ALLOUEZ — Deacon Ben Johnson will not let the nearly six-week delay and attendance restrictions affect his happiness on Thursday, July 9, when he is ordained to the priesthood.
“I anticipate it to be a time of great joy and togetherness,” he said. “All sorts of friends and family will be coming together.”
Deacon Johnson and Deacon Kevin Ripley were scheduled to be ordained priests for the Diocese of Green Bay on May 30, but the initial ordination Mass was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They will be ordained at separate Masses on July 9 and 10, respectively, by Bishop David Ricken at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay. Attendance is by invitation only.
The time period waiting for the ordination to be rescheduled was difficult, said Deacon Johnson, who grew up in Oshkosh.
“We even met with Bishop (Ricken) once and the goal was to pick a date,” he said. “We came out without having picked one. He graciously said that we can do two ceremonies so we can have as many people there as possible (within the guidelines).”
This past year has been one of preparation for Deacon Johnson, the son of Jerry and Mary Johnson. Last summer, he served as a deacon at Holy Trinity Parish, Oconto; St. Anthony Parish, Oconto Falls; and St. Patrick Parish, Stiles.
“Each parish was a unique community, but it was very clear that they were all connected,” he said. “The connecting factor was Fr. Joel (Sember, pastor). I would see parishioners, even if they lived in Oconto, in the Falls, because maybe that (Mass) time worked better for them or there was something happening at the school. It was cool to see how (Fr. Sember) kept them all united in a special way.”
Deacon Johnson welcomed plenty of preaching opportunities, especially at weekday Masses. He shadowed Fr. Sember, helped out at funerals and assisted weekly at a food pantry. Baptisms were limited at the three parishes, but those opportunities were presented when he returned in the fall to resume his studies at Mundelein Seminary at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Ill.
“The parish where I was assigned to help out on weekends is St. Alphonsus in Lakeview (Ill.). That area has a lot of young couples,” he explained. “I’ve been told that the average age of the parishioners is under 35 there. There are so many babies. On average, there are three to six baptisms per weekend. I didn’t take every weekend, but I took a bunch of them.”
Deacon Johnson, who served three years at St. Alphonsus, also appreciated his preaching opportunities for the parish community as a deacon.
“I was able to preach to that young adult crowd, which was different,” he said.
Deacon Johnson and his classmates had just concluded the unit on the individual parts of the Mass when Mundelein was shut down in the spring due to the pandemic.
“Fr. Brad (Zamora), our professor, told us that, ‘From this point forward we were just going to do the Mass, the full Mass, so keep at it and special occasions.’ We talked about the special occasions in teams, which is how we did all our classes.”
Deacon Johnson recorded an entire Mass at the Holy Name of Jesus House of Formation in Allouez to submit for his final exam. He completed his studies online and graduated from seminary in early May.
Looking back to his teen years, ordination to the priesthood seemed unlikely for Deacon Johnson. He questioned his faith before rediscovering it as a high school senior at Lourdes Academy in Oshkosh. He attended Milwaukee School of Engineering after high school. While in Milwaukee he connected with Fr. Daniel Schuster (former vocation director for the Diocese of Green Bay), who helped him discern his vocation. Deacon Johnson then studied at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona, Minn., for three years.
Deacon Johnson spent a year serving at Sacred Heart Parish and school in Shawano before attending Mundelein. His formation also included an internship at St. Therese Parish in Appleton.
Fr. Matthew Faucett, parochial vicar at St. Mary Parish, Ledgeview, and St. Francis Xavier Parish, De Pere, will vest Deacon Johnson at the ordination Mass. They entered seminary together. The first Mass for the newly ordained Fr. Johnson will be the next day at Deacon Ripley’s ordination. His Mass of Thanksgiving will be celebrated on Saturday morning at his home church, Most Blessed Sacrament, Oshkosh. He will also assist with weekend Masses.
His first priestly appointment is parochial vicar at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Manitowoc, with Fr. Doug LeCaptain, pastor. He will also serve as chaplain at Roncalli High School in Manitowoc.
“Celebrating Masses and hearing confessions are numbers one and two for me,” he said. “The third thing is the high school chaplaincy. Also, just getting to know this unique parish. Every parish has different ministries that take shape and flourish.”
Deacon Johnson can call on resources to help him connect with the Roncalli students.
“I have one sister who graduated high school and I have one entering high school. I know I’m not the most hip,” he said with a laugh. “Hopefully, having my sister will help me tune into that age.
“I look forward to getting to know the city,” he added. “I will find a home, find my place.”