Priests reflect on joys, challenges of priesthood at convocation

byMark Labbe Pilot Staff

Cardinal O'Malley greets Father Thomas Keyes of Our Lady of Hope in Ipswich and Transitional Deacon Joel Santos at the archdiocese's priest convocation held May 3 in Norwood. Pilot photo/Gregory L. Tracy

NORWOOD -- Priests from across the Archdiocese of Boston gathered at Four Points by Sheraton in Norwood, May 3, for a day of fraternity and to reflect on the challenges and rewards of being a priest.

Father John E. MacInnis, pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish and St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Peabody, offered the day's first talk, titled "Just a Parish Priest."

The talk focused on the important work parish priests do, as well as the personal challenges they face in their ministries. Father MacInnis listed three specific challenges the presbyterate face: Diversity, multiplicity, and ambiguity.

He said diversity can be a positive thing, as it brings people from all over together, but it can also be a euphemism for division, which can cause conflicts. He noted that divides can be mended, however, through "priestly companionship," both on the job and off the job.

Multiplicity, he said, refers to the ever increasing number of tasks priests have to do. Thankfully, he noted, priests have the assistance of parish workers, including laypeople and deacons.

"Let's not forget each other. Brother helping brother," he said.

Ambiguity, Father McInnis said, refers to the challenge of coming up with new and innovative ideas to implement on the parish level. He noted that while sometimes those ideas will fail, it's important for priests not to focus on failures or successes, but instead focus on being faithful to God.

He ended the talk by thanking his fellow priests.

"My point today is this: That the grace we need to meet these and all challenges is as near to us as we are to each other right now. I would not be standing before you as a priest for 46 years if not for many brothers who inspired me by just being faithful to their call, by saving souls one at a time, including mine," he said.

"I feel truly blessed to share the priesthood and the burdens of ministry with truly amazing men, past and present," he continued.

The convocation's keynote speaker, Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ spoke next. Bishop Barber is the bishop of Oakland, Calif. and serves as a chaplain in the Naval Reserve. At the time he was named bishop of Oakland, he was serving as the director of spiritual formation at St. John's Seminary in Brighton.

He began by acknowledging the harm caused by clergy sexual abuse saying, "We need to protect young people, and comfort and take of those who have been damaged," and added the priesthood has suffered a stigma in the aftermath of the revelations of that abuse.

"The stigma still remains," Bishop Barber said.

He noted that even if there are corrupt people in a system, that doesn't mean the entire system is corrupt, and offered the U.S. military as an example.

"Last year in the Navy and the Marine Corp, 50 commanding officers were fired from their commands... for crimes and misdemeanors -- Moral crimes (and) ethical crimes," he said.

He continued by saying he doesn't hear many people say "the Marine Corp is a corrupt organization, or the U.S. Navy is evil... No, we look at the thousands of young men and women in the service as doing something sacrificial and noble."

Faithful priests, too, are doing something sacrificial and noble, he said.

The bishop also offered his thoughts on what it means to be a good priest. He said a priest should have a "good spiritual director," "a positive, intentional presbyterate," "total reliance on prayer and Jesus," and "a priest support group," that allows priests to get together and talk both formally and informally.

He concluded his talk by saying simply, "Thank you for being a priest."

Vicar general Bishop Peter J. Uglietto also offered remarks.

In his talk, he described a recent trip he took to the Vatican, during which he prayed at the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.

"I prayed for all of you, all our seminarians, all our priests, active and retired, those ill, those on leave, our archbishop, for the religious and laity who serve the archdiocese, and for the good people of God, who in the name of our risen Savior, we can all serve," he said.

"I want to thank you brothers for all that you do in your various parishes and ministries... I hope you know how much your ministry is valued and appreciated, and how much you mean to the fabric of life for believers in Greater Boston," he continued.

The gathered concluded with remarks by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley, who noted how important it is for priests to get to know their parishioners, as well as have time to pray.

He said priests should minister to each other, and noted how "grateful" he and others are to those people who do that well.

Speaking to The Pilot following the event, Father Paul Soper, secretary for Evangelization and Discipleship at the archdiocese, said it was a "wonderful day."

"Father MacInnis, in the beginning, gave a wonderful sense of the importance of parish ministry... I thought that was very inspiring to hear," he said.

He also enjoyed Bishop Barber's address, which he said offered the priests "important tools we can use."

"Bishop Barber spoke about a lot of very idealistic things and then a lot of very, very practical things," he said.

Father Bill Devine, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Bridgewater, said he thought Bishop Barber's address was "excellent."

"I think all of us here could really identify with what he said... He made you feel good about being a priest," he said.

"It's always good when you get priests together, because you don't see each other for most of the year," he continued.