“Hi, Elizabeth, it’s Dad,” the middle-aged man said into the phone as he asked the fourth of his eight children to come to the offices at St. Margaret Mary Parish, Milwaukee, for a moment. “See you in 15 minutes.”
Wearing a Milwaukee Brewer T-shirt, the 48-year-old man whose hair is speckled with gray, could have passed for a maintenance worker at the parish on a recent Friday morning.
Yet, “Papa Z,” as he’s known around the parish, is Fr. David Zampino, one of the Milwaukee Archdiocese’s recently ordained priests. And, yes, he’s not only dad to Elizabeth, and a new grandfather to month-old Grace Allison Claire, but he’s married to the mother of his eight children, Michele, a music teacher at St. Gregory the Great and St. Charles Borromeo schools, Milwaukee.
Fr. Zampino and his family are used to the questions his ordination poses among [su_pullquote align=”right”]FOR MORE INFORMATION on married priests, here’s a Q&A that may answer some questions.[/su_pullquote]Catholics, and when asked, they explain he was ordained under extraordinary circumstances that allow for the ordination of married men who had been ordained in non-Catholic, Christian denominations.
After World War II, Pope Pius XII granted permission for some married Lutheran clergy to be ordained to the Catholic priesthood, and in his 1967 encyclical, “Of the Celibacy of the Priest,” Pope Paul VI called for a study of the circumstances of married ministers of other Christian communities and the possibility of admitting those who desire full communion to the Catholic priesthood. In 1980, Pope John Paul II allowed an exception for married Episcopal clergy who want to become Catholic priests — an exception that has since been extended to married men ordained in other non-Catholic, Christian denominations.
Yet, he and his family will also note that ordinations like his remain an exception and the journey to ordination in the Catholic Church is long and involves a dispensation from the pope.
In Fr. Zampino’s case, the process was extended because from the time he began his quest – in 2005 to his eventual ordination – there were leadership changes in both the Milwaukee Archdiocese and in Rome, meaning that two archbishops – Archbishops Timothy M. Dolan and Jerome E. Listecki – and two popes – Benedict and Francis – had to sign off on the ordination.
During Holy Week this year, Fr. Zampino learned an ordination date could be set, putting a whirlwind few weeks into motion. On Friday, April 15, at St. Margaret Mary, the parish where he is director of lifelong faith formation, Archbishop Listecki ordained him, making him the second married priest ordained in similar circumstances in the archdiocese.
Fr. Russ Arnett, ordained in 2011, also serves the archdiocese. He is married to Dianne, and is administrator of St. Francis Xavier, Brighton, and St. John the Baptist, Kansasville, and a Nashotah House Theological Seminary classmate of Fr. Zampino.
Fr. Zampino, who will become shared associate pastor at St. Robert, Shorewood, and Holy Family, Whitefish Bay, on June 21, said he did not set out to embark on this journey to ordination in the Catholic Church. He was raised an Episcopalian in Baltimore and his father was an Episcopal priest and bishop.
He met Michele, then a lapsed Catholic, at Oral Roberts University; they married in 1989. They were involved in the local Episcopal church and began their family which includes David, 25, married about three weeks ago to Lisa; Maria, 23; Thomas Becket, 21; Elizabeth, 19; John Paul, 17; Teresa, 15; Philip, 13; and Gianna, 11.
They moved to Wisconsin in 1996 so Fr. Zampino could attend seminary at Nashotah House. He was ordained a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church that year.
During his first year at the seminary, while on a silent retreat, Fr. Zampino said, “I made the mistake – not really a mistake – of reading Cardinal (John Henry) Newman and that kick started me in a direction toward the Catholic Church.”
As he continued reading the work of church fathers, such as Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, “that pretty much clinched things,” he admitted.
By 2004, even though he had reached the status of “canon theologian” in his faith, which he described as “roughly equivalent to a monsignor” in the Catholic Church, he and his wife made the decision to convert to Catholicism. In Michele’s case, it was returning to the faith of her youth, while the rest of the Zampino clan were received into the church through the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) process in February 2005.
According to Fr. Zampino, he entered the church unconditionally. Whether he would be accepted as a priest or not, he decided to convert to Catholicism.
It was Archbishop Dolan who, after an initial meeting, began the process for him to become an ordained Roman Catholic priest.
Fr. Zampino admitted he considered the permanent diaconate – as he had been a deacon in his church for three years – “but I think I am where God wants me to be. I love saying Mass, love hearing confessions – last Thursday, I was in the box for two and a half to three hours – and am in awe of what God has allowed me to do.”
