Priests reunite, reflect on growth at Spring Convocation

NORWOOD -- Priests from throughout the Archdiocese of Boston gathered at the Four Points by Sheraton on May 17 for their annual Spring Convocation, a day of reflection on their fraternity and ministry.

It was their first in-person convocation since 2019 because of the pandemic. Guests were tested for COVID before entering the ballroom, where they enjoyed lunch, conversations, and addresses from some of their fellow priests.

Instead of a guest keynote speaker, as in past years, the gathering featured four local priests who shared their reflections on one of the four pillars of priestly formation. There were breaks in between the speakers for the attendees to talk amongst themselves. They were also invited to fill out surveys with questions about what resonated with them in each talk and what they would like the archdiocese to provide for their different areas of growth.

Father John MacInnis, who received senior priest status last year, moderated the discussion. He had previously served as the director of the former Pastoral Institute, overseeing programs for the ongoing formation of priests.

In his remarks at the start of the speaking program, Father MacInnis quoted St. John Henry Newman, whose writings greatly influenced him, as saying, "Growth is the only evidence of life."

Father Bill Murphy, the director of spiritual formation at Pope St. John XXIII Seminary, spoke about growth in spiritual life. He recalled the origin of his own vocation, which was sparked by reading "The Screwtape Letters" by C.S. Lewis. He encouraged the other priests to remember when they first felt God's call.

"Renewal begins when there's an understanding and appreciation of what started it all," Father Murphy said.

Father David Michael, the pastor of the Beverly Catholic Collaborative and director of the archdiocese's Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, spoke about growing in intellectual pursuits. His past assignments include serving as chaplain at Brandeis University and archdiocesan liaison to the Jewish community. He shared how growing up in a family of different religious and ethnic backgrounds influenced him and said that part of the Church's mission is to work toward healing its wounds of division.

"The urge to be ministers of outreach, of dialogue, of healing, do whatever it takes to try, on our part, to heal those divisions in Christianity, is an essential part of our priesthood," Father Michael said.

The third speaker, Father Linh Nguyen, pastor of St. Mark and St. Ambrose Collaborative in Dorchester, talked about growth in pastoral ministry. He spoke about the importance of maintaining a sense of mission and listening to God and the people.

Finally, Father Brian Clary spoke about growth in personal care. He shared his own experience with alcoholism and talked about the fear and denial that accompany any kind of addiction.

Father Clary said that priests need to be challenging each other about acknowledging and getting help for addictions, even at the risk of losing a friendship.

"We are not immune from the struggles of life," he said.

Continuing the tradition of recent years, four priests were honored for their service by their peers.

This year's honorees were Father Huy Nguyen, pastor of St. Jerome and Immaculate Conception in Weymouth; Father Bryan Parrish, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Needham; Father Charlie Higgins, parochial vicar of St. John Chrysostom and St. Theresa of Avila in West Roxbury; and Father Tom Domurat, pastor of Most Holy Redeemer in East Boston.

Father Domurat shared his experience of contracting COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic and having to be intubated. He said that during that time, when he knew he might not wake up to this world, he felt "a deep sense of God's presence."

"Since that time, every day when I wake up, I thank God for the gift of life, and the gift and the privilege of being able to be a priest," Father Domurat said.

Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley offered remarks to conclude the gathering.

He noted the different format of the convocation, saying that it is often suggested that they try to bring in an expert from outside the archdiocese. But, he said, "We have a lot of expertise right here in this room."

He spoke about the necessity of building a strong priestly fraternity and called Christ "the center and the glue that keeps us together despite all of our differences."

"Our priesthood is the special way we belong to Christ, and we belong to each other," Cardinal O'Malley said.

He recalled his experience of Hurricane Hugo when he was bishop of the Virgin Islands. He said that, in some ways, he feels the pandemic was a similar experience, leading people to assess what happened and how to move forward. The most important thing, he told the priests, is to realize that they are not alone.

"Hopefully, the pandemic has helped us to focus on what is really important in our lives and our vocations. Having experienced the fragility of life and the precariousness of human existence, we need to see this moment as a second call to personal conversion," the cardinal said.

He said the convocation allowed them to "experience the energy that priestly fraternity affords us."

"It's been so helpful to reflect on the importance of ongoing formation that can keep us fresh in our ideas and focused on our goals, growing in our vocation," he said.