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Catholic education gave Steven Oetjen a determination to defend church teaching

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Steven Oetjen knelt before Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Mally as he and 29 other seminarians were ordained to the diaconate at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome Sept. 29, 2016. For the previous three years, he had watched his fellow classmates go before him, but it felt completely different now that it was his turn. 

"When I went to public high school, I wanted to do anything I could to defend the church’s teachings.” Deacon Steven Oetjen

“It was incredible,” said Oetjen. “It was an experience of making those promises to God and the church in the presence of all these people, so close to the bones of our first pope.”

Oetjen’s journey to St. Peter’s began five years earlier and more than 4,400 miles away. The eldest of three boys, he was born Nov. 30, 1988, to Michael and Stephanie Oetjen in Alexandria. While he did not feel an early call to the priesthood, he distinctly remembers his faith being fortified by the education he received from his seventh- and eighth-grade religion teacher, Jeannine Peters, at St. Mary School in Alexandria. 

“From her I got a deep love of the teachings of the church,” said Oetjen. “From then on, I was really on board with my Catholic faith. When I went to public high school, I wanted to do anything I could to defend the church’s teachings.”

Oetjen held on to his convictions when he went to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. 

When he wasn’t studying the intricacies of mechanical engineering, he could be found at the Newman Center at the Pittsburgh Oratory, which is run by the Congregation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri. 

“They had such an impact on me and my growing into maturity as an adult in faith,” said Oetjen. “St. Philip is also an awesome example of intense prayer, humility, purity, good humor, and a joyful living of the Christian life.”

During his sophomore year, the congregation began to offer perpetual adoration, which served as a turning point in the prayer lives of many of the students, including Oetjen. 

As his involvement with the Newman Center increased and he began to take his prayer life more seriously, he started to think about the priesthood.

“Sometimes I was really excited, then sometimes I thought ‘Oh no, maybe I was just going through a phase. Maybe I’m really called to marriage,’” said Oetjen.” By the end of my junior year I was frustrated with going back and forth so I prayed that God would let me settle on one. Shortly after, He gave it to me and it was the priesthood that I felt drawn to.”

Oetjen applied for seminary during his senior year and attended St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa. after graduating from Carnegie Mellon in 2011. After his second year of seminary, Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde requested that he continue his studies at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. Four years after that first long plane ride to Rome, it is now time for him to return home so he can take the next step in his vocation journey. 

Oetjen will be ordained a diocesan priest by Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More June 10. He will celebrate his first Mass at St. Lawrence Church in Alexandria June 11.

“I am excited because I get the chance to really give back in a fruitful way what I have received over the past six years,” said Oetjen. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017