Pope Benedict XVI has chosen a former Episcopal bishop to lead the new U.S. ordinariate for Anglican communities wishing to enter the Catholic Church.
The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, which was officially erected on Jan. 1, 2012, will be led by Fr. Jeffrey N. Steenson, who is a married, former Episcopal bishop of the Rio Grande.
Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, who had served as the Vatican’s delegate for the establishment of an ordinariate in the United States, said that he welcomed Fr. Steenson’s appointment “with great joy.”
The cardinal said that the creation of the ordinariate is the “fulfillment of the hopes of many Anglicans in the United States who have longed and prayed for reconciliation with the Catholic Church.”
Ordained a Catholic priest in 2009, Fr. Steenson played an important role in designing the formation program for Anglican priests who enter the Catholic Church and seek ordination under the new ordinariate.
The 59-year-old priest has a doctorate in patristics, the study of the Early Church Fathers. He teaches theology at the University of St. Thomas and at St. Mary's Seminary in Houston.
Because he is married, Fr. Steenson cannot be ordained a bishop, but will instead serve as the “ordinary.” Although he will not be able to ordain priests, he will have the authority of a bishop in other respects.
The creation of ordinariates for Anglican communities seeking to enter the Catholic Church was authorized by Pope Benedict XVI in his 2009 apostolic constitution, “Anglicanorum coetibus.”
The newly-established U.S. ordinariate, which will be based in Houston, will be similar to a diocese but national in scope. It will allow entire communities to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church while retaining elements of their Anglican heritage and liturgical practices.
Two Anglican communities – one in the Diocese of Fort Worth and the other in the Archdiocese of Washington – were received into the Catholic Church in 2011 in anticipation of the establishment of the U.S. ordinariate.
Fr. Steenson’s appointment to lead the new ordinariate is effective immediately.
Raised on a farm in North Dakota, Fr. Steenson studied at Harvard Divinity School and the University of Oxford.
He was ordained an Anglican priest in 1980 and was elected bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande in 2004.
After he and his wife entered the Catholic Church in 2007, Fr. Steenson was ordained a Catholic priest for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in 2009.
He and his wife Debra have three grown children and one grandchild.
Cardinal Wuerl said that Fr. Steenson brings with him “great pastoral and administrative experience,” as well as “gifts as a theologian.”
Under Fr. Steenson’s leadership, said the cardinal, the new ordinariate “will both flourish and be a rich blessing to the Catholic Church in the United States.”