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Spotlight: Altared Path

Mark Ivany left a career in government and politics to pursue a higher calling—the priesthood.

Photograph by Matthew Worden.

Mark Ivany left his job five years ago as a congressional liaison at the Department of Housing and Urban Development to study to be a priest. In mid-June, the 30-year-old Ivany—who once served as personal aide to the late senator Strom Thurmond—was ordained and assigned to a local parish.

Why the priesthood?

I’d met a priest at a dinner, and we became friends. I started reading the Bible and picked up a rosary. That was 2000. It was 2003 when I realized I would never be happy unless living my life fully for Jesus.

How did your family and friends react?

They were surprised but supportive. Mel Martinez, a Catholic who was then the secretary of HUD, called me into his office and thanked me for the service I was about to give. I was very touched.

How did your then-girlfriend take the news?

She went from liking me to falling in love. So that didn’t go as I hoped.

Did you gravitate to the priesthood out of dissatisfaction with politics?

I wasn’t driven away. I enjoyed what I was doing and I thought our political system, while not perfect, was the best I’d seen. But I felt something was missing in my life.

Do you have to be apolitical now?

I don’t wave a flag for either party. You’d make yourself less effective if you did.

Is there anything you miss?

I have a few good friends who are girls, and a few of them aren’t married. You don’t have the freedom to go to a bar and have a couple drinks and talk. Now I have to tell them, “Come over to the rectory and hang out with the priests and me.”

Is the spiritual life a tough sell in Washington?

This archdiocese has the highest-educated parishioners in the country. At times it can be intimidating.

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This article appears in the July 2008 issue of Washingtonian. To see more articles in this issue, click here.

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