when they converted. But priesthood was their fervent hope. "He was just horrible sitting in the pews," Janet Johnson, 60, said Wednesday, and laughed. Her husband, a serious man, shrugged. "I just couldn't imagine not preaching," he said.

It was not until four months after converting, as Johnson was studying at the Catholic University of America in Washington, that Camden Bishop Joseph Galante learned of his situation and invited him to be a candidate for priesthood.

Galante has named Johnson parochial vicar at St. Bridget's parish in Glassboro, where he will also serve the Catholic community of Rowan University. Both Johnsons will conduct marriage-preparation classes around the six-county diocese.

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