Reflecting on celebrating his 25th anniversary as a Catholic priest in 2020, Father Peter Reynierse said, “I truly feel so unbelievably, incredibly blessed.”

The priest – who is now retired and living in Virginia – turns 77 on Sept. 10. But before that, he will mark another milestone, as he and his wife Julianne celebrate their 57th wedding anniversary on Aug. 23.

When Father Reynierse was ordained as a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington in 1995, he had the distinction of becoming the first married former Episcopal priest to be ordained as a priest for the archdiocese. He was ordained under a special provision that permitted former married and unmarried priests of the Anglican and Episcopal churches to be ordained to the Catholic priesthood.

Before he was ordained for the archdiocese, Father Reynierse said, “I don’t think (my being married) will make one iota of difference. I hope people can look at me and see just another priest.”

And in an email interview for his 25th anniversary as a Catholic priest, he said, “I can say without hesitation that Catholics have accepted me as a married priest from day one.”

Before his ordination as a Catholic priest, Father Reynierse had an extensive career with the U.S. Navy and Navy Reserve and served as an Episcopal parish priest. The Missouri native had experienced various Christian denominations in his faith journey, until he and his family were eventually drawn to the Catholicism.

The son of a country doctor, Father Reynierse enlisted in the Navy as a young man and was assigned to San Diego, where he met his future wife, Julianne, while they were both serving as hospital corpsmen at the U.S. Navy Hospital there.

“I pestered her and persevered until she agreed to go out with me, and eventually wore down her resistance until she said ‘Yes,’ when I finally asked her to marry me,” he said, jokingly remembering their courtship.

Over the years, they faced challenges, including him being sent to Vietnam when their first-born son was a year old. “My wife and I prove that opposites attract. The common bond that glued us inseparably together is strong, personal faith in God, and in His Son, Jesus Christ – plus a certain amount of individual stubbornness,” he said, adding that he believes that the secret of lasting marriage is “never give up.”

Marriage and family life “can give you certain insights which can come in handy in pastoral situations,” Father Reynierse said, adding, “but the deeper truth is that there will always be a dynamic tension between family and ministry over time. The older I get, the more I see and appreciate my family. And the more I appreciate all that I’ve received from them, especially their love and understanding, I also wish that I’d been a wiser steward of my time with them.”

The Reynierses have three adult children, 14 grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren with one more on the way.

In a photo taken after his 1995 ordination as a priest for the Archdiocese of Washington, Father Peter Reynierse holds his grandchildren Shane and Erica O’Neill. (CS file photo)

The future priest’s first stint in the Navy lasted for nearly nine years, including his service as a hospital corpsman in San Diego, a year in Vietnam, service on the USS Sandoval in Norfolk, Virginia, six months at sea, and service in Florida before he was honorable discharged. Along the way, the family’s three children were born, and he was promoted in rank several times.

During a seven year break in his Naval service, he applied to an Episcopal seminary and was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1973, serving as an assistant at a parish and later as rector of a small parish in the outer suburbs of Philadelphia. In 1977, he applied for a Navy Reserve commission and was assigned as a public affairs officer, serving as an Episcopal parish pastor as he held a variety of positions with the Navy Reserve for a decade.

Then in 1988, he was recalled to active duty as public affairs officer to the director of the Navy Reserve on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations at the Pentagon.

“It was while living in this area that most of my family completed the journey into the Catholic Church. In truth, my wife became a Catholic nearly a year before me!  We had both become more and more disillusioned with the direction the Episcopal Church was headed,” he said, adding that as he was conducting weekly Episcopal services at that time, he  “discovered an ever-widening gap between what I believed and what most Episcopalians believed. It was my Catholic friends whom I found to truly and fully share my faith.”

Father Reynierse added, “My spiritual growth and development has been a real journey.”

He was baptized Presbyterian, attended a Missouri Synod Lutheran elementary school, and as a teenager attended a Southern Baptist church “because many of my friends were members there and they had an excellent youth group.”  

In the Navy, he said he “returned to the Presbyterian fold but found it less than fulfilling.” He joined the Episcopal church, which his wife had been a lifelong member of, and later he was ordained and served as an Episcopal priest. He remained an Episcopal priest until he renounced that ministry to be received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1990.  The admiral whom Father Reynierse worked for then, Rear Admiral F. Neale Smith, was his sponsor. 

“I crossed the border and knew I was home,” Father Reynierse said of his journey to Catholicism. In the interview before his ordination to the priesthood, he added, “It has been the most welcoming and affirming experience of my life.”

As a transitional deacon, the future Catholic priest served in the Archdiocese of Washington’s Office of the Permanent Diaconate and assisted at St. Raphael Parish in Rockville, Maryland. After his ordination to the priesthood, he continued serving at St. Raphael’s while working in the archdiocese’s Pastoral Center, supporting outreach to retired priests and serving as assistant to the secretary for clergy. In 1996, he served as administrator of Holy Spirit Parish in Forestville, and later returned to work at the Pastoral Center and assisted at the Jeanne Jugan Residence for the elderly poor in Washington, D.C., operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor. He also returned to full-time ministry at St. Raphael’s Parish before retiring in 2006 for health reasons.

For the next three years, Father Reynierse continued to celebrate Sunday Masses at St. Raphael’s and at St. John Neumann Parish in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and at other parishes. In 2009, Father Reynierse and his wife moved to Locust Grove, Virginia. In the years since, he has assisted with celebrating Masses at St. Patrick’s Parish and at St. Michael the Archangel High School in Fredericksburg.

As he marks his 25th year as a Catholic priest, Father Reynierse said that vocation has been filled with blessings.

“Every single day I have spent as a Catholic priest has been a day of absolute joy.  I cannot ever thank God sufficiently for this incredible, joyous honor,” he said. “It is beyond comprehension that a Protestant boy from Southeast Missouri should by God’s amazing grace have become a married Catholic priest in Washington, D.C., who got to concelebrate Mass with Pope Benedict during his visit in 2008, and then be able, in 2019, to offer the Mass in the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal in Paris, the Grotto where the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Bernadette in Lourdes, the Church of St. Mary Major in Rome, attend Pope Francis’ Weekly Audience in St. Peter’s Square with my granddaughter, and celebrate Mass in the Friars’ Chapel in the Church of St. Francis in Assisi.  It’s too much to believe!”

And asked about his greatest blessing as a Catholic priest, he said, “The joy of celebrating Mass and bringing Jesus to his people through the sacraments of His Church!  That, and the affection and love that has been shown to me and my family by the people I’ve been privileged to serve! This has not been limited to Catholics only, but to wide ranging  groups of people with whom I’ve come in contact.”