New priest begins service to Maronite community

Friday, Nov. 24, 2006
New priest begins service to Maronite community + Enlarge
Maronite Father Thomas Craven celebrates a weekday liturgy at St. Jude Maronite Church in Murray. In the Maronite Church, the majority of the Divine Liturgy is spoken in English, although Syriac and Aramaic are also used. IC photo by Christopher Gray

MURRAY — If the Maronite Catholic Church is quintessentially associated with Lebanon and its people, then how does a man of Irish descent from Youngstown, Ohio come to be a Maronite priest?

Maronite Father Thomas Craven is glad to explain the story with its twists and turns.

"We went out for a smoke, and there she was. And I told her, ‘Joan, someday, I’m going to marry you,’" he said in a Nov. 13 interview with the Intermountain Catholic.

Although ordained only Aug. 12 of this year, Fr. Craven brings a lifetime of experience to his ministry. After meeting his future wife in 1968, he later went on to marry her, though not in her family’s Maronite church, but rather at St. Columba Cathedral in Youngstown, Ohio.

Not long after, the young man had a dream of a gray-bearded man, wearing a long black robe, who motioned for Craven to follow him. Peeking into a new St. Maron Church in 1974, the young couple was greeted with a painting of the same image.

"It was St. Maron," Fr. Craven said, "telling me to come. So we did, and we came back to the Maronite Church."

In 1993, Fr. Craven entered the diaconate formation program of the Youngstown Roman Catholic Diocese, and in 1994 was ordained a sub-deacon in the Maronite Church.

Joan died in May, 1997, just a few months before Fr. Craven’s scheduled ordination to the diaconate. The Maronite bishop told Fr. Craven to wait for six months after the death of his wife. "Then another six months, then another. Finally, the last time I asked when I would be ordained, he asked me if I had considered the priesthood. I said, ‘Me? You think I should be a priest?’"

The parish he had attended since 1974 with his wife and later alone sponsored Fr. Craven to go to Youngstown State University. In 1993, he began his final years of study at the Washington Theological Union in Washington, D.C.

After his ordination Aug. 12 by Bishop Robert Shaheen of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles, Fr. Craven was sent to St. Jude Maronite Church in Murray to fill the position vacated by Fr. Gebran Bou-Mehri after his transfer after nearly 20 years to a parish in San Francisco, Calif.

Fr. Craven looks forward to ministering to his parish, and is working to reach out to the Maronite youth.

"Every time I go up to the altar," he said, "anywhere there’s need, the Holy Spirit comes and gives me strength."

The Maronite Church is one of the 22 non-Roman Catholic rites which considers the Pope as head of the Church. Named after the monastic followers of the fifth century hermit St. Maron, the Maronite Church is today one of the principal religions in Lebanon, and its members account for the largest religious group in the country’s parliament. The Maronite Church is lead by Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, Maronite Patriarch of Antioch.

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