Michael Averyt studied at Neman Theological College at one point in his long journey to the Catholic priesthood.

Michael Averyt studied at Neman Theological College at one point in his long journey to the Catholic priesthood.

December 9, 2013
BRIAN MCLANE
SPECIAL TO THE WCR

"It's awesome to think that somewhere in the bishop's office, here in Prince Albert, there is a paper in a correspondence folder, with my name on it, signed by Francis, bishop of Rome!"

Seminarian Michael Averyt spoke those words in an interview shortly after receiving approval that he is to ordained to the priesthood for the Prince Albert Diocese by Prince Albert Bishop Albert Thévenot at St. Joseph Church on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 9.

Averyt, 63, becomes the first married priest for the Diocese of Prince Albert since its foundation in 1891.

Averyt began working for the Prince Albert Diocese the same year he and his wife Renske were received into the Catholic Church at Easter, in 2008, at St. Mark's Church in Prince Albert.

It was when Averyt began working as diocesan director of adult faith education in 2009 that Thévenot and Averyt began discussing the possibility of ordination.

"The Pastoral Provision," he explains, was set up after Vatican II, under Pope Paul VI, to allow men who were clergy in other traditions to become Roman Catholic priests even though they were married.

Those provisions led Averyt to Newman Theological College in Edmonton where he took classes, during 2011-12, to meet the requirements for ordination. Averyt's case was sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome which presented it to the pope for a decision.

Born in Riverside, Calif., he married Renske Henn, a widow with two teenage children, Keith and Sheila, in 1984, in Courtenay, B.C.

Averyt served briefly as a Lutheran pastor in Chicago in the late 1970s before coming to Canada where he was ordained an Anglican priest in Ottawa in 1979. He served in the Anglican ministry, first in Ontario, and then for 22 years in B.C.

He came to Prince Albert in 2003 where he served as archdeacon for the Anglican Diocese of Saskatchewan for four years and as principal of James Settee College for Ministry.

Averyt has several university degrees, including a doctorate in ministry from San Francisco Theological Seminary.

He also spent eight years as a militia chaplain, at rank of captain, with 11 Service Battalion out of Victoria. He and wife Renske are also accomplished weavers and engage in various forms of handwork.

"I didn't get up one morning and say I've got to look at the Catholic faith," said Averyt. "It goes back to when I was a boy."

Averyt says he was brought up in an evangelical and independent tradition.

"Most of my father's people are Pentecostal and Baptist of various shapes and stripes."

In the fifth grade, Averyt started attending a Baptist church. "My mother once joked that my first word was 'Why?'"

SCRIPTURE STUDIES

That inquisitiveness led to Averyt's long study of Scripture, which seemed to indicate "there was more to the Eucharist, or what I now know as Eucharist that there was more to it than a piece of cracker and grape juice," Averyt added.

That led to a quest for sacramental understanding, through Lutheranism, to Anglicanism, and ultimately to Rome.

"Each step in the journey prepared me for what was to come," Averyt said, "You see a lot of interesting scenery along the way."

One image that comes to mind over the years for Averyt is the image of Abraham.

"Being told to pull up stakes in Ur. Travel to a land which I will show you. You won't know you've arrived until you've arrived, has been good for me."

JOBLESS

At age 58, in 2008, Averyt found himself without a job, feeling somewhat useless, which he describes as "a scary experience."

"What do you do?" he asks. "We took the risk. This job opened up with the diocese. A friend encouraged me to apply. And, I got it."

Averyt says he and his wife became Roman Catholic "quietly." The priest at St. Mark's, at the time, was "very helpful and understanding" as the couple began their journey into the Catholic Church.

"I knew we were on the same page when he said we are not talking about your conversion to Catholicism, but talking about your drawing closer to Christ," said Averyt.

"Someone who knows me, knows that nothing has been done carelessly. The decisions to travel were as carefully thought out as I could."

"The journey is a question of faith," Averyt added. "I've appreciated the steps in each leg of the journey, each thing. Even within my ministry, in the other places. Each thing has prepared me for what was going to come, given me tools and insights."

WIFE'S SUPPORT

Averyt is thankful for the tremendous support of his wife Renske, whom he describes in a recent vocation newsletter, as "a God-given gift, not only to me, but those I have served.

"In her own way, she is like the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was asked to sacrifice much so that the one she loved might fulfill his Father's vocation for him."

Among the special people at Averyt's Dec. 9 ordination will be "the lady who triggered all of this" four years ago.

"I owe her big time," said Averyt, in reference to "the lady" who came to the resource centre in 2008 "frustrated to tears because the shortage of clergy meant there was no one to help her with a particular ministry" at one of the prisons in Prince Albert.

"The shortage of clergy is really an issue," said Averyt. 'And that was so forcefully brought home by this person who was completely unaware of what she was doing. That's how God works."

"I'm also very glad that part of my mandate (after ordination) will be to provide sacramental services for prisons," said Averyt who will continue as director of adult faith education for the Prince Albert Diocese, and coordinator for the permanent diaconate program, scheduled to begin in early 2014.