Stephen Van Lal Than will be ordained a transitional deacon at 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 13, 2019 at Holy Spirit Parish in Bowling Green. Stephen, age 26, came to the United States and the Diocese of Owensboro in 2017. He had been a seminarian in his native Myanmar when he volunteered to come to the U.S. as a missionary. Myanmar is in Southeast Asia and was formerly known as Burma.
Stephen and fellow seminarian, Martin Ma Na Ling, with their bishop’s permission, responded to an invitation from our diocese extended through Fr. Timothy Khui Shing Ling. Fr. Timothy came to our diocese in 2013 to minister to the growing population of Catholics from Myanmar who live in Bowling Green and Owensboro. He returned last year to Myanmar and Fr. John Paul Mang now serves us in that capacity.
When he is ordained to the priesthood, Stephen will join 23 priests who were not born in the United States who currently serve in western Kentucky. Others from Africa, India and Myanmar have come and gone over the last couple of decades.
The Diocese of Owensboro has 87 priests – both incardinated (belonging to the Diocese of Owensboro) and those serving here only temporarily from other dioceses or religious congregations. Among this number, nine are formally retired and five of these live now at the Carmel Home. Two of the retired are Glenmary priests who have lived and served in the diocese for many years.
One of our diocesan priests serves as a chaplain in a Veterans Administration hospital in Florida, one is a military chaplain serving with the Air Force, one is on loan to another diocese, and one is currently pursuing graduate studies and will return to the Diocese of Owensboro this summer. Nine of our incardinated priests were born outside the U.S.
Thus, there are 56 of our incardinated diocesan priests serving parishes, hospitals and schools of the Diocese of Owensboro. There were 40 priests in the diocese when it was broken off from the Archdiocese of Louisville and established in 1937. Those 40 priests served 33 parishes and 19 missions.
We are enriched to have six priests who belong to the religious community the Heralds of Good News. In addition to this, we have eight priests serving our diocese on loan to us from foreign dioceses.
There are 78 parishes in the Diocese of Owensboro. Of these, 26 are served by a pastor who was not born in the U.S. and seven parishes are served by an associate pastor not born in the U.S. If one does a little math, it is evident that were it not for priests who have come to us as missionaries, we could not have Mass in every parish every Sunday. Many dioceses have responded to similar situations by closing parishes.
There are a lot of lessons to be learned from these statistics:
Like most dioceses of the United States, we have become a missionary diocese dependent upon the rest of the world to supply us with priests. Given the size and diversity of the Catholic Church in the U.S., we should be proudly sending priests to the rest of the world.
These numbers give us added reason to speak favorably of immigrants in our country. The Catholic priesthood is but one profession benefitting from an influx of immigrants. Bias against immigrants is contrary to the Gospel, especially among Catholics who even now owe them much.
The U.S. Catholic Church owes a great debt to the international Church. We should be especially mindful of this when there are appeals to assist the mission of the Church in other countries.
As I visit the parishes of the diocese, I hear faithful Catholics very appreciative of our foreign-born priests. But occasionally, I hear from people distressed by the heavy accents with which some of our priests speak. Well, this is a two-way street. Yes, priests serving here must sharpen their language and speaking skills. At the same time, we must sharpen our listening skills.
This is not just a 21st-century concern. When Catholic pioneers came into Kentucky in the late 1700s and early 1800s, they were predominantly English-speaking Catholics. The priest missionaries who came to serve them were largely French-speaking priests displaced by Catholic persecution during the French Revolution. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
- Thank your priests: the ones born and raised in Kentucky, and the ones who have come a long way to serve.
- Come to Holy Spirit on April 13 and celebrate Stephen’s diaconate ordination.
- Pray for vocations to priesthood and religious life.
Most Reverend William F. Medley
Diocese of Owensboro
Originally printed in the April 2019 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.
Copyright © 2019 Diocese of Owensboro/The Western Kentucky Catholic