Rev. Stephen H. Howell

Year of Ordination

Ministry Assignment
Vicar General Archdiocese of San Francisco
St. Philip the Apostle Church — Pastor

When did you first think about becoming a priest?
I thought about the priesthood off and on as a student at Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo and at the University of San Francisco, as well as during my years teaching for the San Francisco Unified School District. Many of the priests I encountered became friends and mentors: the diocesan priests who were my teachers at Serra, the Jesuits who were my teachers at USF, and the Franciscans, who staffed my home parish of St. Anthony of Padua in the Mission District of San Francisco. All encouraged me to continue to discern and gave me the time, space and support that I needed, until I finally made the decision to go to St. Patrick’s Seminary to “try my vocation.”

Please tell a bit of your background before entering the seminary: did you enter from high school, working, college, etc.?
I come from a middle class family that has roots in California going back to the early 1860’s. The Catholic faith was an important part of my family’s identity for several generations, although it was never overplayed. We attended Mass each Sunday and I received instruction in the faith through Catechism classes and Catholic schools. There was no pressure to consider a vocation to the priesthood, although this was always presented in a positive light to me and my classmates by the priests in our parishes and by the priests who taught us various subjects in high school and at university. There was support for whatever I decided was my direction in life from both family and friends.

I was born in San Francisco, attended public elementary school in San Mateo through the 6th  grade, St. Gregory’s School in San Mateo 7th – 8th  grade, Junipero Serra High School, and USF for a Bachelor of Arts Degree in History, a California Secondary Teaching Credential, and graduate level studies in History. After studies, I taught for three years in the San Francisco Unified School District at Polytechnic High School and at Portola and Luther Burbank Junior High Schools.

I enjoyed my time at USF and participated in and enjoyed all aspects of university life, academic, social and extra-curricular (in reality, the partying, dating and enjoyment of friends during this period of my life is something I still value). In other words, I had a relatively average and normal experience as a university student in the middle and late 1960’s. Teaching in the public schools was great, the students were wonderful, and I could have done it for the rest of my life. BUT, the idea of the priesthood kept resurfacing and finally, my only response had to be to go to St. Patrick’s Seminary to “try my vocation.”

What do you find most enjoyable about priestly ministry?
As a priest, I was one year as the Associate Pastor at St. Timothy Parish, San Mateo, 27 years on the faculty of Junipero Serra High School (24 as President of the high school), and fourteen years as the Pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, Belmont, until coming to St. Philip’s in 2016. On weekends, while at Serra, I assisted at St. Teresa Parish, San Francisco, St. Timothy Parish, San Mateo and St. Luke Parish, Foster City, celebrating Masses and hearing Confessions. Currently, I am the Vicar General, the Pastor of St. Philip the Apostle Parish in San Francisco and part-time Formation Director for the Newly Ordained Priests.

Priestly ministry in all these roles has been enjoyable, rewarding, and fulfilling. Yes, there were and are challenges, times when I question my own abilities and times when I feel at a total loss as to how to deal with a situation, but the friendship and support of other priests and many of the laity help me to enjoy the good times and to grow and develop from the more difficult times.

What makes being a San Francisco priest so great?
We live in a wonderful Archdiocese with wonderful parishioners and supporters. The City and County of San Francisco and the Archdiocese of San Francisco (Marin, San Francisco, and San Mateo Counties) are constantly changing and this is a challenge, but there is nothing new with this. From the time the Archdiocese of San Francisco was established in 1853 to today, we have gone through numerous demographic, political, societal, and ecclesial shifts. As a Church, Christ remains the center and His teaching in the Great Commandment continues to be our guide. We are called at all times to strive to “love God and to express this love of God through Love of neighbor.” This is the challenge. We don’t always succeed, individually or as a Church, but it is special to belong to a presbyterate committed to trying to serve God and the People of God. Working and striving to share these ideals with and for the seminarians, younger priests, and the People of God makes life and ministry worthwhile for me. Also, the Archdiocese of San Francisco is home. I was born here, I grew up here, I was educated here, and I serve the People of God here. With all of its interesting configurations and people, this is my home and this is where I belong.

What are some of your hobbies or things you enjoy during your free time?
During my down time, I enjoy reading history, traveling California, Europe, and the world (if only by means of television, videos, and on-line news). I also enjoy spending time visiting with friends.

What would you say to a young man considering the priesthood today?
I would encourage a young man considering the priesthood to continue to pray and discern the direction he may be going and to make contact with the Vocation Director of the Archdiocese. I would encourage him to talk with various priests, both diocesan and religious, currently serving in the Archdiocese. I would also remind him that a vocation is something that develops gradually. As the interest and inner feeling develops, I would encourage him to consider “trying his vocation” at the seminary.