GREENVILLE—Father Dwight Longenecker is never alone on his daily drive to work as chaplain at St. Joseph’s Catholic School. His sons, Benedict and Theo, and daughter Madeleine, all students there, are along for the ride.
Father Longenecker is a former Anglican priest who is married with four children. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2006.
His journey to the priesthood was long and spiritually diverse.
He was raised as an evangelical Protestant in Greenville and graduated from Bob Jones University, where he first discovered the works of British Christian authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.
Father Longenecker received a degree in theology at Oxford University, was ordained in the Anglican Church, and spent 25 years in England as a rector and school chaplain.
He was received into the Catholic faith in 1995, and then decided to pursue ordination through a special pastoral provision instituted by Pope John Paul II in 1980, which allows former Protestant ministers to be ordained in the Catholic Church if they meet certain requirements. Under the provision, married Anglican priests who become Catholics and want to be ordained can apply to Rome for a dispensation from the vow of celibacy.
For the past 15 years, Father Longenecker has chronicled his spiritual journeys and perspectives. He’s a prolific writer with 11 books, numerous articles and a blog, “Standing on my Head,” http://gkupsidedown.blogspot.com, which is updated several times a week.
His latest book is “The Gargoyle Code.” It is written in the tradition of C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters,” which was a book of correspondence from a senior devil to a junior devil.
“I wanted to update the idea a bit, put it in more of a Catholic context and set it during Lent,” Father Longenecker said. “The demonic letters begin on Shrove Tuesday and end on Easter Day. I began writing the letters as posts on my blog, and then over a few months two summers ago I got to work and finished writing the whole book.”
He said two very basic human vices, pride and laziness, are at the heart of “The Gargoyle Code.” In the book, an older demon corresponds with a younger one about how to tempt their designated human beings, who they refer to as patients.
One patient is a young Catholic who is exploring different options, while the other is an older, traditional Catholic who allows petty disputes and pride to keep him from embracing the true mysteries of the Mass and his faith.
“I hope the readers will be entertained and informed and inspired with this book,” he said. “I hope as they enjoy it, the laughter and entertainment will open their hearts so we can slip in some spiritual lessons too.”
Father Longenecker uses humor as a way to teach. His blog features regular appearances by characters that include an English country vicar, a traditionalist Catholic woman who calls herself “Mantilla the Hun,” and even an eight-year-old Catholic school student named Caitlin O’Rourke.
Writing is just part of Father Longenecker’s work as a priest. He said he has found great joy in his daily work as priest chaplain at St. Joseph’s, which serves students from sixth through 12th grade. He celebrates Mass for the students, and talks with them about their faith.
“I am very enthused and encouraged by working in a high school,” he said. “I realize some people wouldn’t generally enjoy the idea of spending all day every day with teenagers, but I love it. They’re young, enthusiastic, and it’s a very positive, joyful place with a very loving atmosphere.”
Father Longenecker said the next school year will be even better because all four of his children will be at St. Joseph’s. For now, his youngest son Elias is still in middle school.
In addition to his school duties, the priest also regularly assists at St. Mary Church in Greenville.
Outside his ministry at the school and church, Father Longenecker loves to spend time with his wife Alison and their children.
He said some people come to him mistakenly thinking he might have a better perspective on family issues because he is married and has children. Father Longenecker calls this notion a red herring.
“In theory, as a married man with children, I have more firsthand experience in those matters, but I can tell you through my experience with married priests in the Anglican church that just because a man’s married doesn’t mean he’s instantly the world’s best counselor on family and marital matters,” he said.
“I have a very supportive wife and a strong marriage, but I’ve known plenty of cases where a married member of the clergy has been a negative example, where clergy marriages go wrong. Our celibate priests understand deeply the dynamic of marriage and family, often better than some of our married people do,” he said.
Father Longenecker said his greatest challenges are to meet the needs of students and the growing number of Catholics in the Upstate. He said he is trying to learn Spanish so he can be available to serve even more people.
“Life is full and life is busy,” he said. “What I receive back from the faithful in terms of love and support and friendship is more than anything I give.”