The native of Russia says he now ‘belongs permanently’ to the Church in East Tennessee
By Dan McWilliams
Father Valentin Iurochkin, a native of Russia, has traveled the world in his time in the seminary and the priesthood, but now he can officially call East Tennessee his home.
Bishop Richard F. Stika presided at a ceremony during a Mass on Dec. 12 that incardinated Father Iurochkin into the Diocese of Knoxville. The Mass on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe was held at the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Chattanooga, where Father Iurochkin serves as parochial vicar.
“This is a beautiful day for me as the ordinary of this diocese as we welcome Father Valentin into the diocese,” Bishop Stika said. “We pray that his ministry might be fruitful and that he might know that he is loved by the Catholic community of East Tennessee.”
Concelebrating the Mass along with Father Iurochkin were basilica rector Father David Carter, Father Arthur Torres, Father Christopher Manning, Father Jerry Daniels, and Father Nick Tran. Deacons Hicks Armor and Gaspar DeGaetano were deacons of the Eucharist, and diocesan chancellor Deacon Sean Smith was deacon of the Word and read the Decree of Incardination later in the liturgy.
Attending the Mass were Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation and Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus “Ad Gentes,” Deacon Jim Bello, director of Christian Formation for the diocese who also serves at Holy Spirit Church in Soddy-Daisy, Deacon Brian Gabor, campus minister with the Newman Center at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga who also serves at St. Jude Church in Chattanooga, as well as members of the Serra Club of Chattanooga. Club president Larry Skelly was the reader at Mass.
The incardination Mass marked Father Iurochkin’s break with the Institute of the Incarnate Word, the community he had been a member of since his pre-seminary days.
In his homily before he incardinated the missionary priest, Bishop Stika said the first missionary is the Blessed Mother.
“A missionary points people to Christ, to the Father. Wasn’t it Mary at Cana in Galilee who said to someone, ‘Do as He tells you’? Listen to Him. Listen to her son, Jesus,” the bishop said. “Earlier in this month, we celebrated the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Mary born without the stain of original sin, because within her would be contained the Son of God. Today we celebrate a feast day that’s very unique to the Americas: the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. And again we see the presence of Mary as a missionary throughout history, whether it was in Knock in Ireland, Czestochowa in Poland, in Mexico, and now even in Wisconsin, it has been proclaimed by that diocese, and all these other places. Mary again is an instrument of God, pointing out to those she would visit to have a message: repent, listen to my Son, pray the rosary, whatever it might be. Mary is a true missionary.”
A key encounter in Father Iurochkin’s pre-East Tennessee days was with Father Jesús Guerrero, now the parochial vicar at St. Mary Parish in Johnson City.
“It’s because of Father Jesús, who remembered this young man from Russia who had joined a community that didn’t seem to be the right fit, who invited him to come to that beautiful land of East Tennessee,” Bishop Stika said. “He was a young priest, a newly ordained priest, a priest who could speak at least five languages and knows how to play the piano. His name is Valentin, and he’s concelebrating with me today.
“Through prayer and reflection on his part and on my part, and with the recommendations of good priests like Father Carter, Valentin has decided to become a priest of the Diocese of Knoxville. … He’s gifted. He’s done so well here at the basilica. He works with college students at the Catholic Student Center. He’s filled with joy, and he smiles and prays. It’s a blessing to have people come into the diocese, whether it’s from Africa or Asia or India or Texas—they come into our diocese because they want to do what Mary told them to do with Jesus: ‘Do as He tells you’ and to share the faith.”
The official incardination paperwork was signed by Bishop Stika, Deacon Smith, and Father Iurochkin following Communion.
“What a blessing Valentin will be to this diocese,” the bishop said. “May his service be long. May his love continue to be plentiful, as he will hold in his hands that bread and that chalice and say, ‘This is my body, this is my blood, given for you.’ Throughout his life, he has listened to the message of Mary, when she points to Jesus, to Valentin, and to all of us and says, ‘Do as He tells you.’”
Deacon Smith read the Decree of Incardination, which was headed, “Richard Frank Stika, by the grace of God and favor of the Apostolic See, third bishop of Knoxville.”
The decree stated, “Whereas, Rev. Valentin Iurochkin was a presbyter from the Institute of the Incarnate Word; and whereas, Rev. Valentin Iurochkin, has provided the Diocese of Knoxville with over three years of ministerial service; and whereas, I, the bishop of Knoxville, find Rev. Valentin Iurochkin’s incardination into the Diocese of Knoxville a necessity and an advantage without prejudice to the prescripts of the law concerning the decent support of clerics (canon 269, 1°); and whereas, I have received a lawful document from the Dicastery (Congregation) for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (indult of exclaustration) that exclaustration has been granted by the Holy Father, along with appropriate testimonials concerning Rev. Valentin Iurochkin’s life, behavior, and studies (canon 269, 2°); and whereas, Rev. Valentin Iurochkin has declared in writing to me that he wishes to be dedicated to the service of the Diocese of Knoxville according to the norm of law (c. 269, 3°); I therefore issue this Decree of Incardination. According to the norms of canon 269, 1°, 2°, and 3°, after taking an oath of allegiance and obedience, Rev. Valentin Iurochkin will be perpetually and absolutely incardinated into the Diocese of Knoxville for the service of the people of this local church. Given at the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Chattanooga, this 12th day of December in the Year of Our Lord 2022.”
