Over 100 people gathered Wednesday evening to witness one of the rarest events in the Roman Catholic Church: the ordination of a married man and former Methodist and Episcopl minister as a Catholic priest.
Family and friends on hand at the diocese’s Sacred Heart Cathedral in downtown San Angelo received a taste of just how unusual Rev. Waldo Emerson “Knick” Knickerbocker’s ordination was when San Angelo Bishop Michael D. Pfeifer open the proceedings by stating something of the obvious.
“I’ve never done this before,” he said to a smattering of chuckles. “Ordaining a man as a priest who is here with his wife, his children and his grandchildren. So I just hope I get it right.”
How rare is it?
According to Knickerbocker and wife Sandie, both of whom are lifelong students of both Protestant and Catholic theology, such an ordination has been performed in the United States only about 85 times and fewer than 100 times in the world since Pope John Paul II first allowed what the church refers to as a “pastoral provision.” The provision was adopted in 1981 especially for use in the United States. It has also been extended to England and other countries where bishops have requested special permission to ordain former married Anglican or Episcopalian ministers to the Roman Catholic Church.
“I came to the conviction that the fullness of truth was to be found in the Catholic Church,” Knickerbocker said of his decision. “It’s not that other Christian communions don’t have truth, but I became convinced that the fullness of truth was in the Catholic Church.”
In 1993-94, Rev. and Mrs. Knickerbocker became members of the Roman Catholic Church. After careful review and prayer, Knick requested to become a Roman Catholic priest in September 2005.
For 32 years, Knickerbocker taught Church History and Christian Spirituality on the faculty of Memphis Theological Seminary, a Cumberland Presbyterian school in Memphis, Tenn.
After becoming a Roman Catholic, Mrs. Knickerbocker worked for Catholic Charities and then served on the staff of the Seminary in the Doctor of Ministry program.
In accordance with the terms of the provision, Knickerbocker was first ordained a deacon. That Mass was conducted Dec. 28, 2008, which also happened to be “Fr. Knick’s” 70th birthday. His priestly ordination Wednesday occurred on the occasion of he and Mrs. Knickerbocker’s wedding anniversary.
“Since the summer of 2005 when Knick answered the Lord’s call to offer himself for the Catholic priesthood, we have had strong convictions about his being a priest,” Mrs. Knickerbocker said.
“However, we also have had much anxiety — for two reasons: one, we are not worthy for this holy vocation; and two, our lives will be changed forever. The Lord knew I needed a word from Him about Knick’s becoming a Catholic priest. About a year ago, the Lord said, 'Do this for love of me.'”
The Diocese of San Angelo includes 10 parishes in Midland-Odessa and others in surrounding areas.
In attendance for the Mass were Deacon Dan Brown of Memphis, Tenn., a friend of the family, and Fr. David Knight, a Catholic priest and author who, according to Mrs. Knickerbocker, prayed for Fr. Knick for 20 years as he discerned his calling into the Church and ultimately the priesthood.
Knickerbocker’s realization was a long route, starting with his ordination as a Methodist minister in 1966. In 1972 he completed his Ph.D. in Church History at Emory University. In 1973 he began teaching at Memphis Seminary. Knickerbocker said that it was teaching Church History, as well as other factors, that led him to the Episcopal Church and, ultimately, the Catholic Church.
The decision to allow married Episcopalian clergy to serve as priests in the Roman Catholic Church respects not only the decision of their conscience that requires them to profess a fully Catholic faith in the Catholic Church but also their call to ministry, accepted in good faith, in their tradition that permitted a married priesthood.
In providing this exception to individual married clergymen, the Holy Father and the bishops of the United States wanted to make sure that everyone understood that celibacy remains the normal tradition for priests in the Western Church.
Pfeifer, who has worked for several years to prepare Knickerbocker to become a priest, said, “I am very happy that finally my good friend can be ordained a deacon and priest. There is no finer candidate for the diaconate and priesthood than Knick Knickerbocker. I ask God’s blessings upon him and his good wife.”
Knickerbocker will serve as a sacramental priest in parishes in Junction and Menard offering much needed assistance to Fr. Michael Udegbunam and Deacon Tim Graham who have been stretched covering both churches.
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