Father Austin Fleming, former pastor in Concord, named senior priest

Read Special Section

Father Austin Fleming grew up in Danvers, attending St. Mary of the Annunciation and St. Richard Parish. He described his family as "a typical Catholic family of the 1950s," who attended weekly Mass and Sunday school, and made a monthly confession. He attended Bishop Fenwick High School in Peabody, graduating in 1965 as a member of one of the early graduating classes.

During high school, he thought about becoming a teacher or a lawyer, until a classmate filled out a request for information from a vocation director in his name. Father Fleming was not at all pleased by this. But when he asked why she had done this, she gave a serious answer that stayed with him: "I think you'd make a good priest."

"I was struck by that response and then couldn't get the idea out of my head! The rest is history," Father Fleming said.

He was ordained in 1973 by Cardinal Humberto Medeiros. He had completed seminary studies at archdiocesan seminaries in Jamaica Plain and Brighton. His first assignment was at St. Ann Parish in the Wollaston neighborhood of Quincy.

"I will never forget the warmth and love with which the parishioners welcomed me and the trust they put in me while I was still so wet behind the ears. What an excellent beginning!" Father Fleming said.

After five years there, he pursued further study at Notre Dame University, earning a master's degree in liturgical studies. During his time there, he also served as director of Diocesan Formation at Moreau Seminary on the campus, and worked as a liturgical consultant for the campus ministry team. Father Fleming described this period as "four of the best years of my life."

After returning to Boston in 1982, he spent almost a decade as a campus minister at Northeastern University and Emerson College through St. Ann University Parish.

"I was so grateful to be able to continue to serve college students and was challenged by these schools' secular environment in contrast to my Notre Dame experience. That challenge, however, proved to be fruitful and rewarding," Father Fleming said.

He then returned to parish life, serving as the parochial vicar at St. Joseph Parish in Medway from 1991 until 1994, when he was appointed pastor of Our Lady Help of Christians Parish in Concord. When Our Lady Help of Christians and St. Bernard parishes were suppressed in 2004, he was appointed founding pastor of the resulting Holy Family Parish in Concord.

Father Fleming said it was "a joy and privilege" to serve in the same town for 25 years, half of his priesthood.

"I hadn't anticipated all the responsibilities and joys of being recognized as a faith community's pastor and it's that relationship that I miss the most," he said.

In 2019, he was granted senior status, and from then until 2021, he served as senior vicar at the New Roads Catholic Community, a collaborative consisting of St. Joseph and St. Luke Parish in Belmont.

During the coronavirus pandemic, he found developing "an online worship community" through livestreamed Masses to be "challenging and rewarding."

"Someday I'd love to return to livestreaming a regular Sunday liturgy, reaching out to God's people through this amazing medium," he said.

He is now a senior priest in residence at Good Shepherd Parish in Wayland, which has two worship locations, St. Ann Church and St. Zepherin Church.

"Looking back, I'm grateful and amazed at how blessed I've been to have served the Lord as a priest, as a pastor. I can't imagine any other life for myself," he said.

Since 2017, he has written a daily blog, "A Concord Pastor Comments," at concordpastor.blogspot.com. Each day he writes a Pause for Prayer and Night Prayer. He has also written books about parish worship, weddings, and personal prayer. According to the Good Shepherd Parish website, he is looking forward to writing more in his retirement.

"Before retiring, I had some concern about how I would understand myself as a priest once I was largely relieved of all the ministry and activity that fills a priest's day. I'm pleased to report that as time goes by I'm finding an even deeper appreciation for my state in life, for who I am before God and how God has worked and continues to work in my life. I guess what they say is true: the best is yet to come!" Father Fleming said.