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NORWOOD ? The priests of the Archdiocese of Boston, as well as transitional deacons just days away from joining their number, gathered at the Four Points by Sheraton on May 15 for their annual spring convocation.
The presbyteral convocation is an informal day to celebrate priestly fraternity and to reflect on their lives and ministries. It is also an opportunity for them to receive updates about goings-on in the archdiocese.
In the first of two keynotes offered by archdiocesan priests, Msgr. Dennis Sheehan spoke on "Our Beloved Presbyterate," reflecting on how the priesthood and parish life have changed during his 55 years as a priest.
He said that in the early 1960s the lifestyle of priests in ministry was "regular, gently paced." Meetings, which are now a staple of present parish administration, were "effectively nonexistent."
He remembered reading the documents produced by the Second Vatican Council and attending theologians' lectures about it.
"We fully expected to move into an age that would be close to heaven," Msgr. Sheehan said.
However, the late 1960s and 1970s brought very different changes than they had expected. He said one major trend during that period was the resignation of priests and the decrease in seminary enrollment. Parishioners also felt less social pressure to attend Mass regularly. However, despite fewer priests and fewer active parishioners, the same demand was placed on priests.
"The Vatican Council had put a new face on the Church," Msgr. Sheehan said, pointing out how laypeople emerged as leaders and administrators in parishes.
"The Church of the Second Vatican Council is still being born. And we need to face some birth pangs in the making," he said.
Referring again to the slower pace of priests' lifestyles in the 1960s, Msgr. Sheehan said they must look at the comparably faster pace in today's parishes. As an example, he said he knew of a priest who had to leave the recession at one church only to be picked up and transported to another church in time for the procession.
"Think of what you lose in that and ask yourself if we can sustain that in the long run. The pace is probably not sustainable, and we need to talk about it," he said.
Msgr. Sheehan noted that Vatican II "brought enormous riches," but also had "unintended consequences."
"The blessings were not unmixed, the questions are not yet answered, and the issues are not yet resolved," he said.
He concluded, "I would never go back. But we can't stay still either. Only the future holds the hope we grasp in faith."
Father Thomas Macdonald, who was ordained six years ago, gave a second keynote on "Reasons for Hope," which he said "is always a timely topic."
"When I think of hope, I think of a gift that comprehends the whole course of our lives ? not just the future, but the past and the present as well. Hope grows out of the grateful recollection of God's mercies to us in the past. It lives in the present conviction that those mercies are not over, not spent. And finally hope strains forward to that future when the good work that God has begun in us will reach fulfillment," Father Macdonald said.
He said the fact that they were all present for the convocation was a testimony to God's mercy and intervention, and that Christ has carried them through the challenges they have experienced.
"This history of perseverance ? your history of perseverance ? gives me hope, as a recently ordained priest, that God will carry me through my priesthood just as faithfully as he has carried you through yours," he said.
Father Macdonald said that although faith may be declining in society, faithful people are realizing that faith cannot be presumed, which motivates them to build "habitats" so it does not go "extinct."
He said that great leaders see "a future worth pursuing" and inspire people to seek it with them.
"Unlike those worldly leaders, we don't have to dream up a future to pursue. That future has already been given to us," Father Macdonald said.
Cardinal Seán O'Malley shared some remarks after the keynotes. He told the assembled clergy, "All of you are that sign of hope" that Father Macdonald spoke of.
He acknowledged that the past year had been "very challenging." However, he said, "frankly I am amazed by our resilience and grateful for your courage and generosity to have continued the work that you're doing in the parishes and the ministries with such dedication."
At the end of the convocation, two priests were honored for their years of ministry: Father William Kelly, chaplain of Harvard University and pastor of St. Paul Parish in Cambridge; and Father John Gerard Kiley, administrator of St. Anne Parish in Salem. Cardinal O'Malley granted Father Kiley senior priest retirement status beginning in June. However, due to a pastoral need, he will serve as administrator of St. Eulalia Parish in Winchester for a year.