As a married priest, Fr. Zampino noted he has no higher aspirations.
“I don’t have any ambitions at this point as I’ll be an associate or administrator for the rest of my life,” he said, explaining any other role would require another dispensation from the Vatican. “The thing is that doesn’t bother me; rather it frees me from the pressure of having to worry about the politics in the church. I don’t have to deal with any of it and can just love the people, which is all I want to do.”
Relates to marital, family concerns
Fr. Zampino knows that he brings a wealth of experiences to his ministry as well. As a father and husband, he said he relates to parishioners’ family concerns.
“I’ve already experienced it in the six weeks since I’ve been ordained. There are married people who feel more comfortable talking about problems and circumstances to someone who is married than to someone who is celibate,” he said, adding, “I’m not saying that’s good or bad, but just saying what it is.”
As a “preacher’s kid,” Fr. Zampino said he knows what it’s like to be in the spotlight, under the scrutiny of his father’s parishioners.
“I can relate to it, I can sympathize with it. I get it, I understand it,” he said, explaining that he and his wife have raised their children with sound morals, “but all kids make bad choices sometimes.”
Finding, maintaining balance
Balancing ministry and family is something Fr. Zampino has been doing for much of his married life so he doesn’t expect changes.
“One thing I try to do, and Fr. Mike (pastor Fr. Michael Lightner) has encouraged me because I’m not a single man, I’m not available 24-7 and that’s OK,” he said. “I’ll be there for anybody in an emergency, but when I leave to go home, I’m home with the family.”
“Emergencies are different, however,” he said, explaining that recently, for example, he was called to give last rites to Fr. Joseph Wolf, a regular help-out priest.
“I will drop anything for an emergency and always have, but by the same token, it has to be an emergency,” he said. “I’m not fulfilling my vocation as a husband and a father if I’m not there with my family. I realize it is a balancing act, and realize not everyone will get it, but I will do my best when I am able.”
His children appreciate the fact that their dad has obligations with the church, but noted he’s generally there for their musical performances, school events and even spur-of–the-moment lunch dates.
“When I sang a solo, ‘O Holy Night,’ during a Christmas performance, apparently someone in the crowd was crying,” said St. Margaret Mary fifth-grader Gianna of her father, who was in the audience wearing a Santa Claus suit.
“He’s the best dad ever,” said Gianna, adding that he’s an “amazing cook” who can whip up a delicious lasagna, and is a “wonderful storyteller. He’s really supportive of everything I do and I love that because sometimes I feel I can’t do what I am trying to do and he supports me.”
Elizabeth, a St. Norbert College student, and Philip, a recent St. Margaret Mary graduate who will begin studies at St. Lawrence Seminary in the fall, described their father as someone who loves to tell bad jokes and displays a “ridiculous” sense of humor.
“I got my silly factor from him,” said Elizabeth.
“I love being a dad,” said Fr. Zampino. “My kids know I love them and I love doing things with them.”
Family emphasizes service
Balancing fatherhood and ministry comes naturally for the family, explained Michele.
“He’s been doing ministry since very early on in our marriage and I am so pleased, because I feel he’s where he belongs,” she said, adding this has been an easy adjustment. “We’ve always taught our children to serve the church in any way we can. To me (ordination) is a fulfillment of what we dreamed and believe God is calling for his and our life. ”
While the journey was long, Michele noted, “I’m really at peace now, because I feel like his journey is just beginning.”
Now that he’s comfortably at home in the Catholic Church, Fr. Zampino said he hopes his example leads others to the church.
“I think we say more with our actions than with our words and I’ve found this with my kids and my godkids, with the students (he teaches at St. Margaret Mary and at Marquette University where he is an adjunct professor of theology),” he said, adding, “If I can help draw more people into the church, then I’m happy.”
Preaches, lives faith
According to one former Marquette student, Denise Coleman, a teaching assistant at St. Margaret Mary School, he did just that.
She, her husband, Craig, and daughter, Jessica, entered the Catholic Church through the RCIA program at Easter. According to Coleman, “Fr. Dave sealed the deal.”
Educated in Milwaukee Catholic schools – St. John de Nepomuc and Messmer High School – she said through her theology classes with Fr. Zampino at Marquette, she was drawn to the faith.
“His life experience as an educator and a father and a husband, he can relate to different kinds of people and he’s very down to earth,” said Coleman, describing why Fr. Zampino will be “an awesome priest. He’s very compassionate and I’ve never met a person he could not speak to. He doesn’t just preach his faith, he lives it.”