Parishioners at Sacred Heart Church and Catholic School might have been surprised in recent days by word that their longtime priest, the Rev. Monsignor Howard Lincoln, was planning to marry his secretary following his retirement this summer. But the news was actually a long time coming, he said.

He and his secretary, Sandra Susini, started discussing a union almost three years ago, Lincoln said in an interview with The Desert Sun on Sunday. “I am 75 years old with heart issues,” Lincoln said. “Sandra is 72. We love each other and we want to take care of each other. And we don’t want to be alone.”

Lincoln said his intention to marry Susini was one of the reasons for his retirement — announced six months ago — and that he had discussed the possibility with his superiors as well.

“I told the Diocese (of San Bernardino) that I was considering marriage to Sandra in August of 2019,” Lincoln said.

Few others at the Palm Desert church knew of the situation, though, until Lincoln mentioned his plans at a retirement luncheon Wednesday. On Saturday, the Rev. Gregory Elder, the church’s new pastor, and the Rev. Tyler Tripp, parochial vicar, shared the news with parishioners via a letter posted on the church website.

“It is with mixed emotion that we share with you the following message. On Wednesday, June 30, at the end of our farewell luncheon for Monsignor Lincoln, he announced to those in attendance his intention to marry a woman with whom he is apparently involved,” said the letter. “This announcement surely comes as a shock to the community of Sacred Heart, which Monsignor Lincoln has led for the past 20 years.”

The letter added: “While he has not formally informed the parish or the Diocese of his intention to marry, many of you have already heard about his announcement at the farewell luncheon so we felt it best to address the issue. We know that this information will generate strong emotions for many and we are here for you in this moment of difficulty.”

The Diocese of San Bernardino, which covers both Riverside and San Bernardino counties, did not return a phone call and and email from The Desert Sun seeking comment. Messages left for Elder and Tripp at Sacred Heart on Sunday were not immediately returned.

Lincoln later released a letter saying that he and Susini had married on Friday. He said while the church has a process known as laicization — essentially removing a cleric from the priestly state — the procedure can take a year or two, which he and Susini regarded as too long given their age….

The above comes from a July 4 story in the Desert Sun.