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Married Black Catholic ordained a priest in Minnesota

Fr Jean-Claude Duncan, a father of nine and grandfather of one, was formerly a Methodist minister and converted with his family in 2016.

Jean-Claude Duncan at his priesthood ordination Mass in St. Cloud, Minnesota, on December 9, 2023. (Diocese of St. Cloud/Instagram)

Jean-Claude “JC” Duncan, an African-American former Methodist minister in Minnesota, was ordained a Catholic priest on December 9 for the Diocese of St. Cloud, where he lives with his wife and nine children.

The Mass, celebrated by Bishop Patrick Neary, CSC at St. Mary’s Cathedral, was made possible by the little-known Vatican provision that allows some married converts from Protestantism to be ordained priests.

Duncan, 49, was received into the Catholic Church with his family in 2016, according to The Minnesota Catholic.

“His gifts and experiences will make him a wonderful addition to the presbyterate,” Neary told the magazine in November, describing Duncan as one with “a large and compassionate heart, a keen mind, gifts for administration and years of pastoral experience.”

According to the diocese, Duncan’s ordination required that a special request be made to the Holy See prior to his becoming a transitional deacon, which took place in August at his home parish, St. Ann Catholic Church in Wadena.

Fr Jean-Claude Duncan, center right, at St. Mary’s Cathedral in April 2023 with his wife, Anne; Fr Scott Pogatchnik, right; Bishop Patrick Neary, CSC, center; Fr Aaron Kuhn; and several of the Duncan children. (Dianne Towalski)

The former pastor of a cluster of United Methodist churches, Duncan fell under the scope of the 1980 Pastoral Provision created for the United States by Pope John Paul II. Originally directed in response to former Episcopalians seeking parish structures and priests for their new Catholic communities—including an exception to the tradition of celibacy—the provision has since come to apply to a wider range of Protestant traditions, including Methodism, Lutheranism, and Presbyterianism.

In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI additionally allowed for converting clergy to enter formation and be ordained under the newly created Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, which possesses its own ecclesial jurisdiction separate from normal diocesan structures.

Duncan, who is under his diocese rather than the ordinariate, converted to the faith after seeking answers to tough theological questions during his studies and ministry as a Protestant.

“I found myself drawn to a few things,” he told the New York Mills Dispatch in 2022. 

“Liturgy, because we see, particularly in the book of Revelation, a beautiful liturgy unfolding there. The candles and the incense and the prayers—you can almost superimpose the Mass on top of the book of Revelation and see the various liturgical acts of Mass right there in Revelation.”

He entered seminary for the Catholic priesthood after his Confirmation and completed his Master of Divinity at Saint John's University in Collegeville last year.

He is now one of the more than 150 married priests serving in the Latin (Western) Church in the United States. This number does not include those men ordained after the death of their wife, nor the married U.S. priests of the various Eastern Catholic Churches, which generally do not require celibacy for ordination.

In comments to his diocesan magazine earlier this year, Duncan referred to the Pastoral Provision as a matter of “mercy and justice.”

“[The] current limited relaxation of the discipline of celibacy demonstrates the Church’s charitable universality and its desire to actively embody Jesus’ prayer ‘that they may all be one’ (John 17:21). At the same time, the Church is not surrendering its dogmatic and immutable teachings.”

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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