An American in Paris (Texas)
How One Priest Brought Rome Back Home
The path to the priesthood can sometimes seem like a road that goes on forever, leading to places that don’t always make sense at the time. But as J.R. R. Tolkien famously wrote in The Lord of the Rings, “Not all those who wander are lost.”
Fr. Anthony Stoeppel took a scenic route to the priesthood. Although a native of Texas, he spent some of his growing up years in Kentucky. He attended University of Kentucky, earning a degree bio-systems and agricultural engineering. From there, he studied Law and attended the Martin School for Public Policy for a Master’s Degree.
It was during this time that he met the Fathers of Mercy and felt the call to the priesthood. He was attracted to the priests there who were “good, holy, orthodox, and happy.” In fact, Fr. Anthony recalled that this was “the first time I remember meeting a happy priest.”
He joined the Fathers of Mercy as a brother/seminarian before discerning that he was being called to the diocesan priesthood. After being accepted by Bishop Alvaro Corrada, SJ, (Diocese of Tyler Texas) he spent two years at Holy Apostles Seminary in Connecticut.
The bishop asked Fr. Anthony to study bio-ethics at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome for a Master’s Degree. “Those two years,” says Fr. Anthony, “provide a wonderful illustration that God knows us better than we know ourselves. I’ve come to love the field of bioethics … I’ve studied under some wonderful professors and made some very good friends. And I’ve come to appreciate what a rich and important field this is.”
One might be tempted to think that an impressive and wide-ranging is over-kill for a priest in East Texas where the Catholic population is only about 3 percent. But in God’s wisdom, nothing is wasted.
Recently, Fr. Anthony gave a presentation “Life & Death: Theological Perspective of End-of-Life Health Care.” Although the talk was open to the general public, it was especially geared to health care professionals. Fr. Anthony remarked, “As the Church we have the obligation to provide authentic Catholic teaching and guidance to these professionals and institutions as they pursue their healing ministry.”
Santa Croce provided Fr. Anthony another resource for people at Our Lady of Victory parish which is reflected in the advice of Bishop Corrada who told him, “If you get all A’s, but don’t learn Rome, I will consider you a failure.”
When you live and study in Rome, Fr. Anthony says, you can “know and see and touch the Catholic faith.” In part, parishioners experience that intimacy through the sacred liturgy, offered with the same beauty and reverence Fr. Anthony learned during his time at Santa Croce. In bringing the Church’s traditions and teachings to people in Texas, he is passing on “what it means to be a Catholic in union with Rome.”