Two would-be Marines and an Engineer … chart a different course


June 6, 2017

ARLINGTON, Va. – On Saturday, June 10, 2017, the Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge, Bishop of Arlington will ordain three men to the priesthood at the Cathedral of Saint Thomas More in Arlington:  Jordan Willard, 27; Stephen Vaccaro, 27; and Steven Oetjen, 28.


When:   Saturday, June 10, 2017, 11 a.m.

Where:  Cathedral of Saint Thomas More
               3901 N. Cathedral Lane, Arlington

All three men say they were called by God to enter into his Priesthood, but not without making sacrifices.  


Jordan Willard, a Michigan native, says sacrificing a path in the marines and a possible engineering career was challenging. “I enjoyed these pursuits, and I had a desire for service, and I looked forward to the potential fruits that would come of them,” he says.  But in his time at the military school at Virginia Tech (The Corps of Cadets), Willard says he saw an environment of people looking for deeper meaning and famished for the Gospel.  Finding opportunities to share the message of Christ gave Willard a deeper joy and fulfillment.   “I felt as if the Lord transformed my patriotism and desire for service of our country into a passionate resolve to enter service for the Church Militant of my Faith,” he says.  Willard says he also sacrificed a life of marriage and a family. “These were goods that I desired and cherished.” But having tasted the fulfilling graces that would come of a life totally dedicated to God in all his people, he was transformed.  “A desire for a wife, with the graces of God, transformed into a desire for the Bride of Christ: the Church,” Willard said.  “A desire for children transformed into a desire to embrace the children of Christ.  I don’t think I would have decided to become a priest if I didn’t have a desire to marry and have a family, nor would the Church accept me into the priesthood if I didn’t.” 

Steven Oetjen, a northern Virginia native, says he wrestled with the idea of becoming a priest because he had put so much energy into obtaining a mechanical engineering degree– and excelling at it.  While he was at Carnegie Mellon University, Oetjen says the environment was so competitive that work was everybody’s priority, leaving room for little else.  But one day he was invited to the Catholic campus ministry, and eventually started going regularly to Eucharistic Adoration.  “And once I had that time set apart to pray to our Lord every day, I slowly began to feel a little tug on my heart.  It was an inkling that our Lord had other plans for me,” he says.  Oetjen also sacrificed a life of marriage and family.  But says he learned that becoming a priest offers a different kind of “family” – it is on a much larger scale, and his fatherhood is spiritual.  “I see the joy of fatherhood in a new way, and the possibility of giving so many people spiritual life.  In a sense, it is raising a very big family.”

Stephen Vaccaro, a Virginia native, had plans of entering into the Marines to serve his country. He attended the University of Virginia and joined the ROTC.  As the weeks passed, the regiments of school and ROTC became more difficult and Stephen considered quitting.  When he went to inform the campus recruiter of his decision, the recruiter encouraged him to wait, but he didn’t.  Vaccaro told the Arlington Catholic Herald, “I walked out (after the talk) and walked straight to the office and that was the first time I ever told someone I wanted to be a priest.”  Vaccaro, raised in a Catholic family and the youngest of seven children, was encouraged by his parents to be holy. He recalls attending Holy Thursday Mass his freshman year, and was struck by the priests concelebrating the Mass together much like a real fraternity.   One of his older brothers would become a priest, and Vaccaro would follow.  Now, another brother is studying to become a priest as well.