New priests for Archdiocese of Washington
Like Saint John Paul II, Deacon Petty worked in theater before seeking priesthood
Jun 10, 2019
Being raised in a devout Christian family and participating in theater led Benjamin Petty to seek truth and beauty in his life. That search eventually inspired him to become Catholic and enter the seminary, and on June 15, Deacon Benjamin Petty will be ordained as one of 10 new priests for the Archdiocese of Washington by Archbishop Wilton Gregory at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Deacon Petty, a 39-year-old Ohio native, was baptized Lutheran, confirmed as an Anglican, attended an evangelical college, and after being inspired by the Catholic Church’s teaching on the Eucharist, he became Catholic in 2006.
In an email interview, he said, “I hope that my journey has given me the ability to relate to other people who become Catholics as adults and an appreciation for the unity of beauty and truth in the Church's teaching.”
Deacon Petty said he came to believe that, “The Church is doorway to an unfathomable depth of God's love.”
Describing his journey of faith, he wrote, “I was drawn to the Church through the Eucharist and through the coherence of her faith. Through a rich experience of theater in high school and college, my eyes were open to the way truth gets expressed through beauty in art. This led me to a deeper understanding of the sacramentality of Christianity. The more I kept pulling on that sacramental thread, the closer I was drawn to the Catholic teaching of the Eucharist. From there, I began to discover the beautiful coherent architecture of the faith. Finally, I realized that was not enough to just appreciate the beauty, I had to become a participant in it.”
His foundation of faith, he said, came from the example of his parents, John and Marcia Petty.
“My parents' Christian faith was always he foundation of their marriage and our family life,” Deacon Petty said. “Personal prayer, Bible study, regular Sunday worship and Christian fellowship were woven throughout our family rhythms. My dad was a pillar of his church’s men’s ministry and prison ministry. My mom led women’s Bible studies and taught in the adult faith formation classes at our church. Because my dad was in the Air Force, whenever we moved, we gravitated toward our local church.”
His father died in 2017. Deacon Petty’s mother, his sister Karla and brother Clint, along with other family members, will attend his ordination.
Deacon Petty participated in theater in high school and college and in a small community theater group. The future priest said that during his theater work, he loved being part of a “community of friends” from different backgrounds who through their voices and movements helped bring the words in a story alive for an audience. “Putting on a play bound us together,” he said.
After being received into the Catholic Church, he became active in his parish’s young adults group, and desiring to become a teacher, he earned a master’s degree in theology in 2012 at the John Paul II Institute for Studies in Marriage and Family in Washington, D.C.
From the time he had become Catholic, he felt a call to the priesthood, and he followed that call in 2013, becoming a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Washington and entering the Blessed, now Saint, John Paul II Seminary.
Deacon Petty noted, “Studying there was like going to college again, but with a much stronger focus and intention. It was a little strange (for me) at 33 years old, but I was surprised by the way that, like theater, the common work of being formed into priests was a great equalizer and way of building bonds of friendship.”
For him, the greatest blessing of his seminary experience was “the way the seminary teaches you how to begin to form the whole of your life around Christ, in your prayer, study, ministry, and recreation.”
From 2015-19, the seminarian studied at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.
“Studying in Rome has made the communion of the saints come alive for me,” Deacon Petty said. “Praying in the places where my heroes of the faith lived and worked has made their presence to me so much more palpable. And my experience of the Church today gathered in Rome from all the corners of the earth has helped me to get a better perspective on my own experience of the Church in North America.”
Saint John Paul II has been a special patron saint and an inspiration for Deacon Petty, who like the pontiff, participated in theater as a young man. The future priest for the archdiocese earned a graduate degree from an institute and first studied in a seminary named for that saint.
“Seeing the unity in his life between his love of the word on the stage and how that played out in his life as a priest, bishop, and then pope on the world's stage inspired me to see (how) that love in my heart could manifest itself as a priest,” said Deacon Petty. “I hope that I will always proclaim the Gospel with the same conviction and joy as he did.”
When Deacon Petty moved to the Washington area for his graduate studies, he began attending St. Bernadette Parish in Silver Spring, Maryland, on the recommendation of his roommates, and he considers that as his home parish in the area. At St. Bernadette’s, he began serving at Mass and teaching in the religious education program and was encouraged by the pastor, Msgr. K. Bartholomew Smith, who will vest Deacon Petty at his ordination to the priesthood.
“If not for his gentle prodding, I might still be wondering whether or not I should be a priest,” said Deacon Petty, describing the impact that Msgr. Smith has had on his vocation. He noted that he admires the way that the priest makes people “feel like a part of the community. I appreciate Msgr. Smith's abundant good cheer and hospitality. I hope that I will be a source of encouragement for others in the way that he has been for me.”
Like his fellow seminarians, Deacon Petty has continued preparing for the priesthood in a challenging year for the Catholic Church. When asked how he thinks priests can help people in the Church can find Christ’s healing in the wake of the abuse crisis, Deacon Petty said, “By being present to people, doing what priests have always done, by being a visible sign of God's presence at the most important moments in our lives. I think it will take many years of that kind of gentle presence to bring healing and restore confidence.”
Deacon Petty said he feels that after his ordination, his formation will begin anew as he serves as a priest. He will celebrate his first Mass on June 16 at 11 a.m. at St. Bernadette Church in Silver Spring, at what became his home parish in the Washington area.
As he continues his journey of faith as a priest, he said he hopes “to always be coming to Jesus as the source and end of all that I do as one of his priests.”
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