Newly ordained Deacon Stephen Young wants to inspire his children as others did him

Sid Hastings
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Finding the Young clan seemed like a tall ask.

After all, the congregation numbered about 700 at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis for the ordination Mass of permanent deacons, on the first Saturday in June.

But the family proved to be pretty easy to pick out of the crowd.

For one, the Youngs sat in a defined area for families of the 18 men ordained that day by Archbishop Robert J. Carlson. The families were just behind the men to be ordained, starting in the third pew.

And among those families, which included numerous children of high school vintage or older, the Youngs stood out, for no other reason than their number ... and stature.

Totaling five, the Young children stood out because, even with them standing up, you had to look down to see them. The youngest among the families, they therefore were the shortest next to the other men's children, with their surname perfectly describing the family's state in life.


Rebecca and Stephen married in 2003, and their family grew quickly, with three babies in three years. At 12 years old, Thomas is the oldest Young sibling, followed by 11-year-old Katherine and soon-to-be 10 Andrew, with 5-year-old Julia and Clare at 2 bringing up the rear.

Only Thomas, Katherine and Andrew — then-aged 7, 6 and 4 — had been born when Stephen started filling out paperwork to apply for the permanent diaconate. Thus, he wrote "3" to answer the question: How many children do you have?

Julia came along in mid-application, so Stephen revisited the children question. He covered "3" with White Out, wrote "4" instead, then wondered aloud whether that simple act would raise a red flag.

"I remember telling my wife, 'These people are going to think I'm nuts: He doesn't even know how many kids he has!'" he recalled, with a laugh.

No worries, though. The diaconate office accepted his application, the next five years went off like clockwork, and Stephen Young processed into the cathedral basilica with classmates to be ordained June 4. He later knelt with them, prayed with them and laid prone with them in the Litany of Supplication, which lasted almost 10 minutes.

Deacon Young described the Litany of Supplication as, well, he didn't ... at first.

"There are no words to describe it," he said, then coming up with two. "Very humbling."

This marked the archdiocese's 33rd diaconate ordination, involving 439 men since the first in 1977. With the addition of these 18, 279 deacons are active, or retired, in the archdiocese.

Deacons average 55 years old, ranging from the late 30s into the 60s. A few have young families, others have empty nests, and many more are in between. At age 43, with five children, Deacon Young is the youngest, but he's also answering a call more than 30 years in the making.

"In a more recent sense, this has been a five-year journey," he said. "But in a greater sense, it's been the journey of a lifetime."

Young first felt called to the priesthood as a youngster in New Baden, Ill., thanks to his second-grade teacher, Sister Eulogia Jansen, ASC.

"There was something inspiring about her," he said, simply.

It's easy to see the hand of God in his initial call. The New Baden elementary school was operated by the public school district in a building rented from St. George Parish.

"We went to religion class, we went to Mass, and three of the teachers were sisters; you'd never get away with that today," Deacon Young said, with a laugh. "In a lot of ways, it was a Catholic school, but strictly speaking, it wasn't."

The sisters taught at the school only long enough for Young to receive the call.

"They left after my second-grade year," he said. "Sister Eulogia was the only sister I had until high school."

For seventh and eighth grades, Young attended Wesclin Junior High School down the road in Trenton, then went to Mater Dei Catholic High School in Breese, Ill., graduating in 1990. After a year in seminary at Cardinal Glennon College, he transferred to the University of Missouri-St. Louis, earning a criminal justice degree in 1996 and becoming a St. Louis police officer.

After three years with the SLPD, he worked in a couple of suburban police departments, before returning to school for a bachelor's degree in education, also from UMSL, in 2002. Young taught in public schools through this past school year, but he'll switch to Catholic education in a few weeks. On July 1, he starts as principal of St. Gertrude School in Krakow. He also has answered the call he received so long ago in New Baden.

An only child, Deacon Young credits his mother, Charlotte, and maternal grandmother, Clementine Kemper, for instilling in him a deep Catholic faith. His grandmother lived with him and his mom, who supported them by working two jobs.

"Grandma was home when I got home from school every day," he said. "She was a very religious person and instilled a love and a respect for the Church and the people of the Church."

Kemper passed away in 1991, after Young's year at Cardinal Glennon College.

"That hit me hard; she had been very instrumental in my life," he said.

Young's career choices — as a police officer then an educator — fit the life of service he had learned from his grandma and mom, who died in 2011.

"Growing up, there was very much an emphasis on the importance of service; it's been a real part of who I am," he said. "By high school, I didn't desire to work for a large corporation. (Being) part of a corporation that was profit-driven ... held no appeal for me."

Over the years, Young felt "a gentle prodding that never went away," which led to the diaconate. Along the way, he worked with the wife of Deacon Mike Burch, though it took "quite a while" to chat up the deacon about the diaconate.

"Like, seven years," he said, with a laugh. He finally approached Deacon Burch after a Sunday Mass at Immaculate Conception Church in Park Hills.

"I asked him, 'What can you tell me about being a permanent deacon?'" Deacon Young said. "He said: 'Why? Are you interested?' I said: 'I don't know. Maybe.'"

Deacon Burch then uttered the magic words, perhaps divinely inspired.

"He said, 'You might be the answer to our prayers,'" Deacon Young said. "That struck me; I had never thought of myself as being the answer to anybody's prayers."

There followed discernment, a diaconate information night, more discernment, then formation over the past five years. With classes two nights a week and service one Saturday per month, the time commitment in formation is roughly equivalent to the time commitment for ministry, after ordination.

"The Lord kept opening doors," explained Deacon Young, who also credits Immaculate Conception pastor Father Mark Ebert for "tremendous support" over the past five years. "It would be difficult, if not impossible, to go along this journey to the diaconate without the support of your pastor."

At once "grateful for the blessings I've received" and excited about "all of the possibilities" of being a deacon, Deacon Young wants to inspire his children just as Sister Eulogia, his mom and grandma inspired him.

"I want my kids to see that being of service to the Church is a good thing to do ... so that when they start to discern what the Lord is asking them to do in their lives, whether married life, religious, priesthood or diaconate, they see these things as viable possibilities," he said. "This is just part of our integrated life as practicing Catholics." 

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