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The photo shows Andrea Erdman and Fr. Jonathan Erdman with one of their four children.
From the Father’s Wife: A Perspective on Marriage and the Priesthood
By Andrea Erdman
I am married to a Roman Catholic priest.
I understand if you are confused. There are very few of us priest wives out there, and even fewer have small children. Most Catholics have no idea there are any married priests in the world at all. My husband and I have been married for 15 years. He was an ordained Episcopal priest for about 11 years before following a call to leave the Episcopal church and come home to the Catholic Church. We came into full communion with the Catholic Church last year through the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. We have four delightful children together, and one more on the way.
My husband and I are blessed in the life we have together, and are humbled by the mercy that the Church has granted him ordination and dispensation of canon law of priestly celibacy for the sake of bringing our new parish into the holy Catholic Church. This ministry affords us the ability to reach souls in unique ways, and sharing the Good News through the lives we touch. We open our home to feed friends and strangers, comfort people in grief or trauma, and educate people about our Catholic faith. We have a unique ministry to married people, to parents, and especially to those who have experienced lost children in pregnancy. I am my husband’s comfort, his biggest fan, his toughest critic, his partner. When he lay prostrate at his ordination before God and his bishop, in many ways I also lay beside him, giving my whole self to God and His Holy Church. Our home is filled with light, life, and joy.
We are blessed to as members of the Ordinariate, where our bishop and his office work in harmony with our local Archbishop to provide for our spiritual, financial, and physical needs. Because our newly established parish is small, finances are woven together through multiple sources in our archdiocese. Utilities, housing, food, benefits, retirement, clothing, children’s school tuition are provided through the outpouring of generosity of the Church. Bishop Lopes, our bishop of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, has given us a chaplain for clergy families who offers direct spiritual pastoral care and nurtures mutual support of other Catholic clergy wives in prayer retreats. I am humbled by graciousness I have never seen before in my years as a clergy wife. Though we will never be wealthy, our every need is answered, even anticipated.
That being said, some may be surprised that I am in favor of the Church’s current practice of the celibacy of the priesthood. There is no doubt in my mind that wives and children of Catholic and non-Catholic traditions alike are the first to be targeted by enemies of the church when a priest stands true to apostolic faith and tradition. We have received threats. We have received hate mail. We have been been mocked and conspired against. Other families have sunk into financial trouble, lost their homes and jobs, retirement, pension, benefits as they give themselves in service to the faith. Many of the wives I know are practiced at hiding their wounds, keeping a permanent facade of perfection, never showing illness or grief. They live in fear that weakness exposes a chink in their husbands’ armor. Though these experiences are not unlike those of laymen in other careers, few are prepared for these kinds of experiences to occur in a life of a priest or his family where the home is expected to be a sanctuary rather than a front in a battleground. I believe this is the reason my husband and our marriage were thoroughly vetted through both our Ordinariate office and the Vatican prior to my husband’s approval for ordination.
My husband and I have a beautiful marriage, and the strength of our family and faith has deepened through the trials. My husband and I are rare, however. We are the few who have thrived in hardship by the grace of God and the mercy of the Church. I have seen many ministries and families fail under this pressure.
I feel the current practice of the church of priestly celibacy to be a mercy, a protection of the ministry of the priest as well as the family. The ministry of the priesthood is a holy relationship, a marriage to the Church. Fatherhood is a ministry to a wife and family. To do both threatens the strength of both ministries. Married priesthood is for those men who are proven exceptional husbands and fathers who are needed to function as a priest by their community. Married priesthood is meant to be rare, performed only for the sake of unity of the Church under extraordinary circumstances.
If we wish to call more men to the priesthood, we must become enthusiastic evangelists, and deepen our Catechesis of the faithful. Let us create a culture of deep faith and discernment of the call of God and passionate commitment to sacrifice ourselves for Christ who sacrificed Himself for us.