Knights of Columbus magazine features vocation story of Brentwood priest

Father Anthony Stewart, associate pastor of Holy Family Church in Brentwood, and his vocation story were featured in the April 2021 issue of the Knights of Columbus’ Columbia magazine. Photo by William DeShazer, courtesy of Columbia Magazine

The vocation story of Father Anthony Stewart, the associate pastor at Holy Family Church in Brentwood, has been spread around the world, thanks to the Knights of Columbus’ Columbia magazine.

On the back cover of every issue, the magazine highlights the vocation story of a priest, seminarian or religious. For the April 2021 issue, the spotlight was on Father Stewart, who serves as chaplain of Knights of Columbus Council 15234 at Holy Family.

In October 2019, Father Stewart got an email from Columbia editors asking if they could tell his story in their vocations feature. “I don’t even know how they knew about me,” Father Stewart said.

Cecilia Hadley, senior editor of Columbia, saw an interview Father Stewart had done with his alma mater, Aquinas College in Nashville, about his vocation. “It was a moving story,” she said.

“We’re always trying to feature priests from across the country, from different dioceses with different stories,” Hadley said. So the magazine reached out to Father Stewart, who was more than happy to participate.

“I certainly think it’s very important to share my vocation story, especially because I don’t think my vocation story is a conventional vocation story,” Father Stewart said. “The story about how my vocation occurred through unfortunate events like the death of my father and my parents’ divorce, that really resonates with people.”

Father Stewart grew up in McEwen, Tennessee, and converted to Catholicism after a priest at St. Patrick Church helped him through those difficult moments during his teen years. The conversion led to a call to the priesthood.

Father Stewart wrote his vocation story for the magazine, and editors sent a photographer to Holy Family to take a portrait of him.

The magazine’s readership consists mainly of the more than 2 million Knights of Columbus households worldwide.

Since the April issue of the magazine was published, “I’ve heard from people all over the country … thanking me for my vocation,” Father Stewart said. “One guy called in tears, saying the story gave him hope for the future of the Church.”

He also heard from priest friends who were seminarians with him. “You’re famous,” they told him.

One of the missions of the Knights of Columbus is to stand in solidarity with priests and religious, serving as “the strong right arm of the Church.”

The Knights sponsor the RSVP program for councils to provide moral, financial and spiritual support to future priests and religious at all stages of their formation. As a seminarian, Father Stewart received support from a local council.

The following is Father Stewart’s vocation story as published in Columbia Magazine:

“I wake up every morning thanking God”

When I was 15, my father died suddenly; it was a low point in my life, but also a turning point. My mom, who had converted to Catholicism several years earlier, encouraged me to speak to our parish priest. That encouragement would forever change my life.

I quickly saw a transformation within myself and began to think, “If God is helping me through this Catholic priest, there must be something to this Catholic Church.” This led me to begin RCIA classes, and I fell completely in love with the truths of the faith and with the Eucharist.

After my confirmation, the Lord said to me in prayer, “Anthony, you see what I’ve done for you through the priesthood; now go and do likewise.” I felt deep in my bones that God had brought me through those tough moments to teach me how to be a compassionate priest.

I was ordained in June 2018, and I wake up every morning thanking God for allowing me to be his servant. I hope I can be an instrument of grace to many people, as that parish priest was to me.”

Church must help counter resistance to vaccines, health care expert says

People participate in an International Union of Superiors General online meeting about the economy and health care April 27, 2021. Sister Carol Keehan, an expert on the Vatican’s COVID-19 commission who participated in the meeting, said religious working in health care and schools need to educate people about COVID-19 and to counter resistance to vaccinations. CNS photo/courtesy International Union of Superiors General

ROME (CNS) — Members of the Catholic Church, especially religious working in health care and schools, have an important opportunity and duty to educate people about COVID-19 and to counter resistance to vaccinations, said an expert on the Vatican’s COVID-19 commission. 

Women religious and Catholic organizations who serve others every day and have people’s trust are “our best hope for safe and fair distribution of vaccines as well as the best tool for convincing people of the safety and importance of taking the vaccines,” said Sister Carol Keehan, a nurse and Daughter of Charity. 

The church also has clear teachings about the need for more ethical ways to produce and test vaccines, but it has said that receiving vaccines is not participating or cooperating with the evil of abortion, she said during an online meeting April 27 sponsored by the Rome-based International Union of Superiors General. 

The event, dedicated to how women religious can be leaders in bringing Gospel values to new models of the economy and health care, was part of a series of meetings looking at ways sisters can empower other women and accompany and support those most affected and marginalized by the pandemic. 

Sister Keehan is the chair of the Vatican COVID-19 Commission’s health task force. She gave the more than 300 participants online an overview of the two main goals of the taskforce: an equitable distribution of vaccines and treatments, and reducing the resistance to taking the vaccine. 

People have been showing resistance to the vaccine for a number of reasons, she said, and so the taskforce created a “resource kit” for church leaders and families, available in multiple languages on the commission’s website: humandevelopment.va/en/vatican-covid-19.html. 

The first part of the kit is dedicated to explaining the church’s teaching on vaccines, Sister Keehan said. 

