On Priestly Assignments
Next week, on August 4, we’ll celebrate the Feast of St. John Vianney, the pastor (curé) of Ars, the patron saint of parish priests.
That’s why I want to write a few words of love and gratitude to our priests in today’s column.
They’re always on my mind, but especially these days when many of them are moving to new assignments, or even retiring from an appointment.
Usually, it’s tough on a priest, and his people, to move. But, of course, we have to do it if we’re going to take care of our people.
The policy of the archdiocese is that a pastor is assigned to a six-year term, which can then be renewed once. The Priests’ Council of the archdiocese just recently strongly encouraged me to abide by that policy, advising me that, however difficult this can be for our priests and people, in the long run, it’s good for both. (Our policy states that a pastor who is completing his second six-year term, if over sixty-eight, can stay at his parish until retirement at seventy-five.)
Our associate pastors—a.k.a. parochial vicars—usually stay three years at a parish, and then are transferred, allowing them more experience before they become a pastor.
Our beloved priests can retire at seventy-five. Of course, one never “retires” from the sacrament of Holy Orders, as it is a life, not a job. And, as a matter of fact, many of them, health permitting, ask to stay on, a gracious request I’m usually thrilled to grant.
At eighty, though, our Priests’ Council advises me, it’s time to give up parish administrative burdens, and retire. Even then, some of our priests still, admirably, want to live in a parish and help in what they do best—celebrating the sacraments. Even those who retire at John Cardinal O’Connor Residence, or at a place of their own, are usually generous with their willingness to help at parishes.
In all of this, of course, “the buck stops here,” as my fellow Missourian, Harry Truman, claimed. It’s up to me to make the call on all our assignments for priests. And this is where I most appreciate the loyalty of our priests. As tough as it is to move, in my little over three years as your archbishop, rare has been the priest who has not sacrificially accepted an assignment, even if he’d rather remain where he is, or might be less than excited about his new mission. Our priests take the promise of obedience they made at their ordination with the utmost seriousness.
In my decisions about assignments, I depend heavily upon the Priests’ Personnel Board, clergy elected by their peers for this delicate task: Monsignor Edward Weber, Father Jack Arlotta, Father Thomas Devery, Father Robert Dillon, Father John Duffell, Father Jeffrey Galens, Father Robert Grippo, Father Arthur Mastrolia, and Father Anthony Sorgie; upon our vicars, who have special insight into the pastoral needs of their area; upon my auxiliary bishops, the chancellor, the vicar for priests—thanks, Monsignor Belford, for your hard work, and, welcome, Bishop Walsh, to this duty—and the director of priests’ personnel—thanks, Father Devery, and your “heir apparent,” Monsignor Ed Weber.
The Priests’ Council also wisely recommends that we develop methods of consulting the people of the parish more attentively. I like that idea. It’s good to hear from you about the needs of a given parish, and the kind of skills required in a new pastor.
Sometimes, when we prepare to move a man, we hear protests from the people. When we do, it’s almost always thoughtful and respectful. In a way, I’m kind of pleased when people don’t want to lose their parish priest! After all, he’s been a big part of their lives.
But, once again, just as with our patient priests, our people usually realize that they’ve been blessed to have their pastor as long as they did, and that now it’s virtuous for them to share him with another place.
Thanks, then, to our priests. Your obedience is downright inspirational. Overwhelmingly, you know it’s not about you, but about Jesus, His Church, His people.
Thanks to our people, for welcoming, embracing...and then letting go of your priests to share with another flock, acknowledging that Jesus exhorted His first priests to “go from village to village.”
Thanks for backing me up in delicate, sensitive decisions, and keep asking the Lord to give me wisdom!
St. John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests, pray for us!