The bishop and Deacon Smith signed the decree.
Father Iurochkin then placed his hand on a Book of the Gospels and took an oath of allegiance and obedience: “I, Rev. Valentin Iurochkin, who will be incardinated into the Diocese of Knoxville by decree of the Most Rev. Richard F. Stika, third bishop of Knoxville, according to the norms of Canon 269, 1°, 2°, and 3°, voluntarily swear before God my intention to dedicate myself permanently to the service of the Church of Knoxville. I swear to serve the Church to the best of my ability according to the norm of law. May God be my witness, and may God and this holy Gospel help me to be faithful to this oath.”
Father Iurochkin and Deacon Smith signed the copy of the oath.
“It is with great joy that I now welcome you into the Diocese of Knoxville,” Bishop Stika said after the oath was signed, a remark that drew a long round of applause from those attending the Mass.
Father Iurochkin then hugged Bishop Stika and each of the concelebrating priests.
A native of Khabarovsk, Russia, Father Iurochkin was not raised Catholic. When he was 5 years old, his parents and sister immigrated to the United States, and he was left in Russia to be raised by his grandparents, waiting for a chance to join his family in America. When he was 14, he met a Catholic priest from Maryknoll, Father Joseph McCabe, who taught the young Valentin about the Catholic faith. A few months later, he was baptized and confirmed at the Easter Vigil. As he was being baptized, he felt a calling to the priesthood.
Soon afterward, he met Father Guerrero of the Diocese of Knoxville, who was studying the Russian language in the future priest’s hometown. When the young Valentin was 17, he entered the Institute of the Incarnate Word community. At age 18, after finishing high school, he was sent to the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan for a year of pre-seminary discernment. He attended World Youth Day with Pope Benedict XVI in Madrid and made a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France.
The following year, he enrolled in the Cardinal Barbarigo Seminary in Montefiascone, Italy, and later was sent for a year to the minor seminary in Ukraine. While still in seminary in Italy, he traveled to Argentina for classes in Spanish and to the Philippines to study Mandarin and English.
Father Iurochkin was ordained to the priesthood March 25, 2019, at the Cathedral of St. Sebastian in the Philippines. He began his priestly ministry in Tajikistan.
While traveling in the United States on summer vacation, he received an invitation from Father Guerrero to visit the Diocese of Knoxville. Father Iurochkin met Bishop Stika and attended a priests convocation in Chattanooga. Upon returning to Italy, he petitioned to serve in the Diocese of Knoxville. In November 2019, he arrived at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and served briefly there before being assigned to the basilica while Father Carter was on a three-month sabbatical.
Fluent in Russian, English, Italian, Spanish, and Mandarin, Father Iurochkin celebrates Masses in English, Latin, and Spanish. He is also the chaplain at the Newman Center on the campus of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. A piano player since the age of 14, he has given several recitals at the basilica.
After his incardination, he said he “belongs permanently to this Diocese of Knoxville.”
“That means a lot to me, because so far I was hanging in the air, and Bishop was just very kind to me and agreed to accept me in the diocese,” he said.
He spoke of his decision to be incardinated.
“I just felt loved by this community, by this diocese, was very happy to be in this diocese and serve here. Bishop was really very kind to me all the time, and that helped me,” he said.
Father Iurochkin said the goals he has for his ministry are to “always keep working for the people of this diocese and keep the good work I have begun and I hope will continue with God’s grace, to serve the people of God with the best of my abilities.”
Bishop Stika said after Mass that Father Iurochkin is “a true missionary.”
“He came from Russia. He’s studied in Taiwan and the Phillipines and Italy,” the bishop remarked. “He prayed and reflected in his time here, and [came to the diocese] because of Father Jesús up in Johnson City. He’s been here three years, and he discerned, and here he is. It’s a grace and a blessing for us all.”
Father Carter recalled Father Iurochkin’s arrival at the basilica during his sabbatical.
“He covered for me, and he never left. He stayed,” Father Carter said. “The people loved him from the beginning. They have seen in him a zeal for the Lord. They’ve seen faithfulness to God and to His Church. He preaches well, and in one thing he’s got a leg up on me: he preaches briefly. He has shown himself to be a worthy and valuable co-worker in this parish of Sts. Peter and Paul, and I have only high regard for him and highly recommended him to the bishop when I was asked should he be incardinated, and so I welcome him as a brother.”
Father Iurochkin is glad to serve at the basilica parish.
“It’s fantastic,” he said. “I love it. I appreciate it so much. It feels like a family to me.”