Second vocation stems from past

When he became the primary caregiver of his wife of 35 years, Deacon Bill Korpi, 62, learned a lot about fully living out his marriage vows - "for better or for worse, in sickness and in health." It was while his wife was on her death bed after suffering 18 years from complications of multiple sclerosis that he began contemplating another sacrament - holy orders.

"I began to feel moving in my soul, a strong desire to devote the rest of my life to ministry in the Church," he said.

He told his ailing wife what he was contemplating. Although at that point she was unable to speak, she blinked her eyes indicating that she understood. It gave him the peace to move in that direction after she died in 2003.

After a discernment period, Deacon Korpi applied for studies for the priesthood. Now, five years later, he will join two others this Saturday when he is ordained a priest for the Arlington Diocese.

"God handed me an opportunity that I thought I would never have had the chance to do," he said. It was an "urge from God to be of service in this ministry," Deacon Korpi said.

A native of Dowagaic, Mich., Deacon Korpi grew up in a Lutheran family and spent one year of high school in a Lutheran seminary. Feeling that he was not being called to that ministry, he returned to his public high school. After graduation, he joined the Army and met a Catholic priest. He started asking many questions and taking instruction from the priest and in 1964 he came into the Church.

While Deacon Korpi always felt called to ministry and was involved in Church activities, he also strongly felt called to marriage. He and his wife, Vincenza, raised a son, Michael, who now lives in Falls Church and who will be at the ordination Saturday.

Following promptings in prayer, Deacon Korpi felt called to apply to study for the permanent diaconate. He was accepted and after formal studies was ordained in 1988. The parishioner of St. James Church in Falls Church served for 10 years at St. Philip Church in Falls Church and eight years at Nativity Parish in Burke.

Before entering to the seminary, a young girl in a religious education class asked him what took God so long to call him to be a priest. He explained to her that God wanted him to be ordained now and not 30 years ago. "Those 30 years and the events I experienced in my life before were part of my preparation to become a priest. Without them, I would not be ready," he said.

He was sent by the diocese to Blessed John XXIII Seminary in Westin, Mass., where he joined many other "second vocation" men studying for the priesthood. Many had their children and grandchildren visiting them in the seminary, he said. While studying for the priesthood he spent his summers and Christmas breaks serving at Sacred Heart in Winchester, All Saints in Manassas, and most recently at St. Agnes in Arlington.

Caring for his wife during her illness, the future priest grew to love serving the sick, and now that his ordination is imminent, he looks forward to being able to administer the anointing of the sick and serving those who suffer. Deacon Korpi also looks forward to continuing to serve the young people in the parishes.

Two other aspects of the priesthood that he is eager about, he said, is celebrating Mass - "bringing Christ's body and blood" - and offering the sacrament of confession - "bringing God's mercy."

The concept of a deacon is to "be the servant of the people God," he said. As a priest, he will still have that role. He will always be a deacon, he said. "I think that my becoming a priest will allow me to experience the fullness of the ministry."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2008