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Question by coach led Phelps to priesthood, eventually

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Deacon Brian Phelps

Editor’s Note: Deacon Brian Phelps and Deacon James J. Riehle will be ordained priests for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati on May 17. Read the profile on Deacon Riehle here.

By John Stegeman
The Catholic Telegraph

Sometimes priestly vocation stories begin with a major moment or experience wherein the man called to be a priest realizes early in life that he is meant for that special role. Other times, the process is more subtle.

Deacon Brian Phelps, 33, grew up in St. Ann’s parish in Grosebeck. He attended school there before graduating from LaSalle High School in 1998 and later earned a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Cincinnati. He will be ordained to the priesthood May 17 at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Chains in downtown Cincinnati.

During his time as a Lancer, his religion teacher and basketball coach shared that he believed  Deacon Phelps would make a good priest.

“When I was in high school I had a teacher that talked to me about being a priest,”  Deacon Phelps said. “He was one of my basketball coaches as well as religion teacher. He said ‘Brian, I think you’d be a really good priest’, and I said, ‘no thanks.'”

While 17-year-old Brian, the middle son of three by Jack and Chris Phelps, wasn’t interested, the call never fully subsided.

Deacon Phelps became a teacher, but despite liking his job he continued thinking — but not discussing — a possible call to ministry.

“I didn’t really know what to do with it and really didn’t want to act upon it even when it got stronger from my mid-20s on,” he said. “I wouldn’t talk about it because then it would be real but it was always in the back of my head.”

Eventually he felt a desire to work for the church, and to possibly become a director of religious education. He ended up on the Archdiocese of Cincinnati vocations website.

“I was looking at the website for vocations and the question was “Is God calling you to be a priest,” he recalled. “And that was the first time I ever asked myself. It was one those questions where the next thing I know I’m remembering my teacher talking to me about becoming a priest.”

Deacon Phelps completed his studies at The Athenaeum of Ohio/Mount St. Mary’s Seminary.

Having completed his parish internship at St. Charles Borromeo in Kettering and with ordination just months away, Deacon Phelps said his time in the seminary has confirmed his calling.

“I think internship really helped,” he said. “The seminary does a really good job of making sure we have good field experience as well.

“You get a lot of consolations and reaffirming through all that,” he added. “I don’t know if there was one big thing but just throughout the way you get reaffirmations that this is where I’m supposed to be in the midst of times when you doubt.”

Deacon Phelps said he was excited to celebrate his first Mass and to hear confessions, but added that helping the people of God grow in the life with God is what really motivates him. He knows that in a worldly culture, life isn’t easy for the laity either.

“Living the faith life well in this world today (is a challenge),” he said “That’s a big hard thing to do because everywhere you turn everything is telling you how the church is wrong or outdated or needs to change or whatever. We need to keep holding on to the truth, keep holding on to the faith and say, no, it isn’t the church that needs to change. It is the world that needs to be fulfilled or changed.”

This article originally appeared in the May 2014 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.

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