From an early age, Mark Arbeen felt called to ministry. During his confirmation, the presiding bishop looked at him and said, “Let me know when your ordination is.” But it would take him many years to realize he was not called to be an Episcopal priest, but a Catholic permanent deacon. A revelation from his birth mother further affirmed his vocation. “That’s the way my life has been guided by God,” Arbeen said.
Arbeen was born in 1968 in Chicago, the last of three adopted children. He grew up in the suburbs, and his family attended an Episcopal church — the church featured in the movie “Home Alone.” After graduating high school, he served in the U.S. Navy for eight years. On one memorable trip to Italy, the Catholic chaplain on his ship asked if Arbeen wanted to meet his old seminary professor.
“He didn’t tell me his professor was Pope John Paul II,” he said. “So we had a private audience with him and gave him a ship’s hat.”
After leaving the Navy, Arbeen earned a degree in economics from the University of Illinois, and then moved to Alexandria to attend the Virginia Theological Seminary. But after a year and a half of study, he left the seminary. “I sensed I was not called to be there. There were a lot of changes going on in the Episcopal Church that I personally struggled with,” he said. “I (then) served at a parish on their vestry, but still served on the altar all the time.”
In 2002, “I met a woman whom I fell madly in love with, and she was Roman Catholic,” he said. While dating, they attended her church, St. Raymond of Peñafort Church in Springfield, on Saturday night, and Episcopal services on Sunday morning. When they got engaged, the couple received permission to be married in his Episcopal church, with then pastor of St. Raymond, Father James R. Gould, present.
While engaged, Arbeen went on a trip to Mexico City and attended Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Though he grew up with great respect for the Blessed Mother, he was a little skeptical of the apparition. But he spent the entire Mass in a kind of trance, friends later told him. While staring at the miraculous tilma, he decided that if his wife became pregnant, he would convert to Catholicism.
But he didn’t mention the promise to his wife until after they learned she was pregnant. Then, the first call he made announcing the pregnancy was to Father Gould. “She’s pregnant,” he said, “How do I become Catholic?”
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