“For years we have known that most vaccines are made and/or tested using stem cells grown in a laboratory that originated from a fetus aborted over 40 years ago. Almost all of us have had a vaccine made in this way,” she said. 

“The church has decades of theology and ethical teachings, asking that better ways of testing and producing vaccines should be a goal but that taking these vaccines, or administering them to children, is not participating or cooperating with the evil of abortion,” she said. 

“In spite of this, a number of voices immediately started refusing to take the vaccines that had been made and or tested this way. Some of them were bishops in various dioceses, as well as priests and other teachers of the faith,” she said. 

Several Vatican dicasteries stepped in again to clarify the church’s position on the acceptability of the vaccines when no others are available, and, she added, “Pope Francis has been very clear that it is a moral responsibility to take the vaccines to protect oneself, one’s family and one’s community from this deadly disease.” 

Because of “the massive amount of misinformation that is out there,” the resource kit is constantly updated with clinical and scientific facts from reputable sources, she said. What makes the kit unique, she added, is all the information is seen “through a Catholic lens” with all the related theological, ethical and moral issues included. 

Sister Keehan urged religious and Catholic organizations to recognize and utilize the credibility and trust they have with the communities they work with. 

“Many scientists have said to me that you could put the best scientists or the most senior government official in a room and their voice would be less effective than the voice of people who have been caring for others before the pandemic, during the pandemic and will be there after the pandemic,” she said. 

“This gives us a privileged place and the responsibility to help people understand from voices they trust what they need to do to protect themselves and their families,” she said. 

Religious congregations and Catholic aid groups will be key players in distributing the vaccine in poor nations where there is wide skepticism and deeply ingrained distrust of vaccination programs by the government or other groups. 

Many countries in Africa have “really good reasons” for that skepticism, she said, citing examples of people being tricked into paying for free shots, vaccines being diluted, counterfeit or sold to the wealthy. 

“There will be scams, but can we protect the poor” and those “most vulnerable to a scam” by guaranteeing the safety of donated drugs and “getting the vaccine ourselves,” she said. 

“Many people have said over and over again, ‘Pope Francis got the vaccine. Pope Francis told me I should get it for my family and that made me decide I would get it,'” she said. 

Women religious also have tremendous credibility from their decades of helping people during outbreaks of Ebola, HIV, malaria and other infectious or deadly diseases, she said. And they can have an impact once again during this current pandemic by educating people and making sure safe and effective vaccines are used correctly and go to everyone. 

The church “cannot and must not remain on the sidelines” in building a better world, she said, and this global problem must be faced “as a global family.”

State bill prohibiting death penalty for those with severe intellectual disabilities passes in both houses

The three Bishops of Tennessee, J. Mark Spalding of Nashville, Richard Stika of Knoxville, and David Talley of Memphis, have expressed their support for two bills introduced in the state Legislature that would prohibit the use of the death penalty for those with severe intellectual disabilities.

The bills passed both houses of the Legislature by wide margins on Monday, April 26. In the House of Representatives, the votes was 89-4 in favor of the bill, and in the Senate the vote was 28-1.

The measure now awaits the signature of Gov. Bill Lee before becoming law.

Before the vote, the bishops wrote to Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga and Rep. David Hawk of Greeneville expressing their support for the companion bills SB1349 and HB1062, which the two legislators are sponsoring. “We write to let you know of our strong support as the Bishops of the Dioceses of Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis for your efforts to prohibit the application of the death penalty to defendants with severe intellectual disabilities,” their letter said.

“As you may be aware, we have strongly opposed the application of the death penalty in all cases. Carrying out any execution fails to serve the cause of justice and bucks the national trend of states moving away from capital punishment,” they added in the letter.

Nationally, more than 165 people have been released from death row after they were found innocent of the crime for which they were convicted. “Based on a human system as it is, there is always the chance that the state executes an innocent person,” the bishops wrote in their letter. “Even when guilt is certain, execution is not necessary to protect society.”

Pope Francis and St. John Paul II have called for the end to the death penalty as both cruel and unnecessary. In their letter to the two legislators, the Tennessee bishops said that the death penalty “is simply not necessary as the only means to protect society while still providing a just punishment for those who break civil laws. Rather than serving as a path to justice, the death penalty contributes to the growing disrespect for human life and continues a cycle of violence in society.”

The bishops thanked the legislators for their pro-life legislation, calling it a “step forward for the good of the people of Tennessee,” and noted that it “recognizes the dignity of the mentally disabled and blocks the application of the death penalty to those individuals, even when they have committed terrible crimes.

“We pray for the victims of crime and their families and friends that they might find peace and healing in God’s boundless love,” the bishops continued. “We pray for the people of Tennessee, that through our elected government, we might turn to the path that respects and defends human life from its beginning at conception to its end at a natural death.”

The legislation would allow courts to examine the intellectual competency of convicted inmates.

Under the bill, an inmate with intellectual disabilities must suffer from “significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning; deficits in adaptive behavior; and the intellectual disability must have manifested during the developmental period or by age 18.”

The bill allows defendants sentenced to the death penalty before the law takes effect to ask the courts to consider whether they suffer from an intellectual disability.