Growing up surrounded by dairy cows and soybean crops on his family’s farm in Carroll, Iowa, Deacon Joseph Lappe, MIC, never imagined he would enter the religious life.
“He was just a normal kid,” his mom, Jan Lappe, said.
But on Jan. 6, 2018, in the nation’s capital within the crypt of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Br. Joe was ordained to the transitional diaconate of the Marian Fathers.
Deacon Joe considers his vocation to religious life unlikely. When he first felt the call, he was over 30 years old and had two college degrees: one in tool and die from Iowa Western Community College and another in exercise science and sports management from Iowa State University. In his first full-time job after school, he worked as a cage cashier at the Ameristar Casino Hotel in Council Bluffs, Iowa. After a couple years at the casino, he took a job at Wells Fargo as a bank cashier.
“It was an awesome job. It had phenomenal benefits and everything you would want as a secular person,” Deacon Joe said. “I loved the people I worked with. But after a while, I was just working for a paycheck. I started to think, ‘This is ridiculous. I should be doing something a lot more [fulfilling] than this.’ And that’s when I felt the call the priesthood.”
During his unsatisfying years as a cashier, he turned more and more frequently to the Rosary for comfort. He started watching [Venerable Bishop] Fulton J. Sheen’s 1950s show “Life is Worth Living,” which his parents had on video cassette.
When he first discerned the call, he waited until he was certain to tell his parents. “A part of me thought, this is ridiculous — I’m over 30 years old. There’s no way God is calling me to the priesthood,” he said. “But eventually my mom started asking me about my career and suggested that maybe I should go and get a different degree. Finally I had to say, ‘Mom I think I’m being called to the priesthood.'”
First he considered the diocese, but then he stumbled upon the Marian Fathers. Joe’s mom had gone to a Catholic conference and brought back a DVD of the conversion story of Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC. Deacon Joe appreciated Fr. Donald’s orthodoxy.
“I was still on the fence when my mom got a Marian Helper magazine,” Deacon Joe said. “On the front it said, ‘This is your last issue,’ even though it was the first time she ever received it. She didn’t sign up for anything. She didn’t know why she got it.”
In the magazine, Joe recognized Fr. Donald in an ad for a vocation retreat. He also read an article about St. Joseph and took that as a sign. “I thought, ‘Hey, my name’s Joseph,'” he said. So he talked to Fr. Donald on the phone, scheduled an appointment to meet, and used what was left of his savings to fly out to Steubenville, Ohio. “I loved everything he was talking about, especially his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary,” he said.
Jan remembers her son telling her, “Mom, I’ve been looking for the right girl, and I don’t think it’s going to be any girl here on earth — it’s going to be the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
But Joe had to settle some business before he could join the Marians. “I needed to pay off my credit card debt before [I could join].” Joe took a job delivering sandwiches at Jimmy John’s restaurant. He memorized his routes and, surpising his customers with his speediness, he made some great tips.
“Once Joe makes a decision, he doesn’t veer from it. He goes for it,” Joe’s mom said. “No matter what he has to do, he has tenacity and he always figures out a way to get the job done. He’s been that way his whole life.”
In 2009, 33 years old and debt free, Joe entered the Marian Fathers. He professed his final vows with the Marians in August 2015. This past Saturday’s ordination marks a significant step towards his final goal. Deacon Joe said that God willing, he will be ordained to the priesthood in August 2018.
This year, Deacon Joe will continue working on his masters of divinity at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. He’s also helping to teach catechism to 7th graders at St. Andrew Apostle Catholic Church in Silver Springs, Maryland.
The Most Rev. Mario E. Dorsonville-Rodriguez, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington D.C., presided at the liturgy.
In the Bishop’s homily, he explained the role of the deacon, emphasizing this task as a commitment to service. “As a minister of the altar, he will proclaim the Gospel, prepare the Sacrifice, and distribute the Lord’s Body and Blood to the faithful. Furthermore, it will be his duty . . . to instruct believers in the holy doctrine. He will preside over public prayer, administer baptisms, assist at and bless marriages, bring Viaticum to the dying, and conduct funeral rites.”
The Bishop went on to tell Deacon Joe to always remember that it is much more joyful to give than to receive. “As a deacon, as a minister of Jesus Christ who came among His disciples as One who served, do the will of God from the heart,” Bishop Mario said. “Serve the people in love and joy as you would the Lord.”
The Bishop went on to say, “I wouldn’t be able to finish my homily without reminding you, you are the fruit of love . . . You come here as the fruit of your family life to join an eternal family, which is your religious community. It is your duty to continue to spread that teaching of love.”
After the ordination, the provincial prefect of formation, Fr. Jim McCormack, MIC said, “[Deacon Joe] has a great sense of humor. He has a lively, vibrant personality, and it’s always fun to be around him. He’s a wonderful contribution to our community.”
At the reception after the Mass, Joe’s mom said that she’s never seen him “so settled and so happy.” She said, “When Joe was living by himself, he would move to different places, but he never really unpacked. He always lived out of his boxes and his suitcases. He never really settled down until he got here. The Marians have him now, and it’s a good place for him to be.”