When Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien received a community of Episcopal sisters and their chaplain into the Catholic Church in September, the liturgy was especially meaningful for Father Stephen Sutton.
The associate pastor of St. Ignatius in Hickory is a former Episcopal priest for 14 years who joined the Catholic Church 26 years ago. He was ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood in 1984 and will celebrate his silver jubilee at St. Ignatius on Nov. 7 with a 5:30 p.m. Mass.
Like the All Saints’ Sisters of the Poor, Father Sutton said the issue of authority was a key factor in drawing him to the Catholic Church. He believes it’s what is attracting others – not only local Episcopal sisters, priests and laity, but others around the nation and the world.
“I saw the Anglican tradition moving away from the past, where it had looked to theological reasons and biblical reasons for why they do things,” said Father Sutton, the first married priest in the Archdiocese of Baltimore under a special pastoral provision from Pope John Paul II. “They had moved to where they were riding the drift of the culture.”
The Catholic Church has the magisterium, Father Sutton said, “so you know what the church as a whole holds to be important and you know that decisions aren’t made on what the latest fad is in the culture.”
Father Sutton, a former chaplain in the U.S. Army/U.S. Air Force Chaplain Corps,
said those who decide to explore the Catholic faith will discover the “full universality of the church.” He credited Pope John Paul II with having great vision and pastoral sensitivity in reaching out to Episcopalians who were interested in joining the Catholic faith.
“It was an easy transition for me,” said Father Sutton, a teacher at The John Carroll School in Bel Air. He added that it’s nothing new for Anglicans to join the Catholic Church.
“Thomas Merton, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and Cardinal (John) Newman were all Anglicans,” he said. “It’s been going on for centuries.”