By GREG HARDESTY     3/19/2024

On Jan. 31 this year, a going-away party was held in the office of Bishop Kevin Vann for Msgr. Stephen Doktorczyk, a familiar face at Diocese headquarters on the Christ Cathedral campus as well as at parishes where he has served, including St. Joachim in Costa Mesa and St. Polycarp in Stanton. In addition to serving as pastor of St. Martin de Porres parish in Yorba Linda from July 2022 through the end of January 2024, he also was Vicar General for Legal and Canonical Affairs and an editor of OC Catholic.

Although Msgr. Doktorczyk has physically left the Diocese, he’s still connected to it— “incardinated,” to use the official term — and is likely to return to service in the Diocese in due time.

In early February 2024, Msgr. Doktorczyk began his new role as canon lawyer in the offices of the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C. His prestigious appointment was made at the request of Cardinal Christophe Pierre, who has served as papal nuncio to the United States since 2016.

Bishop Kevin Vann agreed to loan the then-pastor of St. Martin de Porres Church in Yorba Linda and Vicar General for Legal and Canonical Affairs to an office that has the ranks of an embassy in the U.S.

Monsignor served as Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia for the Diocese of Orange (which is the second highest official after a bishop)  from April 2018 to June 2022.

Msgr. Doktorczyk said that it was difficult for him to leave St. Martin de Porres, a parish known to be thriving in many ways, be it devotional (especially with perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament), liturgical, educational and charitable (for example, the unique Skid Row ministry featured in a previous issue of the Orange County Catholic).

He credits the vibrancy of the parish to the dedication and love of the Lord on the part of many parishioners that was fostered and encouraged by his predecessors, including Fathers Richard Delahunty, Joseph Knerr and Sy Nguyen.

The nuncio serves both as the ambassador of the Holy See to the government of the U.S. and as delegate and point-of-contact between the Catholic hierarchy in the U.S. and Pope Francis.

Not bad for a local kid who was on the fast track to management in the grocery store industry before he decided to become a priest – a calling that always tugged at him.

“People would be surprised how many matters and issues involve canon law in one way or another,” said Msgr. Doktorczyk, who is settling into his new home and office in the Embassy Row neighborhood of northwest Washington, D.C.

Canon law includes both divine law – which is based on the Scriptures, including the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ teaching on marriage – and ecclesiastical law established by the Church, such as the regulation of fasting and abstinence, which themselves are rooted in both the Old and New Testaments.

Msgr. Doktorczyk, who was ordained to the priesthood in 2005, is well versed in canon law.

Returning to the Diocese in 2007, he was assigned for the next four years as a parochial vicar at St. Joachim Church in Costa Mesa while concurrently serving as defender of the bond in the Marriage Tribunal. Near the end of 2010, during a regularly scheduled meeting with Bishop Tod Brown, the prelate informed Fr. Doktorczyk that he had received a letter from the Prefect (Head) of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, William Cardinal Levada, who asked the bishop to release the priest for service
to that Congregation if Fr. Doktorczyk was willing to accept the invitation. Part of the priest’s discernment included meeting with the Cardinal. The meeting concluded with Fr. Doktorczyk asking the Cardinal how he would respond if he were in the same situation. Cardinal Levada replied, “When the Church asks me for something, my practice is to say yes unless there is a very strong and compelling reason to say no.” The advice from the Cardinal stuck with him.

Fr. Doktorczyk accepted the invitation to return to Rome, and, from 2011 to 2016, while in formation for the priesthood, he earned a bachelor’s degree in sacred theology in 2004 from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome and a licentiate in canon law from the Pontifical Gregorian University, also in Rome, in 2007.

From 2011 to 2016, he was an official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Vatican City and adjunct spiritual director at the Pontifical North American College, also in Rome.

In 2016, he earned his doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

Upon his return to the Diocese after his service in Rome, he served as judicial vicar, overseeing the canonical affairs of the Diocese, including the marriage tribunal.

A lot of what Msgr. Doktorczyk did for the Diocese of Orange, and now will do for the nuncio in D.C., is hush hush.

“I’m engaged in a lot of sensitive work, and confidentiality surrounds my job,” he said. The Apostolic Nunciature also is involved with the selection of bishops in the U.S., performing a lot of groundwork before they are considered for appointment.

“It’s a busy office,” Msgr. Doktorczyk said.

Growing up in San Pedro, Msgr. Doktorczyk’ s home parish was Mary Star of the Sea. It always was, and remains, a bustling parish of priests from various countries, as well as ones assigned to the maritime ministry.

Such exposure to a diversity of priests would prove eventful years after Msgr. Doktorczyk graduated from high school and college, and after he worked for several years for Vons, mostly on the fast track toward regional management. After majoring in business with an emphasis in human resources from Cal State Long Beach, he earned a master’s degree in business administration from the same university.

Working at various locations in the South Bay, the Long Beach vicinity, and parts of Orange County, he would sometimes find himself debating with some Protestants who warned him about, in their words, “the dangers of Catholicism.”

He took this opportunity to study the faith, which included reading books on apologetics. He learned (or, more accurately, “relearned”) much about the foundations of the Catholic faith as a result and grew in appreciation the Catholic Church.

Prayer became more frequent for the future monsignor when he decided to stop watching TV (this was before the explosion of other social media options). Teaching religious education to eighth graders, serving as a sponsor in the RCIA program, and being otherwise involved in activities at St. Bonaventure in Huntington Beach all contributed to his eventual decision to apply to the seminary.

“I’ve very much loved my time in the Diocese of Orange and have learned a lot in every position I’ve held,” said Msgr. Doktorczyk.

Fr. Angelos Sebastian, the Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia for the Diocese of Orange, expressed his gratitude for the monsignor’s “dedicated service” to the Diocese.

“His profound love for the Church and the Diocese was evident in the various capacities in which he served,” Fr. Angelos said in a message to Pastoral Center staff. “His contributions have left a lasting impact on our priests, staff, and the faithful.

“While it saddens us to bid farewell as he embarks on this crucial service to the Church and the Holy See, we take pride in his commitment and extend our heartfelt blessings and prayers.”