Fr. Peter Daly
August 15, 2005
The season of transfers appears to be over. The storm has passed, at least for now. About one fifth of the active priests of our archdiocese have been moved this year.
This past spring some of us lived in fear of a telephone call. A neighboring pastor told me, “Get caller ID. If the diocese calls, don’t pick up the phone!”
The pastor of a nearby parish was transferred after 23 years. He had founded the parish. He built the church, the chapel, the school and all the other buildings. It was part of his identity. He hoped to die there. He moved because the bishop asked, but there were many tears for him and for the parish.
All across North America, priests are being moved around to fill the gaps. Many dioceses are not able to fill all the parishes. This year dozens of parishes closed in part because no priest was available to pastor them. Nationwide more than 150 U.S. parishes will close this year, largely due to the priest shortage.
As the priest shortage grows, the pain of transfers will also grow more acute for everyone; parishioners, priests, and bishops. There aren’t a lot of good choices. Bishops feel the pain too.
Our archdiocese is better off than most and the problem is still severe. This past year we had about a dozen retirements out of 220 active priests. We ordained five new priests.
With a dozen retirements in one year, the dominoes started falling.
I don’t pretend to have a solution to the problem. But I do want to register the pain it causes.
Being pastor of a parish is like being father of a family. In the ordinary course of life, most people raise just one family.
That seems most natural. There is a proper cycle of life both for raising a family and pastoring a parish. There is a time of life when we have the energy, enthusiasm and ability. Once you have done it, it is very hard to start all over again with a new family. It can be done, but it is difficult.
The problem of moving around is particularly acute for diocesan (secular) priests.
For Franciscan, Dominican, Jesuit, Redemptorist priests, etc., their primary religious community is their order. Their commitment is to the men of their community and that community spirituality.
For diocesan priests, our “faith” community is our parish.
Being pastor is more than an assignment, it is a matter of falling in love. When the pastor and people see each other as companions on this journey through life, they fall in love.
My religious community is the group of people that gathers each day for mass.
Like a father I watch the children grow up. I see them progress from baptism to first communion to confirmation to marriage.
I come to know the joys and sorrows of the people at prayer with me. They are not just names on a registry. They are not fungible. They are not easily or ever replaced.
They are my friends. In a spiritual sense, they are my family.
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus’ family comes to see him while he is preaching. The disciples tell him, “Your mother and brothers and sisters are outside.” Jesus looks around and says, “Here are my mother and brothers and sisters.”
I know what he means.
Like Jesus, we all eventually have to move on. But for the sake of my brother priests transferred this past year, it is worth noting that moving often hurts.