A native of Montgomery Village, Maryland, Deacon Stephen Castellano, 32, is one of seven children of Ellen and Anthony (Tony) Castellano. He credits the foundation of his vocation to his parents, and an upbringing steeped in the Catholic faith.

“When I was 7 years old, we moved next door to the church, St. John Neumann,” Deacon Stephen recalls. “It is literally a stone’s throw from our house. So I grew up physically close to the church and in time became more spiritually tied to it.”

Attending the parish youth group during high school had a big impact. “It was a very good way to be immersed in the faith during the formative years,” he says. “We had great catechesis, but also a lot of fun.”

Years later, Stephen, like all Marian seminarians, had to take on a pastoral ministry assignment during his theological studies. He had proposed to, and was encouraged by, his formators to return to St. John Neumann to minister to that same youth group.

“It was fascinating to go back now and see the new generation coming up, and to observe how the Lord works in young souls,” he says. “The challenge is to keep kids grounded in prayer.”

Before the start of meetings and Eucharistic Adoration, the youth ministry team brought out a wooden box, which came to be known as the “cellphone jail.”

“Getting downtime with God is really important for young people,” he explains. “Surrendering the cellphones encourages focus on the present moment and each other. It’s a good practice for kids.”

Marian vocation

During his college years at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland, Stephen’s spiritual life deepened, forming a foundation upon which he was able later to hear God calling him to the priesthood. Regular prayer and daily Mass, Bible studies, and making like-minded friends through FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) sharpened his focus.

“I found I was growing closer to Mary in my spiritual life, especially after reading 33 Days to Morning Glory and Consoling the Heart of Jesus,” Deacon Stephen recalls. “Making a discernment retreat in Steubenville, Ohio, with Fr. Donald Calloway gave me a good glimpse of religious life and had a positive impact. I felt a particular calling to be a ‘Marian’ priest, even though at the time I didn’t know exactly how that was going to look.”

Stephen joined the Marians in 2018. “It has truly been a total joy from day one,” he admits. “The time has flown by.”

The white habit

During his profession of perpetual vows on Aug. 16, Deacon Stephen was invested with the white habit, making him the first Marian in our province to receive this since the Marian Congregation recently approved its revival after a 100-year hiatus.

The white habit was retired at the beginning of the 20th century when Bl. George Matulaitis undertook the Renovation of the Marian Congregation. Adopting the black attire of diocesan priests meant that Marians would blend in and not suffer persecution from Russia.

“Honestly, receiving the white habit is like a dream come true,” Br. Stephen says. “We finally have a distinguishing religious garment, different from the common clerical garb of diocesan priests. The color white also highlights in a very specific way our charism, which is the mystery of the Immaculate Conception. Our Founder, St. Stanislaus Papczynski, from the very beginning gave us this habit as a sign of our spiritual identity, which is grounded in Mary’s Immaculate Conception. And so the habit is a sign to the Church and to the world of who we are.”

First preaching

Deacon Stephen was ordained on Sept. 2, 2023. As a deacon, he is continuing to reside at the Marian Scholasticate in Washington, D.C. and assisting the Marian priests there in their ministries, including Marian Assisted Living, the Oblate Sisters of the Most Holy Eucharist, and St. Andrew Kim Parish in Olney, Maryland.