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The 29-year marriage of Chris and Jody Young will continue, even after he is ordained as a priest in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Davenport this summer.

"I get to keep my wife, and I am keeping my wedding band on," Chris Young says.

Although the Catholic Church historically has prohibited priests from marrying, the 53-year-old Davenport man is joining the clergy thanks to a special 1980 dispensation from Pope John Paul II called The Pastoral Provision, which applies only to former clergy of the Episcopal, or Anglican, Church. 

This will make Young a rarity. It's estimated that about 100 Catholic priests in the U.S. have made the same conversion that he has.

Young, a lifelong Episcopalian until eight years ago, previously served as the priest at Christ Episcopal Church in Moline.

His entry to the Catholic faith brings a different dimension to the priesthood, Bishop Martin Amos of the Davenport Diocese said.

Amos, who has led the diocese since 2006, agreed with Young's quest for the priesthood and sponsored him in a 26-step process that has taken six years.

Young will be made a transitional deacon — one who intends to become a priest — in a ceremony Tuesday at Davenport Assumption High School, where he has taught religion classes for two years. 

Then, on June 7, Young will be ordained by the bishop at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport. Two other men also will be ordained as priests at that time, but both are following the more traditional path.  

"I hope that priests know what a privilege it is to serve," Young said. "The ministry's tough, and the days are long and it can be wearying at times. To no longer be able to do those things, when your whole heart was in that for all those years ... It will be wonderful to serve in those ways again."

Young has adopted a motto used by his late brother, Craig Young, who was also an Episcopalian priest: "Say the Mass and love the people."

The question of celibacy

While being a priest in a long-term marriage with three children, all of them now of adult age, is unusual, it is not unique in either the United States or the rest of the world. The Pastoral Provision has been in existence for 34 years. 

One prominent question in such cases is that of celibacy. In church terminology, "celibacy" refers to a life without marriage, and Young said his wife gave her consent before he began the arduous process to enter the priesthood. 

"I have thought a lot about this," Young said, adding that he and his wife have agreed to live in a sacrificial way, without conjugal expression in their relationship. As he sees it, two people who enter into marriage give the gifts of self to each other. As a member of the priesthood, he will give himself to God.

How his quest began 

Young was attending an Episcopalian seminary when he first learned about the process of becoming Catholic.

The couple's three children were attending Catholic schools in Rock Island when Pope John Paul II died nine years ago. Deeply affected by the beloved church leader's death, the couple decided to join the Catholic Church.

One attraction was the universality of the Catholic Church and its unity among cultures and groups around the world, Chris Young said. He also was drawn to "unequivocally belong to the church that Our Lord himself had founded."

It is the faith the apostles spread and the martyrs died for, he added.

In 2005, he wrapped up his responsibilities at Christ Episcopal Church and left. "I no longer wanted to be part of a Protestant denomination," he explained.

Young followed the example of Doug Grandon, who also was an Episcopalian priest and is now a Catholic priest in Centennial, Colo.

Grandon preceded Young's time at the Episcopalian Church in Moline and shared with him his attraction to Catholicism. Grandon was ordained in the Peoria Diocese and served as a priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Moline.

Jody Young's views

Jody Young said it became apparent some years ago that her husband might take this route to the Catholic priesthood. 

Jody, who is a nurse, keeps a special perspective: They were married, with three young children, the baby in diapers, when he was in seminary the first time around.

"That was much more difficult," she said.

As a convert to Catholicism, she is enthusiastic in her faith. She has been involved in Bible study for years, starts her days with the Rosary and tries to attend Mass more than once a week. She loves the sacraments and enjoys rites such as reconciliation.

She also treasures her time reading the Bible.

"It's a living book. ... Every time I look at it, I learn something new. I choose to keep looking at it," she said.

"It's a matter of trusting God," she said of her life ahead. She is grateful that her marriage will continue and points out that her husband has a wonderful relationship with their children: Colin, 23, works in the computer software field and lives in Chicago, while Erin, 20, of Pittsburgh, and Sarah, 19, of Peoria, are both professional ballerinas.

While being married to a Catholic priest obviously will be different, Jody said it is much more different to not have the children at home.

She especially enjoys the time when she and her husband get to see their busy offspring.

"I just sit and smile and cry and take joy in all the moments they are together. It is a wonderful thing to see, and it's all good," she said.

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