St. John Pastor Celebrates 25 Years Of Holy Orders


On June 5, 1999, a young Erik Arnold knelt before the archbishop of Baltimore and promised a life of celibacy, prayer and obedience. With the laying on of hands and prayer of consecration, the Rev. Arnold received the indelible mark of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

Twenty-five years later, his priesthood journey has brought him to St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church and its accompanying school in Severna Park.

“I was excited and nervous, as you could imagine, but also deeply grateful to God for all that he had been doing to prepare me for that day,” said Arnold, recalling his ordination day, “and for my heart to try to be the best priest and minister of Jesus that I could be. Lots of gratitude in my heart on that day.”

Arnold graduated from Mount Saint Joseph High School in 1988, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in 1992 with computer science and history degrees. He spent the next year working as a substitute teacher in the public school system while “trying to figure out what the lord was calling me to and where he was leading me,” Arnold said.
Judy Crowninshield may be the St. John parishioner who has known Arnold the longest. In 1992, the former teacher met Arnold as a substitute teacher at her school.

“I think he realized that teaching middle school students wasn’t for him,” Crowninshield said. “Now as a priest, I see the teacher in him frequently, especially with his use of relevant visual aids in his children’s Masses and homilies.”

Arnold was attending Mass in Catonsville when he met the charismatic Rev. Richard Lobert, a mentor who would change his life forever.

“He was the first priest I had ever met who seemed passionate and joyful about what he was doing. When he preached, the scriptures would come to life for me in a way they hadn’t before,” Arnold said. “His witness was really important and significant in me thinking that I wanted to do what he’s doing and bring Jesus out into the world.”

Having grown up Catholic, Arnold admitted that God was in his head but not yet in his heart. As his post-college conversion unfolded, he experienced God’s call to priesthood.

“I wanted other people to come to know that the lord is real, that he has a plan for our life, that he loves and cares for us in the deepest and most personal way we can ever imagine,” Arnold said. “I wanted people to know what I had come to know, so it was out of that that I began to start thinking about becoming a priest.”

In 1993, Arnold entered seminary, and in 1994 began his studies at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. He was ordained a priest in Baltimore on June 5, 1999, after which he returned to Rome for an additional year of studies. He returned to the Archdiocese of Baltimore in 2000 to begin his parish ministry.

Since July 2019, Arnold’s family has included the 2,200 Catholic families that make up the St. John the Evangelist parish. Less than a year into his assignment, Arnold had to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and keep his new family connected to Jesus while they were unable to come to church. Within hours of the complete shutdown, St. John the Evangelist was livestreaming Masses via social media, offering online praise and worship services, sending video messages to parishioners and eventually celebrating outdoor Masses and reconciliation.

“I feel we are so very blessed to have him as our pastor,” Crowninshield said. “His resourcefulness and knowledge of technology kept quarantined parishioners in contact with the parish family. He and his staff came up with creative opportunities for us to worship together and continue to nourish our faith in God.”

Under his leadership, the parish on Ritchie Highway earlier this year began Arnold’s latest challenge — the renovation of the aging church. With original heating and cooling systems and asbestos tile ceiling abatement, among other things to be updated, St. John’s church will temporarily close this fall for a multi-million-dollar, parishioner-funded renovation. Masses and other events normally scheduled for the church will move to the parish activities center on the north end of the St. John campus. The project is expected to be complete by fall of 2025.

Larry Kirby is a parish corporator, a longtime parishioner and friend of Arnold. Kirby’s own son Stephen is in formation of the priesthood at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

“It’s clear to me that Father Erik is a prayerful man who tries to do what God wants him to do,” Kirby said. “This makes it easier for people to follow him even if they don’t always agree with his decisions.”

As for Arnold’s leadership impact, Kirby said there are more people coming to Mass, especially younger families attending and large numbers of people entering the Catholic Church through the parish’s initiation program. “From a facilities perspective, we’ve made great progress since his arrival and he’s spearheaded a capital campaign that looks like it will make its goal in short order,” Kirby added.

Arnold emphasized that there are many misconceptions about the priesthood, including the thought that priests are lonely, which Arnold said is categorically untrue.

“God gives us a huge family in the parish,” Arnold said. “From very young and very old, we become part of a huge church family, so priests are far from being lonely. From our parish family, we have so many more friendships, more relationships, than we could have ever expected. To be given a parish family is a great gift from the lord. It’s incredibly rewarding to be part of this family and ensures that we are never lonely.”

Careful to maintain a priestly and personal balance, Arnold makes sure to stay close to the lord and nourish his own spiritual needs.

“You cannot give what you don’t have. How can I lead people closer to the lord if I don’t allow him to draw me closer, too?” Arnold rhetorically asked, and added that he spends time in prayer, reads and studies scripture to allow God to speak to him through God’s sacred word, maintains a closeness to God in the sacraments, and reads contemporary Catholic and Christian writers who have their own reflections.

Arnold enjoys getting out in nature to be refreshed in the beauty of God’s creation. He’s an avid trail runner, hiker and climber, and can be found in Bacon Ridge Natural Area in Crownsville as often as his schedule allows. He even plans his vacations around scenic and rugged locales. He’s an experienced chef and enjoys hosting his priest and seminarian brothers for frequent dinners at the rectory.

After 25 years of ministry, Arnold said he can see the danger in allowing the priesthood to become a job, and the only way to make sure that doesn’t happen is to stay close to God.
“Staying close to Jesus keeps everything focused on where it needs to be,” Arnold said. “My life and my ministry is a call from God and unless I allow him to stay the center of it, it is not going to serve its purpose that he has called me to accomplish with him.”

Crowninshield said, “I think one instantly knows Father Arnold is genuine. He is living what he is preaching. He relates to people in all age groups, interests and backgrounds. As I have said to anyone who will listen to me, he does everything he can to bring you to Jesus and Jesus to you. He has a personal relationship with the lord, and he wants all of us to experience that same intimate connection that elevates and intensifies our spiritual life.”


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here