Day off

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

June 7, 2009


(Fr. Peter Daly talks about the difficulties of getting a day off in parish life and the problem of the priest shortage.)


            Last Wednesday I had a day off. It was my first day off in four months.

            It was wonderful.

            I went to a museum in Washington, D.C. Actually I went to the “Newseum,” the museum of journalism and the news.

            I was there all day. I got my hand stamped at lunch time, like in a bar, so I could go out and have lunch with an old high school buddy. Then I went back to the museum for another four hours. At five o’clock, having looked at all the exhibits on everything from the Pulitzer Prize photos to old newspapers headlines, I walked down to my friend’s office. At sunset we sat on his office balcony overlooking the National Mall and had a bourbon and water. I was home by 10 o’clock.

            Even though I was only gone 12 hours, I felt like I had been away for a week,

            Why am I boring you with the details of my day off?

            Because it is getting harder and harder for parish priests to let even one day off, let alone go away on vacation.

            There are over 19,000 Catholic parishes in the United States. About one in six parishes has no resident priest at all. Most parishes, like mine, have only one priest.

            There just aren’t any priests “warming the bench” who can come in to give us a day off. In a 2002 survey of parish priests, 18% said they worked more than 80 hours a week. Only 9% said they worked less than 40 hours per week. The average priest worked 63 hours per week. That is not sustainable forever.

            Even when we are here, priests are not available to parishioners like they were years ago. I hardly ever go to wedding receptions, because I always have another mass right weddings on Saturday afternoons. I almost never been able to visit the kids in Sunday school, because I have three morning masses when they have class.

            My parish has about 1200 families which means about 3600 souls.

            On any given day there is somebody in crisis. Somebody is dying or got a bad diagnosis. Somebody has a health or marriage crisis. Twenty five times a year we have funerals. Hardly a day goes by that somebody does not lose a job or feel overcome by depression. I could spend all day everyday just listening. Then there is administration.

            I’m not complaining. I love my life.

            But I am tired.

            Problems are unrelenting. 

            Bishops don’t have a solution to exhaustion of their priests. Bishops are overworked themselves.

            They always say to their priests, “Take your day off.” But they don’t mean it. I’ve never known a bishop who wasn’t himself a workaholic.   

            If it were not for my permanent deacons, I would never get away. Deacons are a salvation to parish priests. The vocation crisis would be infinitely worse if we had not reinstituted the permanent deaconate in the 1970s.

            A day off is a small thing, but it is also God’s law. Everybody needs a Sabbath. It is good spiritual practice. It is good mental health practice.

            Next time you call your local parish and ask to see the priest, don’t complain about him being gone on a Tuesday or Wednesday. That is his Sabath.

            Looking at my calendar I don’t see another day off for about a month. That’s ok. But we can’t keep this up forever.