By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Winning a raffle is always exciting, whether it’s for a quilt, a TV, or in the case of Cheryl Ann Wills, a trip to Rome.
Cheryl was leaving Mass at Our Lady of Hope Church, which meets at Our Lady of Sorrows when, on the spur of the moment, she purchased a raffle ticket from a member of the Northland Serra Club. The grand prize was a trip for two to Rome and the Vatican, and if the winner took their favorite priest with them on the trip, an additional $2500 would be awarded to cover his expenses.
Cheryl who wasn’t feeling particularly lucky, had a lot on her mind. She knew the winning ticket would be drawn later that week, but she and her husband Ed were more concerned with news they were expecting any day now about his future vocation. Ed, a former Charismatic Episcopalian priest, is in formation for ordination to the Catholic priesthood.
The very next day, a letter arrived from Rome; from the Vatican investigating committee that checks on the backgrounds and commitments of former Anglican and Episcopal clergy, who, after converting to Catholicism, ask to be ordained Catholic priests. Many of them are married, with families. After completing his background check, Ed and Cheryl were waiting for the decree of “Nulla Difficultas,” no difficulties, approval from Vatican and the Anglican Ordinariate in going forward toward his ordination.
And the following day, while the Willses were still taking deep breaths to calm themselves down, Father Joshua Barlett of St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Gladstone drew the winning raffle ticket. “Cheryl Ann Wills!” was met with an outburst of tears from the winner.
“I’ve never won anything bigger than a turkey,” she admitted. She said later, “God had his hand in this!”
The timing was a bit unreal. The Willses had received the “Nulla Difficultas” decree just the day before. They were hoping to hear in the very near future from Bishop Lopes of the Ordinariate of St. Peter regarding Ed’s ordination, and now they had won a trip to Rome. As married couples often do, they had a similar thought: if Ed were to be ordained before the end of this year, and they took the trip in May or June of next year, he would be able arrange to say a Mass in one of the Vatican side chapels, long a dream of his. Not to mention, since Ed is pursuing ordination, when he’s ordained, he will be Cheryl’s favorite priest.
Priscilla Pawlikowsi, past President of the Northland Serra Club and Wayne Snyder, incoming President, were on hand June 25 to present Cheryl and Ed with a check for $7,500, the trip for two to Rome, and the additional $2,500 for Cheryl’s favorite priest. The presentation was made under the portico at Our Lady of Sorrows Church, home of Our Lady of Hope Church.
Ed Wills grew up in East Texas with a strong evangelical background. For many years he knew there was something he wanted, and he searched for it in the Methodist and Baptist traditions.
He graduated with a degree in Theology, specializing in ancient languages, from Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., before joining the Navy. Ed served as a Surface Warfare Officer, and his training and primary duties focused on the operation of Navy ships at sea and the management of various shipboard systems. He attained the rank of Lieutenant.
Just after completing Surface Warfare Officer School, Ed was stationed at the naval base in Newport, Rhode Island for a time, and it was there, while relaxing in a coffeehouse, that he met Cheryl.
Cheryl grew up in Pennsylvania. She attended Bloomsburg University where her areas of concentration were Special Education, Journalism and Reading Specialist. Since her early 20s, Cheryl has been a writer ¾ journaling, blogging, writing articles and travelogues, and is the author of “Who is Jesus?”
She also has taught preschool, served as an administrative assistant to a Philadelphia architect and later to a management consultant in Princeton, New Jersey. She is a successful small business owner. She homeschooled their three daughters to high school. And her life symbol is the hummingbird. “She perseveres to make a difference with every step (or flight), she is tireless and never gives up; she protects her family fiercely. And — she’s pretty.” Cheryl also intends to persevere to fulfill her destiny.
She and Ed have been married 36 years.
The couple’s search for truth and the mission Christ was calling them to undertake led them down a number of avenues over the years. Ed worked in the Methodist Church for years, later attending the University of Dallas for graduate studies in Theology, philosophy and literature. While there protestant Ed lived with the Discalced Carmelite Fathers for two years. He then taught Greek and Old Testament history at the Carmelite Institute for Christian Spirituality, now the Mount Carmel Center.
He explored conservative Pentecostal expression, and later became a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. In the 1990s, Ed and Cheryl both recognized their attraction to the Catholic Church — its history, doctrine and the liturgy.
Ed, Cheryl and two of their daughters were received into the Catholic Church in 2000 at St. Thomas More Church.
Cheryl said coming into the Catholic Church brought them into the fullness of their faith. For a long time now Ed has worked as the Social Justice Coordinator for St. Robert Bellarmine Church in Blue Springs, responsible for the Peace and Justice committee and the parish’s social justice program, “Hand Up.”
And now they are awaiting word on what Cheryl termed “the fullness of Ed’s call,” his ordination to the priesthood. He hopes soon to be ordained by Bishop Steven J. Lopes, to serve in the Ordinariate of St. Peter, the U.S. and Canadian diocese of Catholics from the Anglican tradition. Bishop Lopes was ordained the first bishop of the Ordinariate in Nov. 2015.
The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter was created by the Vatican on Jan. 1, 2012, in pastoral response to repeated inquiries made by Anglican individuals and groups in the U.S. and Canada, who identified the Catholic Church as their faith home, accepted and conformed to Catholic doctrinal, sacramental and liturgical standards, but wished to preserve their worship traditions. There are three Ordinariates – Our Lady of Walsingham in the U.K.; Our Lady of the Southern Cross in Australia and the Chair of St. Peter, which is headquartered in Houston, Texas.
There are 43 parishes and communities across the U.S. and Canada, under the leadership of Bishop Lopes.
Ed still has “a few hoops to jump through:” three courses to complete: Moral Theology, Canon Law, and finally, Thomistic Philosophy, all of which he is planning to finish this summer; a psychological test to pass and a week-long intensive “bringing up to speed” on the Ordinariate. “And there could still be another step, we don’t know yet,” Ed said.
But their dream, their hope and prayer is that he will be ordained a Catholic priest in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph for the Personal Ordinariate of St. Peter at Our Lady of Hope later this year. Ed believes that would build up a relationship between the Diocese and the Ordinariate.
There is a priest serving the diocese who was ordained in the Ordinariate, Father Randolph Sly, now at Our Lady of Hope Church. Father Sly and Ed and Cheryl are good friends.