Friday, October 18, 2019
Long road to priesthood for family man
MONTREAL -- When newly ordained Fr. Robert Assaly refers to seeking help from “Mother,” the term is just as likely to refer to his wife Nancy as it is to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
With his family of six children, it’s a natural fatherly thing for the first married Catholic priest in the Montreal archdiocese to say. Such was the case last week during an interview when one of his sons popped into the study in the rectory at St. Thomas More Church in suburban Verdun to ask a question.
“Mum will have it,” Assaly assured the young man.
It was a small, lived moment that illustrated the enormous difference between him and his brother priests. Its daily ordinariness showed the truly unusual character of Assaly: how usual he makes the unusual in his life.
The evidence? His marital status is but one dimension of that. His ordination on Sept. 20 at age 59 came after 10 years of discernment. That discernment came after 35 years as an Anglican priest, during which he married and began his family with Nancy. It doesn’t end there. The Anglican priesthood beckoned when he was in his mid-20s and an avowedly atheist millionaire stockbroker.
A “God crisis” in 1984 led him back to Christian faith, marriage, children and Anglican orders in 1991. When the Assalys moved to Montreal from Ottawa in 2007 so Robert could pursue a PhD at McGill, Nancy found them a spiritual home at St. Ignatius Parish on the city’s west side, primarily because of its youth ministry.
In 2009, he knocked on the door of the archdiocese seeking Catholic ordination. In 2015, he and Nancy were formally received into the Catholic Church. On a Friday evening last month at St. Thomas à Becket parish, through the grace of a provision introduced by St. John Paul II during his pontificate that grants an exception for some already-married men to become priests, Archbishop Christian Lépine welcomed him home to Rome.
“I have no doubt the Holy Spirit works in very mysterious ways that I can’t fathom,” Assaly told The Catholic Register. “By the time I arrived at the altar, after all the processes in the 10 years since I first approached the archdiocese, I was ready. I was more than ready.”
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