You might not be able to tell just by looking at him, but Father Dean Henderson is unlike most Catholic priests. He is married, and he has kids – five of them.
To understand how Father Dean got to this position as a married Catholic clergyman, you have to go back to the beginning.
Father Dean was raised in a non-religious home in Montreal, where his dad was an IBM executive and his mother a teacher. But it wasn’t until early adulthood, he felt that calling to serve God, while participating in a young adult church group.
“It was a journey of change, real transition. I really had to think differently,” he said. “I don’t regret a single day of the conversion. It just made my life better.”
He soon met his wife, Linda, and they married.
Father Dean was ordained as an Anglican minister in 1990 serving at parishes in Parksville and Nanoose Bay. It was while he was on sabbatical in England that he was drawn to Catholicism.
“It was the attraction of Pope John Paul II as a phenomenal missionary, phenomenal scholar, and phenomenally courageous,” said Father Dean.
“I then bought a Catholic catechism and read it from cover to cover, and believed 90 percent of what it said.”
The process of converting and then becoming re-ordained in the Catholic faith took several more years because of the slow bureaucracy of the Catholic church.
The most glaring question surrounding this is how can a married man become clergy without abiding by the sacred vow of celibacy. For that answer, you have to go back three decades.
In 1980, Pope John Paul decided to allow married men to become priests in certain situations, said Bishop Gary Gordon, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Victoria.
“For the first 20 years, married priests were not permitted to be pastors because of the ethos of the church was that all clergy were celibate. So they had roles as chaplains or university professors,” Bishop Gordon said. (In Canada, the term pastor is used by Catholics for what in other English-speaking countries is called a parish priest).
Father Dean was ordained in 2017.
The ordination took place at St. Andrew cathedral in Victoria.
He has spent the last nine years as chaplain at the University of Victoria and often did relief for church pastors. He was inducted by Bishop Gordon on Feb. 11 as the new pastor of St. Rose of Lima church in Sooke.
“I really love the work of a parish ministry,” said Father Dean, noting it was something he did throughout the 1990s as a minister in the Anglican faith.
The uniqueness of the situation also brings opportunity – especially for parishioners, he said.
“The married state certainly gives me insight that’s different. It’s different from my brother priests who are celibate and live on their own.”
Bishop Gordon said the church’s experience over the last 25 years is that while married priests are an anomaly, they haven’t been a problem for those in the pews.
“The only thing it’s caused is question, and those questions were answered. Everything has just moved along,” he said.
There are four married priests in the diocese, like Father Dean. As a married member of the clergy, he can baptize, witness marriages, anoint the sick, say Mass, lead a church, and partake in any duties or sacraments other Catholic priests perform. However, there are a few restrictions, Father Dean can never become a bishop or Pope.