Father Stephen Helferty
A Short Bio
Stephen comes from St. Michael’s Parish in Douglas, Ontario. The middle child of 11 siblings, he grew up near Douglas on a farm which has been the homestead of Helfertys now for six generations. After attending high school at St. Joseph’s in Renfrew, he obtained a Bachelor of Music degree from Carleton University, focusing on Jazz guitar. He entered St. Philip’s Seminary in 2010 where he studied philosophy. He then completed his theological studies at St. Augustine’s Seminary, Scarborough. Aside from studying, Stephen enjoys making music with his family, reading, and spending time outdoors. Fr. Stephen was ordained a priest on June 24, 2017 at St. Columbkille Cathedral, Pembroke.
The activity of God is mysterious, and so likewise is His action of calling men and women to serve Him in particular ways. It would be inaccurate for me to say that there was one particular moment when I was called to the priesthood–perhaps it would be more accurate to say I have always been called. Yet, I will try here to give some sort of a reckoning of my call, my vocation.
I was raised in a Catholic home by loving parents who did what they could to balance, on the one hand, engagement with the world, and on the other hand, protection from the world’s dangers. I remember taking a liking to one of our parish priests as a young boy, and I was proud of my black corduroy pants because they resembled those of Father Giroux. Later, I began to serve with my brother Matthew as an altar boy at Mass. I had very little sense of what the Mass meant, but I was content to help out. As I grew up and approached high school, I was occasionally told by priests that I should consider the priesthood. At the time, I thought this was something that priests said to all altar boys, and so I did not take the comment very seriously. My mother also occasionally asked me if I had thought about being a priest. At the time, I was not attracted to this path of life at all: I could not have even imagined why anyone would want to be a priest.
In high school, I became particularly focused on music, girls, and partying. I held to some of the principles of Catholic morality, but I lacked a living faith. As I approached the end of high school, a decision about the future had to be made. Occasionally, my mother, or a priest, or even a girl at school would mention the priesthood to me, but I still could not imagine why anyone would want to become a priest.
I went on to study music at Carleton University in Ottawa. For two years, I lived with friends and delved deeper into music, struggling to pull myself to Mass each Sunday. At the end of my second year, I decided to move home for a variety of reasons, and so I began to commute to class in Ottawa from home in Douglas. Living again in a community of faith (at home with my family), my faith began to grow. My sense that I was sinful, and that Christ forgave me in the Sacrament of Penance, and that he is present in the Blessed Sacrament–my sense of all these realities began to grow. Indeed, I think I would have liked to be able to deny these realities, but they took hold of me more and more. Still, I had no attraction to the priesthood.
As I approached my fourth and final year at Carleton, the inevitable question lurked in my mind: what are you going to do next? While there were several options in the field of music, none of these seemed sensible nor satisfactory. At the same time, both the great lack of priests, and the necessity of the priest to make present the Blessed Sacrament, were indicating to me that any young Catholic man who was still single ought to consider the priesthood. Combined with occasional encouragement of priests and my mother—yes, still—to consider the Priesthood, I felt compelled, at the very least, to contact a priest and to ask some questions; anything less, in my mind, would have meant turning my back on God and ignoring the signs I was seeing. I recalled that Father Starks had joked with me that if I decided to go to the seminary, he wanted to be the first priest to know so that he could receive commission for the sale, so I contacted him. He put me in touch with the Vocations Director and the Bishop, and arrangements were made for me to visit the seminaries in Toronto in February during my reading week of my fourth and final year at Carleton. For some reason, which I cannot explain, I decided that I would give it a try.
When I set out for St. Philip’s Seminary in September of 2010, I was anything but sure that I was called to the Priesthood. In fact, it was a painful drive to Toronto for me–leaving the comforts of home and family, heading into unknown and, frankly, strange territory. After a couple of weeks in adjusting to seminary life, I began to enjoy many aspects of being at St. Philip’s. I especially enjoyed studying Philosophy, even though I had never anticipated anything but pain in reading abstract thinkers. But, more than anything, an inner peace began to set in. Throughout my years at St. Philip’s and St. Augustine’s Seminaries, that same sense of peace has only increased–a peace that indicates to me that I am no longer journeying in the dark, no longer running from that quiet, distant echo of a voice which has been calling me for so many years.