Wray to be ordained a priest March 7
By John Stegeman
The Catholic Telegraph
Deacon J. Thomas Wray, 55, will be ordained to the priesthood at 4:30 p.m. March 7 at St. Margaret of York in Mainville by Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr.
Wray’s path to the Catholic priesthood has come through a circuitous route. He was ordained in the Episcopal church in 1990 and served that ecclesial community until 2008. He and his family, wife Janet, daughter Katie, 21, and son James, 18, were received into the Catholic Church in 2011.
Under a special Pastoral Provision issued by Pope St. John Paul II in 1980, former Episcopal clerics who convert to Catholicism can be ordained on a case-by-case basis, after approval by the Holy Father.
It is important to note that the pastoral provision does not imply any change in church teaching or tradition. Also, married priests ordained under the provision serve the church in roles other than pastor.
“Celibate clergy remain the norm for Catholic priests of the Roman rite, but this is a matter of discipline, not dogma,” said Dan Andriacco, director of Communications for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. “Married men can be ordained priests in the Eastern rites of the Catholic Church (outside the United States), as they always have been.”
The son of James Victor and Romanelle Wray, Thomas felt an early call to serve in ordained ministry in part because of his father’s example. James Victor Wray was a lector in the Episcopal church.
“He was a lector in our church growing up,” Wray said. “Through his action and devotion each week he would say, ‘This really matters to me…’ My dad really planted the seed that faith was real to him and above all church was real to him.”
While an undergrad at Miami University, Wray had what he called an “evangelical conversion.” This led him to an awakening of faith.
“I realized the Lord had a plan for my life, a definite purpose,” Wray said. “From that point on I felt it wasn’t a question of if I would become a pastor, but rather when.”
Wray transferred and earned his undergraduate degrees at Wheaton College in Chicago. He earned a master of divinity degree from Seabury Western Seminary.
“It was there that I discovered high church liturgy and the Anglican Communion and the Oxford Movement, and above all just the Mass. That solidified my sense that I was meant not to be a pastor, but to be a priest in the Anglican church.”
Over time, Wray said there was a voice calling him to come home to the Catholic Church. He obeyed, despite not knowing what that would mean for his family. Just because an Episcopal or Anglican cleric converts to Catholicism, it does not mean they will be accepted as a candidate for ordination. Wray was accepted and now his ordination date is on the horizon.
“It’s a great grace,” Wray said. “It really is like being at the terminal waiting for the plane to board. It feels like I’ve been given my commission and marching orders. I’m hoping to serve and make a difference in anyway the archbishop deems appropriate for me.”
Even with ordination on deck, Wray doesn’t see his journey as complete.
“The Roman Catholic Church is larger on the inside than it appears on the outside,” he said. “It’s like jumping into the ocean and diving down to great depths.
“There’s been theological formation, three intensive years of study and bibliography, 20,000 pages of reading theology and examinations, oral and written,” he said. “Then there’s the human (question) what does it mean to be a cleric and to be ordered in two ways, as a married man in my vocation to marriage and now this amazing gift of Holy Orders.”
Additionally, Wray expressed his gratitude to the church for the existence of the pastoral provision.
“I just see the incredible grace and generosity of the church to make this exception in the name of unity,” he said. The church is the universal sacrament of salvation and we’re all meant to be one. That’s why the church is doing this.”
As for his family, Wray said they remain supportive, even if his ordination places them in a unique situation. The nearest priest with a family with a family of his own and ordained through the pastoral provision lives in Des Moines, Iowa.
“They’re super supportive and very patient,” he said in early February. “But it really is like looking out into infinity. We just don’t know where and how the Lord will use us and the archbishop will employ us. As today’s reading in the breviary says, ‘We walk by faith, not by sight.'”
Wray’s first Mass of Thanksgiving will be celebrated March 8 at St. Margaret of York during the regularly scheduled 11 a.m. Mass.
This story originally appeared in the March 2015 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.