As the Pastor at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Waconia, Father Larry Blake says the weekly children’s mass is one of his favorites.
“I thought to myself this is great to be able to do this with them,” said Fr. Blake.
We caught up with him at a service was earlier this summer. It was back in 1993 that then–Lutheran Pastor Larry Blake left that faith and became a Catholic.
Blake said, “That started a whole new life for us. Now all of a sudden I wasn’t a member of the clergy. I was a lay person again going to mass again every Sunday with my family.”
All the while, he felt the calling to return to the clergy.
It was not going to be a simple thing because Pastor Larry Blake was married and becoming Father Larry Blake would normally require celibacy. But there was a way and Blake found it.
He began a long process. Encouraged by friends in the priesthood and supported by then Archbishop John Roach, the next year meant theological training, not only learning about the Catholic faith and what it means to be a priest, but petitioning the Pope himself for the right to become a priest.
“Not even the Archbishop could promise it would happen because it was beyond him,” Fr. Blake said.
That ordination did happen in December of 1999, three years after a formal request went to Rome.
Fr. Blake said, “When it finally came through it was just such a joy for me that day.”
Father Andrew Cozzens with the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity said, “Well it’s actually a sign of how important the Church sees it that only the Pope can give this permission.”
Fr. Cozzens says this exception should be viewed as a positive ecumenical statement rather than a statement about what church discipline should be.
He adds while certain things in the church remain unchanged, exceptions can be made for disciplinary norms, including celibacy.
“So what we’re saying is Fr. Larry Blake was already a minister in his Christian congregation. When he becomes a Catholic it makes sense to let him continue that ministerial role as a Catholic priest. So ecumenically we want to respect what he was versus to say it makes sense to have married Catholic priests in general. We still believe that it makes sense priests would be celibate,” Fr. Cozzens said.
The Catholic Church’s history with celibacy goes back as far as church scholars know, but before the 12th Century there were married priests. Those men were required to takes vows of continence, meaning they were not allowed to live as husband and wife. Since the year 1139 only celibate men were ordained. In 1999 when Larry Blake became Fr. Larry Blake he joined a group of about 70 or so married men who came to the priesthood from other denominations.
Fr. Blake’s been a priest for 12 years now and a married man all throughout with three children. His most recent Christmas card looking like any family man’s.
Fr. Blake said, “Does my married life make me better? Again, I would hesitate to answer that. I have had people tell me, they say, ‘Father, I really want to talk to you about my family because I know you’ll understand.’ So that comes up quite a bit; so people will say that. I have such a high regard for my fellow priests too who are celibate and have made a different decision. So I’m hesitant to say this is better than another way.”
So Fr. Larry Blake has two vocations.
“The people of the parish have been supportive of my family life and my family understands the demands and commitment that a priest makes to the parish,” Blake said.
In fact, Fr. Blake says Archbishop Harry Flynn made it clear that the priesthood comes after his first vocation: his family. Something Fr. Blake says his wife never forgot.
“She enjoyed that and has reminded me from time to time.”
An affirmation of his place and his family’s place in the Catholic Church, with a prominent place in Church history.
“I look back on the last 12 years and indeed it has been a privilege…I love it….The joy is in my heart.”
After six years Fr. Blake has moved on from St. Joseph’s Church in Waconia as of this summer.
Right now he’s on another tour of duty serving as a military chaplain in Southwest Asia.